MT 22:1-14
Sunday between October 9th & 15th...In 2005, October 9th...21st S.after Pentecost

This is a hard parable to preach. So many seeming inconsistencies. Not least that God (if the King, as usually, represents God) acts as violently as the very earthly kings whose tyrannical acts court God's condemnation. Also, the banquet appears to be set in the very city that's just been burned down. What, if anything, are we to read into that? Maybe only exaggeration to make a point. (But, what point?) However we tackle it, remember that after all, it's a story. One of Jesus' endless fund of yarns.

I'm not strong on preaching God's judgment, God's punishment. Are you? From one point of view it's too easy to do it. For another, I'm on the receiving end as much as anyone else. More! A sobering thought. How do we preach this side of Gospel (judgment has to be part of Gospel, doesn't it?) seriously without a medieval toast-you-over-the flames approach?

Forsaking, despising, rejecting Jesus, who is himself God's gracious invitation to celebrate life with him, is to know Hell as bad as it can get. Self-exclusion from love, fellowship, hospitality, commensality, celebration. When we give God the brush- off, we are doing our best to put ourself outside God's gracious presence. God doesn't put us outside; we do! Even then I ask myself if there is anywhere that's outside God's presence? I think not. Maybe one way of experiencing Hell is just thinking we're outside God. We can fool ourselves into thinking we are. And experiencing it. It's said that God's wrath is God's love seen from the wrong side. Does that help a bit? Maybe we can feel our way into this at least a bit by pondering how we can turn an experience of human love into an experience of wrath when we turn our back on that love? Also worth pondering is the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that God invented Hell, & every evidence that we do it all the time, over & over again. For ourselves or someone else.

Gathering replacement guests from the margins where they operate sounds a very Jesus-like thing to do. But not the picking on the one who isn't dressed properly! No matter how hard I try, the only way I can get my head round that is to see it as the same as the bridesmaids in the other parable: we're always to be 'dressed' appropriately & ready & waiting for any invitation God sees fit to extend us. Maybe it is just as simple as that, & to concentrate on the detail of the parable is to destroy it as a story. Click on 'Open', accept that it's in the very hard basket, & just see where we go from there!

There's a lot of history, Hebrew & Roman, implied in this story. Though Jesus doesn't seem too interested in that kind of thing (except its consequences!) More interested in Salvation History. The more complicated the parable gets, the more we may suspect it's a later read-back.

When it comes to the weeping & gnashing of teeth, the irreverent side of me has difficulty getting past a (not necessarily  apocryphal) story about Ian Paisley. Here is preaching hell-fire & damnation from this text on one (of many?!) occasion(s). A little old lady near the pulpit interrupts, & says to him, "That's all very well, Reverend, but what about those of us who don't have any teeth left to gnash?!" Without pausing in his stride Paisley comes back with, "Mother, have no fear! Teeth will be provided!" Have no fear: teeth will also be provided for us to tease out the strands of this hard parable!

If many are called, why not be one of them? I feel called. If only a few are chosen, why shouldn't I be one of them, too? I feel chosen. You, too?