Jesus tells this great story about a younger brother who basically wishes his father dead, takes his large inheritance, blows it on a few wild nights, finds himself slopping pigs for a living and finally returns home where his dad forgives and welcomes him.
Whew. Now that’s quite a story. And it’s become an iconic one in our world.
But I want to talk about the back end of that story, the postscript portion. Because that’s where we see the older brother coming in from his long day of work in the fields. He hears music and dancing. It wasn’t a normal feast day, so he wonders what in the world is going on. He stops a servant to ask.
And for some reason “Your brother is back!” did not equal “Party!” in his mind. So as the music is cranked up and the barbecue gets smoking, he doesn’t run in. He doesn’t jump onto the dance floor and do the funky chicken. He doesn’t grab a glass of wine and offer a toast his his long-lost sibling.
Instead he pulls his father aside and complains. Where’s his celebration? How does his vagabond brother even deserve something like this? Wouldn’t a punishment be more appropriate? It’s the ultimate stick-in-the-mud move. There’s this fantastic shindig going on yet he chooses to complain. A party is erupting all around him, but instead he sits out and pouts. He’s missing out on the celebration that’s right in front of him.
Our readings this week take us to another story of Jesus about a party. And this one is strange as well. Because it’s a party thrown by a king that no one attends. So he finds others — the forgotten people who never get invited to parties — and brings them to celebrate with him.
But then one guy gets caught wearing the wrong clothes and gets thrown out. Strange indeed.
Yesterday Trevor linked to a post by Rob Bell that explains this weird detail. Basically, wedding clothes were a generous gift of the host of the party. So here’s this guy that accepted the invitation, showed up for the bash but doesn’t want to fully participate. He hasn’t totally bought into it. Maybe he was waiting for a better offer. Maybe he wanted to keep his options open. Whatever his reason, the king has a problem with it.
Two stories about parties. Both with people who are around the festivities, who are invited to jump in, but don’t want to fully engage. People who want to enjoy some of he party’s pleasures, but don’t fully participate.
There’s something here Jesus is trying to tell us.
I know it can be difficult to think of God’s kingdom as a party. The picture a lot of us have of parties is one of over-indulgence and intoxication. Of people doing things that they will immediately regret the next morning. But this party image is one that keeps popping up in the New Testament. Jesus’ public ministry begins at a party. And a wedding feast is the image of where this whole story is headed.
A party seems too easy. Too light and carefree. Too simple.
Yep, God’s grace can be that way.
So we have all these other voices in our head that try to convince us that the following Jesus looks like something more complicated. And instead of jumping into the celebration of grace, we’d rather sit on the outside and debate. We stand on the edges of celebration and argue its legitimacy or who deserves the right to hop onto the dance floor.
We don’t give ourselves wholeheartedly over to this great thing God has invited us into.
And not in the sense that we’re not trying hard enough. Because there’s no way to earn that invitation or take any responsibility for the banquet. Rather we don’t give in and allow ourselves to be swept up in this amazing story of grace and love that God has invited us into.
We get so caught up in trying to organize, get the rules straight or be gatekeepers to a party that isn’t really ours to begin with. And in doing so we end up missing the celebration ourselves.
So we’ve got to fight these urges we have that make us resist the invitation. We’ve got to fight these other voices. And in the words of those famous theologians, The Beastie Boys:
(Yes, I just quoted The Beastie Boys in a post. No, I’d never thought I’d do that. Yes, I think it’s totally awesome, too. No, don’t go watch the video for this song because it will totally ruin my point…)
So maybe if we stopped trying to legislate the party and simply jumped on the dance floor and started dancing, more people would join in. And maybe instead of standing on the edges of celebration, we’d find ourselves smack dab in the middle of an amazing jubilee that we could never pull off on our own.
Because it’s not our party anyway. We’re just invited. And the dance floor is wide open. Join in.