Sunday’s sermon: Willing to RESPOND

Text used – Matthew 22:1-14

  • This morning, we’re continuing our Lenten series on exploring the ways our faith both calls and requires us to be willing.
    • First week: willing to forgive
    • Last week: willing to accept fairness (especially when it doesn’t look like what we think fairness should look like)
    • Today’s topic: willing to respond, specifically responding to God’s call – to that invitation that God extends to us to play our part in God’s work of compassion and mercy, love and justice
    • This morning’s Scripture reading = parable about invitation
      • Invitation received
      • Invitation ignored
      • Invitation extended
      • Invitation disparaged
  • BUT … before we start digging into the parable itself this morning, it’s really important to set this particular parable in context – both within the rest of Matthew’s gospel and within the cultural community for whom it was first written – because the context is critical for the way we read this today.
    • Context within the culture – scholar: Humming in the background is the situation in Matthew’s community [– a collection of largely Jewish Jesus-followers who had recently left, been kicked out of, or were alienated from their synagogue communities[1]]. This group of largely Jewish Jesus-followers, receiving these words of Jesus, were likely feeling the sting of separation and rejection by the Jewish authorities and their synagogue communities. They found themselves dislocated from all they knew and were trying to navigate who they were amid Jewish community pressures and Roman occupation.[2] → So the particular audience for whom Matthew wrote his gospel would have felt a lot like those on the outskirts of the city – those invited last who got to enjoy all the splendor and lavishness and joy of the feast, those initially rejected but ultimately the guests of honor.
    • Context within the gospel → Last week we read from Matthew 20. Today’s passage is from Matthew 22, and while you wouldn’t think that jumping over just a single chapter would miss that much, in this case, the contents of that chapter go a long way in informing our reading this morning. → Mt 21 = broken down into 6 subsections (“pericopes”)
      • First 2 – “Entry into Jerusalem” and “Cleansing the temple”[3] – we’ll read in a few weeks on Palm Sunday
      • Next = “Cursing the fig tree”[4]
      • Followed by most crucial pericope for helping us understand today’s text = “Jesus’ authority questioned”: When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to him as he was teaching. They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority?” Jesus replied, “I have a question for you. If you tell me the answer, I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things. Where did John get his authority to baptize? Did he get it from heaven or from humans?” They argued amongst themselves, “If we say ‘from heaven,’ he’ll say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But we can’t say ‘from humans’ because we’re afraid of the crowd, since everyone thinks John was a prophet.” Then they replied, “We don’t know.” Jesus also said to them, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”[5] → This interaction isn’t the first run-in that Jesus has had with the Jewish religious authorities, but it’s definitely a ramping up of the tensions between the two.
        • From this interaction, Jesus tells 3 parables, all ultimately about the kingdom of God and Jesus’ authority → in this morning’s parable, for example:
          • God = king preparing the wedding banquet for Jesus (the Son) → And if the whole point of the celebration is to give honor to the son (as a wedding celebration at the time would be), then the guest of honor himself – Jesus, the Son – holds the authority.
          • Servants = prophets (like John) sent to invite people to the banquet
            • Invitation is ignored by some (text: But they paid no attention and went away – some to their field, others to their businesses.[6]
            • Others (implication = religious authorities) take it a step further – text: The rest of them grabbed [the king’s] servants, abused them, and killed them.[7]
          • For the sake of the Son’s joy and the celebration and the prepared feast, the king sends more servants out to “invite everyone you find to the wedding party”[8] → servants (disciples) went out and gathered everyone they could find along the roads and in the city, and a grand party ensues
  • Now, interestingly enough, this is where Luke’s version of this parable ends.
    • Luke tells a similar version of this parable in ch 14 → But at the end of Luke’s version simply ends with an admonishment for those who rejected the initial invitation. – text: I tell you, not one of those who were invited with taste my dinner.[9]
    • Scholar: Matthew’s version seems to turn up the volume on the violence and tacks on the troubling addendum of the last-minute guest kicked out of the party for wearing the wrong outfit.[10]
      • Text: Now when the king came in and saw the guests, he spotted a man who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes. He said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ But he was speechless. Then the king said to his servants, ‘Tie his hands and feet and throw him out into the farthest darkness. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.’ Many people are invited, but few are chosen.[11] → And this ending – Matthew’s ending that is much starker and more dramatic, this ending that feels much harsher, much more intense and final – leaves us feeling uncomfortable.
        • Don’t like the idea of someone being tossed out
        • Certainly don’t like the “weeping and gnashing of teeth”
        • Don’t like Jesus’ last cautionary words: “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
  • But this morning, I’m going to invite us to hear those words in a different way. As we hear Jesus’ end to this parable (according to Matthew, anyway), I’m going to encourage you to remember the final words of our Scripture reading from a month or so ago – from Matthew 6: Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.[12] → You see, I think we can hear the end of Jesus’ parable as a reminder that, if we’re going to respond to God’s invitation, we need to be ready to respond in a way that is wholehearted and genuine.
    • Let me frame it this way → introduce I Am Invited to a Party! by Mo Willems[13]

