“I’m too busy.” Oh, it’s so easy to get into that mindset! Not one more thing! There are always other things I need to do. I’m already tired. I’m behind at work. The house is a mess and needs cleaning. And none of us has enough family time.
It’s true we need to be careful about how much we take on in life – we can end up spinning like a whirling dervish all the time. Which are the flowers and which are the weeds? We should choose our activities and commitments with some care. Last week, I spoke of winter as a time of fallowness, of waiting – there is a time for that.
But some opportunities come along and feel like an invitation to something important. Instead of just brushing them off, they demand a real decision: is this a good opportunity? Would it do me good to do this? Could God be calling me to do this?
Last July – I ran across an announcement for a lecture up in Catonsville near Baltimore – not exactly convenient. But I had heard the lecturer, Amy-Jill Levine, before and knew she was fascinating – she is a Jew who teaches New Testament at Vanderbilt. I decided to go, and found myself re-energized to study Jesus in his Jewish context. I’ve been reading her books these last two months, and our Wednesday Bible Study group is using the New Testament she edited for our study of Mark’s Gospel. