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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 22:1–14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (NRSV)

Let’s be honest upfront: these two parables are rough. They’re difficult to interpret on a first reading and, even after spending time with them, it can be difficult to ascertain what we might take from them today. Most scholars believe that these parables, along with the two other parables that precede it, reference a rejection of Israel’s religious leaders for their refusal to recognize Jesus’ role in bringing God’s kingdom into being. The burning of the city, along with the violent descriptions of coming chaos, likely refers to the destruction of the Temple and the second fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The rejected man without a wedding robe likely refers to an insincere convert who was not willing to be made new—the robe likely symbolizes the faithfulness and obedience that would be expected.

Despite the haunting images of destruction and a rejected man, though, few verses are more haunting for us than verse 14: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Coming at the passage through a Reformed theological lens, this parable seems to assert that God’s grace is somehow limited and finite. Are only a few “chosen” or “elected” by God based on their response to God’s call? If so, is that response predestined, as many Reformed theologians would assert? That hardly seems fair, of course, and that line of questioning drags us into the age-old dilemma between believing in our own agency and free will while also believing in God’s omnipotence and omniscience—a paradox far too great for this devotion to unpack or solve.

This paradox may not have been the allegorical intent behind Jesus’ parable—it may have been as simple as referencing the small number of Jews in first century Judea who responded to Jesus’ invitation—but the text challenges our assumptions of easy grace, and asks us to commit once more in faithfulness.

Holy God, may these challenging words from Jesus remind me of the difficulty of truly responding to your call, and may they inspire me to recommit to your path once more. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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