“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…”
This quote from Shakespeare’s work As You Like It, continues on to describe seven stages of humanity, from infancy through adulthood and shows the evolution that we all go through in our lifetime. It’s similar in nature to the old joke that says, “What starts out on four legs, walks on two later, and end’s it’s life on three legs? Humans, who start out crawling, learn to run, and then finish walking with a cane.” Life, at least the process of life development, is one that we all go through.
And we can all affirm that, can’t we? The journey of life, something that we long to do well? We know more now than we did as a child, and anyone who is a grandparent call tell you that you parent differently. Kids get disciplined, grandchildren get spoiled.
Within each stage, within each part that we play, we can also identify something within us that wants to be a part of something bigger, something larger, something more grand, something…..cosmic.
Jesus, by all accounts a better storyteller than comedian, gives us the parable this week of a wedding banquet, but he uses these same theme of life development, except he talks about it in the cosmic story of life. He shares with us, if we are willing to pay attention, the story that God has been telling and shaping and crafting since the beginning of time.
The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and 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 wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.
“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.
From Matthew 22
The story that Jesus shares with us is the story of God’s people. Like a wedding planned long in advance, God has been shaping and crafting his people for just the right moment. The wedding has been planned, the guests have been invited, the families have assembled and gathered, the food has been cooked, the flowers arranged, yes indeed, everything it seems has reached its time of fulfillment. With everything nearing its perfect place in the grand story of us, God sends out the final herald to come and join the culmination of what he has been doing since the beginning of time.
Only a problem exists. The guests all of a sudden reject the invitation. They find excuses to ignore the invite of the King. And what we quickly find out is that you can’t say no to the King without repercussions.
So if we examine ourselves, and use the idea of actors in a play, like Shakespeare suggests, then what is the story that we are telling? Well, our story, much like many others, starts in the beginning. “In the beginning God created….and God saw that it was good….” Our story begins with the pronouncement of goodness. There is something about signing up to tell God’s story that is inherently good. Indeed, even the word Gospel means “Good News”.
And though our story starts out good, and remains good, we know that not everything about it is good. The fall. The muck. The mire. The sin. The separation. There are lists of things that we could easily create to tell us how not ‘good’ portions of this world are. Anyone who has had to experience the pain of burying a loved one can attest to that.
The the story is good, but we might also say that it is broken. There are some deep flaws to the parts we play in the story. So early on, God began to recruit storytellers. Men and women who weren’t afraid to help write the story that God wanted to tell. Great leaders of faith that would model a way forward from the place where we had become stuck.
Abraham, who left behind family, safety, and security to pursue the vision that God had laid before. Isaac, Jacob, Moses. Early leaders of faith that shaped the first God-called community. Rahab, who had heard of the God of Israel and decided that she wanted to be a part of the story. Ruth. Rachel. Esther. David. Solomon. The list could undoubtedly go on. People who to this day shape matters of faith and life, not only in the church, but often in popular culture as well.
And the prophets. Let’s please not forget the prophets. They had the job perhaps worst of all. When the people of God strayed away from what God had originally intended, it was the prophets who worked to call the people back to faithfulness. And it never ended well. The working conditions were often hard, and the people were often unresponsive. Prophets were routinely ridiculed, exiled, ignored, abused, mistreated, and killed. Listen even to the words of Jesus in the parable: “”But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.” What we see is that when we sign up for God’s story, it may not always go as planned or expected.
But the thread carried forward. The prophets were stewards of the heart of God, calling people to live the characteristics that God desired, things like love, justice, and mercy. Compassion, inclusion, and forgiveness were at the heart of the story God was telling, and those that wished to sign up to follow him had to agree to live like that. Too often though, we see that people chose the opposite: violence, injustice, weighted scales, and self-preservation.
But this life of the prophet is what Jesus was pointing too in the story, except he tells us that it wasn’t an exclusive right or characteristic of a prophet, but something that was expected by all of God’s people. And in this story we see that our invitation is right in line with the invitation and opportunity that everyone else prior to us has been: when the King sends the invitation, how do you want to respond?
Jesus gives us a rather stark conclusion to the story: many choose not to respond well, even those from God’s own people. The doors have been open wide for people to respond, to live with the godly characteristics of love, justice, mercy, and compassion, but we must choose to clothe ourselves in these in order to be invited to God’s grand feast.
Which leaves us with the outcome: what way will you choose to live? Will you take seriously the command to clothe yourself with the qualities that God wants? Will we be identified by our love, mercy, compassion, justice, care, concern, and forgiveness? Or will we choose to live in the opposite. Lots of God’s people have chosen this path, because quite frankly, it’s easier. It’s easier to have higher priorities than God, it’s easy to be a jerk, to retaliate, or to condemn. It’s easy to preoccupy ourselves with other tasks that may be good, but not godly.
And yet we know that we can’t have it that way and participate in something more grand that we could ever hope or dream about. If we are indeed actors in a play, and if we indeed want to be a part of something big or special, than we can’t have it both ways: you can’t both be a jerk and be a revolutionary, at least not in a God honoring way. You can’t promote love and justice, while not caring for your neighbors and those around you. And as this parable warns us, you can’t do whatever you want, and still be invited into the banquet hall of the King. A choice must be made, a decision is to be had. Choose to clothe yourself today, or not, the decision is yours, but the consequence is eternal.
This is adapted from a story given at Garden Park Church from the recent series Parables of Jesus.