      • By the end of the story, Piggie and Gerald are decked out way beyond anything that Piggie could have imagined would have been necessary for the party … but when they get there, they have put in exactly the right amount of effort and preparation for this particular fancy pool costume party. → one person’s “over-the-top” is another person’s “just right”
    • So when we read this parable through the lens of Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount about where we locate our treasures and our hearts, we hear a particular call in this parable: a call to be willing to respond to God’s invitation with our whole selves – our whole hearts, our whole spirits, our whole lives.
      • Respond with the way we prepare
      • Respond with the way we live
      • Scholar: What we do as people of faith It is so easy these days to compartmentalize all the pieces of our life, particularly our faith life. We check “going to church” off the to-do list and may view our faith as one small aspect among many of our lives. The intensity of this parable and harsh consequences of refused invitations reminds us that living out our faith is a matter of urgency and importance. … There is an expectation that being a Christian, a Jesus-follower, will make a difference and be obvious in the way we live our lives. This parable, through metaphors and life-and-death consequences, insists that we, like Matthew’s community, need to live lives that do not just prioritize our faith, but reflect our faith to those around us.[14]
    • Truly, friends, this is not a parable about what we do or don’t wear to church on a Sunday morning. What got the wedding guest at the end of Jesus’ story in trouble had less to do with his attire itself than it had to do with the effort he put into responding to the king’s generous invitation. He responded, to be sure, but only to the point that it didn’t inconvenience him.
      • Didn’t put any extra effort or energy into his response
      • Didn’t prepare himself to honor the one extending the invitation
      • Didn’t attempt to change
      • I mean, by attending the wedding without any kind of preparation, the man is effectively thumbing his nose at the king’s abundant generosity. The king has put in the effort to invite people from the whole surrounding area, but this man didn’t put in the effort to respond in a way that honored the spirit of the invitation.
      • Scholar: The message of Matthew is that God’s intervention in Jesus is at once broadly inclusive and utterly decisive. The wedding invitation has gone out. The question is not whether you can manage to fit this party into your schedule. This is the invitation that changes your schedule – and your life. This is an invitation to give oneself up to God’s future in Jesus Christ, which rushes toward us with unstoppable power, overtaking our present with a costly summons.[15]  So will we give ourselves over to the purpose and intention of God’s invitation? Will we come to feast with our most over-the-top dedication and willingness? Will we let God’s invitation change us through and through – change our schedules, change our hearts, change our very lives? Amen.

[1] Kimberly Wagner. “Commentary on Matthew 18:15-35” for Working Preacher,

[2] Kimberly Wagner. “Commentary on Matthew 22:1-14” from Working Preacher,

[3] Mt 21:1-17.

[4] Mt 21:18-22.

[5] Mt 21:23-27.

[6] Mt 22:5.

[7] Mt 22:6.

[8] Mt 22:9.

[9] Lk 14:24.

[10] Wagner, “Commentary on Matthew 22:1-14.”

[11] Mt 22:11-14.

[12] Mt 6:21.

[13] Mo Willems. I Am Invited to a Party! (New York: Hyperion Books for Children), 2007.

[14] Wagner, “Commentary on Matthew 22:1-14.”

[15] Sally A. Brown. “Matthew 22:1-14 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 187.

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