“Many are invited but few are chosen.” Jesus, in St Matthew 22:1-14, NIV.
“The current regulations allow…….for Covid-19 safe wedding receptions to take place for up to 30 people………attendance must be by invitation only.” Welsh Government guidance.
When Prince Harry married Meghan Markle, there was speculation for a long time beforehand about the guest list. As the ‘spare to the heir’, the constraints affecting Prince William’s invitations to his own nuptials due to his future role as king didn’t apply. So, the royal wedding invitations for Harry and Meghan saw Hollywood stars invited as well as members of the royal family and there was much speculation and excitement beforehand about The Dress and other wedding garments as well as the service and reception. At the time, it all seemed to herald a new beginning but, now, the Sussexes have left the UK to live abroad and there is much speculation about their future and place within the royal family. Weddings and receptions are complicated matters requiring careful planning and good organisation.
That’s the case in the story Jesus tells in the Gospel today of a much earlier royal wedding reception, where the invitations have been sent out and the guests are now summoned to the feast as all is ready. However, those invited are busy with other things and they mistreat and even kill the messengers sent to remind them. So angry is the king that, perhaps fearing a rebellion, he sends his army to kill their murderers and destroy their property – this is a king who takes action in the face of refusal. The king’s messengers are then sent out to invite those they find, good and bad, to the wedding feast and the banqueting hall is filled. The guests wear appropriate wedding garments to honour the king’s invitation – but one of the guests hasn’t made an effort and, although he calls him ‘Friend’, the king is clearly angry when he has no answer when asked why. He is then thrown out into the darkness with his hands and feet bound – the king judges him unworthy to be present, despite having been invited, as he seems not to appreciate the honour done to him.
This may seem harsh, but a wedding banquet is one of the ways of understanding the kingdom of heaven, of which Holy Eucharist is a foretaste. The story Jesus tells indicates that it’s Gentiles as well as Jews who are invited and that an invitation alone should not taken as sufficient. The parable reminds us that judgement as well as grace will be within the king’s gift and that guests need to remember that the invitation is not just about simply turning up at the banquet but also honouring his son as well as the king. Many are invited but not all will respond or be chosen to remain.
There’s an irony today in hearing these words of Jesus during the ongoing pandemic. The current Covid-19 restrictions mean that many family members and friends who would usually expect to be invited to the wedding receptions being organised may find that is not the case – only thirty people are able to be present and at a social distance. Some couples have decided to postpone the occasion until the restrictions are eased whilst others have gone ahead hoping to have a larger “do” later on, but making choices in these heightened circumstances is not easy.
Whatever choices are before each of us, the words of Jesus remind us that this parable is about the invitation to be part of God’s kingdom and our response and accountability to his call. Not all of those invited will respond or be chosen, but when the call comes that all is ready, it’s now or never. Some of the guests let other things get in the way of their commitment to the king’s invitation – do we, too?
With my prayers, Christine.