In act 2, scene 2 of Shakespeare’s most ambitious play, Hamlet announces a sudden flash of insight: “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” He will produce a short play for the King (his murderous uncle) and Queen to watch that closely mirrors the King’s own treacherous actions, and see how he reacts.
Near the end of Matthew’s gospel, the parables of Jesus have a similar effect. The chief scribes, elders, and Pharisees realize that these stories Jesus tells are about them, and they don’t seem to be very happy about it. We as contemporary readers do not really mind these parables, but maybe that’s because we have not yet realized that Jesus might also be talking about us.
In the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14), Jesus speaks of a “human” king throwing a wedding feast for his son. The parable brings together two prominent figures in Jesus’ parables, that of the King and that of the Father, into one…which also is the way Jesus speaks in many places about God. Thus, the fact that this parable is really about God and God’s kingdom seems pretty clear. But who are the others in this story? The “servants/slaves,” the “called/invited,” and the “chosen”?
First of all, it’s a story and these categories are not mutually exclusive, but the language of “sent” (Gk. apostello) seems to suggest that the “servants” (Gk. diakonos) and “slaves” in this story could symbolize the prophets of old and the apostles, though we certainly share their responsibility to be witnesses today. Then again, John Wesley observed, those “troops/soldiers” whom the king sends (v. 7) seem to represent those Roman soldiers who would destroy Jerusalem in 70 A.D., burning much of the city and the temple to the ground. These figures in the story could refer to others (in truth, there are a number of cities destroyed and burned down to talk about in scripture), but in any case, it’s important to observe that in Jesus’ story, the soldiers are also non-Christian servants of the same King/Christ…in some way under the command of the same God as the prophets!
Then, there’s the “called/invited” (Gk. kletoi), “gathered” (Gk. synagogos), and “chosen” (Gk. eklektoi)–which are all ways the scriptures also speak of Israel and we who call ourselves the “church” (Gk. ekklesia). Jesus makes a major distinction in this story between the many called and the few chosen. This and several other parables communicate the idea of a mixed church of good and bad, true and false Christians who can only be sorted out by the King at the final judgment. As such, it is interesting to note that only one man in this wedding hall filled with ragamuffin guests is here singled out as unworthy, not for being “bad,” but simply for not wearing the garment that was probably provided. The chosen “few” would still seem to be a pretty large number in this story, just not quite as large as the “many” who were called.
So where does that leave us? Who am I in this story? I should probably admit that, sometimes, I kind of look like the “called but unworthy” in this story: those blessed to be born and raised into the Kingdom who were too busy with their own business to pay attention to their King. As such, I’d better start paying attention to the living word of God as if my life depended on it. On the other hand, I am the “unworthy but called” who was picked up from nowhere and invited to the table of our Lord. As such, I’d better make sure to clothe myself with the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14), the wedding garments of justice, true faith, and holiness, and at least try to act my new surprising part at God’s table.
Either way, it’s not my job to judge who is not chosen or worthy. St. Paul seems to suggest that we can know if someone’s name is written in the book of life (Philippians 4:1-9), but not that we can know for certain that someone is not. That’s for the King, and only the King who is Jesus Christ to decide in the end.
1. In what ways are we distracted by PROPERTY (what we “own”) and BUSINESS (acquiring more) rather than the Word of God, like the first invitees in Jesus’ parable?
2. Are we too “choosy” about the way we call/invite others to the table of the Lord? Who should we be calling/inviting to discipleship, the church?
3. Do I know God as both my Father and King? Do I treat Jesus as both my Savior and my Lord? Do I treat all others as called to be God’s children?