Jesus tells a trilogy of parables in the synagogue after his entry into Jerusalem the week before his crucifixion. If these parables were a modern movie franchise, volume three (22:1-14) might frustrate fans and critics, because it seems less like a worthy three-quel and more like a mashup of volumes one (21:38-32) and two (21:33-46). Jesus repeats themes he has already explored: how the first guests summoned to God’s kingdom reject the invitation, sometimes violently; and how the “good and the bad” (22:10) people off the streets will be welcomed as honored guests instead.
But this third installment in the series is perplexing, even while it seems repetitive. It snapshots different ways people respond “No” to the invitation to the king’s feast. Some are on the guest list, but simply RSVP “No thank you.” Some are too preoccupied with the tasks and demands of life to stop what they are doing and attend the king’s party. Some are suspicious of strangers, no matter who sends them, and are ready to hurt or even kill unwelcome messengers.
If Jesus’s audience was paying attention to the first two parables in this trilogy, they should see this climax coming from a mile away: the king avenges the lives of his servants, then opens the doors wide. The hateful people are punished, and now anyone can now come to this great feast! But wait! There’s a plot twist: one of these last-minute arrivals isn’t properly dressed for the bash. Immediately the king orders the underdressed man tossed out “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 13). Jesus has shown snapshots of all the ways people respond “No”; now he offers a snapshot of one way they might respond “Yes.” This is not a whole-hearted “Yes,” but a “Yes, but.” Yes, but I’m not going to change clothes. Yes, but don’t ask me to do anything. Yes, but I’m not putting in any extra effort.
This hapless guest is happy to respond “Yes” to the invitation, but he takes the king’s hospitality lightly. He is ready to dig in the feast, but only if he doesn’t have to go overboard to make himself ready. He enjoys the generous welcome, but he hopes the king won’t notice his halfhearted commitment.
We might be sure we would not respond “No” to God, but how can we be sure our “Yes” isn’t actually a “Yes, but”?
- How does this parable seem to be directed at Jesus’s fans, not only at his critics?
- We believe that God’s grace and a generous welcome in God’s kingdom is a gift that we cannot earn. Do you think this story contradicts that understanding?
- The underdressed guest was welcomed to the feast, and he arrived less than fully ready. But even his attendance at this amazing party did not prompt him to upgrade his wardrobe. Do you think our first “Yes” response to God is the only important response we make? How do we continue to respond to God? How does God continue to change us and call us to change after our first “Yes”?
- Another kind of “Yes” response is “Yes, and.” This is a well-known formula for improv actors. “Yes, but” puts conditions on our acceptance. “Yes, and” opens the possibilities for change, for a new direction, and for the ongoing story. What would it be like to respond “Yes, and” to God’s invitation? How does “Yes, and” allow us to receive God’s hospitality whole-heartedly, and to continue to be changed by our experience of God’s presence?
Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.wordpress.com.
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