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.” Matthew 22:1-2
Every one of us is being constantly invited to enjoy the banquet of life. We have been invited to that life since we first entered this world. We may have been lucky enough to be encouraged to that banquet by parents or teachers. Even if we have not been knowingly invited, or have been mistakenly guided by parents or teachers, we still are invited today by the Voice that resides in each one of us.
This is the essence of the story from Matthew 22 in which the King sends out his servants to invite his subjects to come to a great wedding feast. The King symbolizes God the Creator and the servants are His Creations who seek to follow His directions. The great wedding feast is the experience of living this life on earth with a deep joy and love.
The picture of our Earth walk is the image of leaving our heavenly clothes behind. It is symbolized by the story of being found naked in Paradise or the Garden of Eden. When we chose to eat of the forbidden apple or fruit and become body and earthbound we were suddenly overcome with guilt and fear. Immediately we noticed our nakedness and found materials to make aprons to cover our shame. However, after living a life of disappointment, we may finally awaken to the Voice and return to Paradise. Okay, perhaps it takes many lives, hundreds of them, before we come to awakening.
The call to come to the Banquet of Life is therefore to put on new clothes or the robe of life. When this robe is placed upon one’s life hope begins to displace fear, joy overcomes shame, and forgiveness displaces anger. Of course this new kind of thinking takes the rest of our days of walking Earth to learn and practice. That’s what meditation and prayer are about.
Meditation and prayer are simply regular “quiet times” or whatever planned times we use to come back to Spirit. These could be done in special places set aside in our homes or around them in gardens or parks. Some people have special chairs or even hot tubs! These are not just times for reading but for listening. Normally we become so identified with our bodies that it is very hard for us to let go and go beyond. People use simple chants such as “Om” or phrases as, “Come Lord Jesus, Come Spirit” or “Come God, Come Love.” Many people use reminders throughout the day by carrying little prayer cards or wear a talisman to help them remember.
People who are normally thought to be religious as members of organized churches, synagogues, or temples can easily miss this inward awakening. You can get a clue of this absence by their constant condemnation and judgment of others. You can see it in the disdain and hated for others not like them. This is the meaning of the parable when the servants go to invite members or the adherents of King but the “religious” turn them away.
“He sent his slaves seek 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…”
Many of those who feel they have accepted the call to the banquet do not understand this call to the inward journey of awakening. They feel by joining a church or religious organization they have put on the proper clothes. I’ve heard it said if I stand in the garage a long time or many years, I still will not become an automobile! Putting on the clothes of religion in just attending services, being appointed an officer or a teacher or a financial leader, even an ordained pastor, can be very deceiving. Oh, it is much deeper than this!
Religion in many religious institutions is like being married but showing no love, emotion, or passion. It’s just going through the motions of eating the menu but leaving the food on the table.
I once belonged to an athletic club where people would go to have workouts to stay healthier. Quite a few of the members wore visible symbols of their faith in necklaces around their necks or bracelets on their arms. I remember one member who wore a big cross, a crucifix around his neck. He talked often of going to religious services but I also discerned at times he was quite bigoted and judgmental of others!
This past summer I played a round of golf one day with a man who wanted to tell me, without being asked, of his faith in the great God who created the world! He praised the beauty of the earth His heavenly father had created. I asked him, “Why does your Heavenly Father allow such horrible tsunamis and wars and famine to destroy so many people?” He simply said, “I guess we just have to take the good with the bad!” Later in the round he mentioned a person, even though he had never met him, calling him a “scumbag!” “Why,” I thought, “had God also made these?”
Many “believers” refuse to come to the heavenly banquet; in fact they even rough up those who are sent to invite them. A book came out a few years warning about “Clergy Killers” in many churches!! But even when the Heavenly God sent his Son, they not only roughed him up but killed him. Yes, fake religious believers can be pretty thin-skinned.
So the King or God sent his messengers out into the highways and byways of life inviting people to come to the banquet of life. That seemed to be the model of Jesus’ ministry as it is increasingly for people today. Churches and many religious buildings are rapidly being abandoned. In our country over 3500 churches this year will close and for many the end is very near. In a meeting with a Task Force on churches a few days ago, I heard of many more churches like this group in West Seneca who are on the verge of closure. Does this mean the responses to God’s invitation of Life are nonexistent? Not at all.
In a recent study released a few months ago it reports a rapid increase in the past few years of what are called “House Churches.” In just the last two or three years they have increased by 25%! The number of Americans who now support and are part of such small groups in homes has surpassed 10 million. They suggest it may be as high now of 30 million! (The Barna Group, 2868 Eastman Avenue, Venture, CA, 2009) That’s three times the number of people who call themselves “Presbyterians.” When you add in the number of growing Zen Buddhist groups it expands much further.
These are the spiritual hungry people Jesus ministered to 2000 years ago. They are who Thomas Bandy calls the spiritually yearning public but feel disenfranchised and unattracted to most churches.
On the other hand, just because I say I do not care for organized religions, its leaders, its programs, its music, or its expensive buildings, does not mean that I have awakened to the Grand Banquet of Life. I might even then remain a cynical, thirsty, disenfranchised, unforgiving person. Remember, one of the street-invited ones showed up at the banquet without having on the proper garment or wedding robe. That person was thrown out, as the story goes, into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth!
This simply means, “No open, loving heart, no home here!” Of course, these are very harsh words here inserted by “Church Fathers” of the Third Century. They simply means that without love in our union with the Divine Spirit our lives amount to nothing. They are nothing more than passing dreams or false illusions of reality. They become those struts across the stages of life but signify absolutely nothing. They simply are as the song goes, “Dust in the Wind.”
Other versions of the story simply end with the phrase, “Many are called but few are chosen.” Or from verse 75 in the Gospel of St. Thomas we read; “Many are standing at the door but it is a solitary who enters the bridal chamber.” I like those much better.
Where are we this morning? Are we in awareness and living in constant seeking of our connection to the God of life? Are we His servants or those messengers who live and take the message to our families and communities? Are we those who make fun of the messengers and chase them away out of our lives? And what kind of community does this congregation manifests to the community around it? Is it a place which enhances people’s oneness with their Creator by prayer and meditation? Or is it just a friendly but dying place of busyness?
The answer is as the song goes, “Blowing in the wind!” It is present in the Spirit who surrounds us and indwells us. It begins with our personal response to it and by gathering together with other seekers to expand and support each other as it is lived out in lives in homes and on the streets.
At this point in time I confess that I am a bit impressed by those who are “Occupying Wall Street” around our country. Thus far it has remained mostly nonviolent and some cases centered in meditation and prayer. This could easily be a loving expression for a society where thousands of homeless and growing poor exist in our land. It symbolizes and reminds me of servants of the King or God going into the streets and calling the fearful ones, many with much more than they need, to share it with the millions and billions of our world who seek simple surroundings with basic qualities of life.
Yes, we are called to the great Banquet of Life. The Great Spirit speaks to us and through us the message of love, forgiveness, and the great joy of eternal life. Let us respond this day in our individual lives and together in our groups to become vibrant and hopeful bearers of Divine Love to our world. God bless you and may the Divinity within myself always recognize the Divinity within you.
Reflections of Matthew 22:1-14 by Rev. David Persons, October 9, 2011, at the 1st Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, 2085 Union Road, West Seneca.