The Gospel is for Everyone: a sermon on Matthew 22

by the Rev. Anna Doherty

When Jesus starts to lose his cool, you know things are serious.

Every time in scripture when Jesus becomes angry, or when he weeps, it’s a sign that something significant is about to happen.

Today’s parable from Matthew’s gospel is the fifth parable in a row that Jesus has told the chief priests and the elders,

in an attempt to get them to recognize the true, inclusive nature of the kingdom of God and what God wants for God’s people.

And it’s not as if the chief priests and elders are just misunderstanding what Jesus says.

Instead the chief priests and elders are utterly resisting Jesus’ words, because the inclusive nature of God and what it means to be God’s people….

mean that the chief priests and elders are being asked to give up some of their own small claim to earthly power and influence.

We get the sense, from the tone of the parables, that the discussion between Jesus and the chief priests and elders is getting more and more intense.

The chief priests and elders are angry and starting to plot against Jesus, and Jesus is trying more and more urgently to get them to hear what he has to say.

Because, after all, this is the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.

In just a few days Jesus will be crucified.

There’s not a lot of time left for Jesus to share the gospel with these religious leaders, who so desperately need to hear it.

And so, if the tone of today’s parable strikes us as angry, retributive, and extreme, that might be why.

Jesus is starting to lose his cool; he’s running out of time.

He needs to get straight and urgently to the point with these chief priests and elders.

That’s why, I believe, the king in today’s parable literally refuses to give up on the invitation to attend the banquet.

He keeps inviting people again and again, and when those who he has personally invited refuse the invitation, then the king invites strangers off the street, both good and bad.

Jesus refuses to give up on us, no matter who we are, in the hopes that we will respond to the invitation to participate in the banquet that is God’s kingdom.

That’s how much Jesus wants us to participate in the Gospel, that is how urgently God calls us to be God’s people.

Despite it’s extremism, this parable can actually sound like good news to those who feel left out of the invitation.

As the king says in today’s parable, “Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.

And they went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad.”

The term “the mains streets” actually refers to the boundaries of a ruler’s territory.

Put another way, the invitation to attend the banquet extends to even the outer boundaries of the kingdom, to the people literally on the margins.

The invitation extends to those whom are forgotten, outcast, or not often included.

The invitation extends to all and not just to the powerful, the honored and the elite.

And it doesn’t seem to matter whether an individual is good or bad, what is most important is that they respond to the invitation to join in the feast of God’s kingdom.

As unexpected and extreme as such an invitation is, especially coming from a king, this still sounds like good news.

All are invited to the feast, no matter who they are.

The good news of the Gospel is for everyone.

But then the parable takes a turn, which I think speaks volumes to the urgency of Jesus’ situation in sharing it.

Because, for all that the invitation to feast at the banquet is extended to everyone, simply being invited—and even just accepting the invitation—

is not the end of it.

In today’s parable, when the man shows up at the feast without a wedding robe, he is bound and thrown out.

On the surface, I must say, this sounds awful.

Maybe this man didn’t own a wedding robe.

Having been so unexpectedly invited, maybe he didn’t know he needed to wear one.

The king’s actions seem petty and vengeful, as if he is more concerned about the honor his guests will bring him, than he is with the guests themselves.

This doesn’t sound like a truly generous invitation, if there are these expectations build into it.

But that’s because, my friends, the need to respond to God’s call and to truly live into God’s kingdom is so very urgent.

Jesus desperately wants the chief priests and the elders to hear and respond to God’s call…

because the longer they cling more to their own power and the power of oppressive Rome, the more people suffer and God’s kingdom becomes less and less a reality in the world.

Jesus himself is about to be crucified, because his message of God’s love is too frightening for those in power to hear it.

Is our time any different?

We need to hear and respond to the vision of God’s peaceable kingdom desperately.

We need look no further than the news to know that people are literally dying, creation is groaning, and the systems of the world are profoundly ineffective at stopping the suffering…

…especially when those systems are wedded to protecting power structures, or the status quo.

We need God’s kingdom to come, now, and we, as God’s people, are the ones invited by God to help make that kingdom a reality in this world.

And because that’s true, It’s not enough to simply say yes to God.

We also must act as God’s people in the world.

It is not enough to just show up at the banquet, even when we have been generously invited.

We need to present ourselves to the world as people who know how profoundly transformative the Good News of God is.

We need to show up dressed and ready to spring into action.

We need to share that Good News, we need to act on it.

So that people aren’t just invited to hear of God’s kingdom, but they actually see it, live it, feel it, know it in their lives.

When we are baptized as Christians into the life of faith, we don’t just say yes to God.

We also commit ourselves to doing the work of God in the world.

And true commitment means so much more than simply showing up to church on Sunday.

It means, as the baptismal covenant says, continuing in fellowship and prayer, loving our neighbor as ourselves and striving for justice and peace among all people.

In all parts of our lives, and not just some of them.

And we forget that at our peril.

Because the moment that we sanitize or rationalize or compartmentalize what it means to be a Christian in the world…

that is when we’ve just refused the invitation to feast at the banquet God has prepared for us.

To use the metaphor of today’s first reading from Exodus, that is when we worship the idol of something other than who God really is.

When we call ourselves Christians because it suits our own self-interest or we seek to preserve our own power, that is worshipping an idol.

And the problem with idols is not that they insult God; it’s that idols enslave us.

And that is not what God is calling God’s people to, another form of slavery.

God invites us to the true freedom of participating in the kingdom of God, and God is for the bringing about of God’s kingdom for all people right now.

That is the invitation extended to us.

It is up to us to act on it.