The king is having a wedding feast. The guests are invited. Unfortunately, some of the chosen people find excuses not to attend. Because the king wants the banquet hall filled, he sends out servants to the highways and byways to offer to anyone who will come the same invitation as he had offered to those who refused his earlier call.
The pattern of invitation and response expressed in this week’s parable is similar to Jesus’ own experience during his public life. The influential people of his own culture found excuses to avoid accepting the invitation of God extended through Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus then turns to the fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, women, and other nobodies. The first chosen are replaced by all sorts of good and wicked people regardless of their background.
Like the king in the parable, Jesus invites people to follow him. Initially there were invited guests who found excuses not to attend. In Jesus’ case, there is the rich young man whose possessions were many. There is the would-be disciple who asks permission to go and bury his father. In the Gospel according to John, there are all those people who leave his company at the conclusion of the bread of life discourse. As a result of such rejection Jesus turns to others who will follow. So, his disciples are a motley group of individuals who sometimes seem quite unsavory.
In addition, the varied nature of the guests who finally do come to the feast indicates a kind of universalism inherent in discipleship. Jesus tells us that he has chosen us, not that we have chosen him. Consequently, his wonderful invitation is extended to all people who desire to follow him. Discipleship is not a matter of purity of blood lines, of nationality, of gender or of any other restricting classification we might think up that would limit the broad invitation of Jesus. Despite the fact that the invitation originally was sent to a limited number, eventually it became extensive and universal.
Although the parable is about a king who gives a party, Jesus’ deeper message is about the nature of discipleship as open to all believers. Since Jesus announces that the parable is a description of the reign of God, it helps us understand God’s loving acceptance of all who are poor, on the margin, or rejected for false reasons. Our limiting categories of acceptance and rejection are frightfully inadequate, so we have no right to spurn Jesus’ request for all to follow him.
Discipleship teaches us as Paul says to live in any circumstance in which we find ourselves, knowing full well that we are chosen by God. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled by the varied guest list at the banquet, “On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines.”
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.