Jesus told yet another story:
The goal is like this:
Prince William was engaged! So the royal family began making plans for the reception, and when the time came the Queen sent couriers to bring the invited guests. But they wouldn’t come. She sent them out again with the message: “Hey, the reception is ready. I’ve even got fillet mignon and caviar. Come! But they made fun of the whole affair. One went on a cruise, another went to her corner office instead. More than one of the couriers were kidnapped, mistreated, and some even executed as spies.
Well, the queen was furious. She sent shock troops out to round them all up, brought them in and slaughtered them all, and laid waste their lands and businesses. Then she sent her couriers out again into the streets. “The wedding is going ahead regardless,” she told them. “Invite everyone you see.” So they did. They brought in everyone they could find, saints and scoundrels alike. Soon Westminster
Cathedral [Abbey] was filled to capacity.
Then the queen came in, and looking over the crowd she saw a fellow who wasn’t wearing a suit. She said to him, “Sir, how did you get in here without a suit?” But he just stood there in shock. So the queen said, “Arrest him. Shackle him. And send him to Siberia. He belongs with those haunted by regret and anxiety.
Many get the chance. Some take it.
Of course, the real wedding didn’t go that way. It’s a story to engage your imagination. What if… And the location in which Jesus tells the story (while leading a people’s occupation of the Temple court during the run-up to Passover) is significant. He’s holding a “teach-in” with a story about the people occupying a place once reserved for only the elite. In that moment, it’s their story. In this moment, it’s ours.
If you mistake the Queen for God, you end up with the spoiled-rotten God of today’s Exodus story without Moses to talk her down. Be careful! Jesus never says, “God is like the king who…” but “the kingdom of heaven [the goal] is is comparable to a king who…” It’s an important distinction. Jesus is trying to get us somewhere: to the kingdom, to the goal. The parable is not about the character of God. Rather, it imagines how we might get there. And how we might not. And how we might seem to get there, but miss.
The goal (the kingdom of heaven, the wedding banquet, Westminster Abbey) begins as something the well-connected, powerful movers and shakers, rich and successful in business seem to have at the beginning. And yet, when they are invited to participate in the goal, they don’t realize what they’ve got. They turn away. They ridicule it in pursuit of other things. On the other hand, ordinary folk are excluded. The great reversal happens when (again, as in the Exodus story) the failure of those who have it all to claim it all ends up in their losing it all.
So, the parable suggests the goal is within reach of everyone and anyone who wants to claim a ticket. Only the ticket does require doing a little work. You’ve got to put on a suit. Your best suit, no matter the condition, will do. It doesn’t matter if it’s old and ratty, but you’ve got to put it on. Failure to change yourself on the way is every bit as much a misunderstanding of the goal as the elite folk ignoring and making fun of it. If you arrive as you were, you haven’t really arrived. And that, too, ends in oblivion, albeit of a different sort.
While much has been (rightly) said of “God’s preferential option for the poor,” the parable is a warning that to reach the goal, even the poor, the average, the ordinary people need to claim it or miss the opportunity. That’s the anxiety and regret.
The upside: Now, this moment, is your opportunity. Many have the chance to make something of it.
Will you take it?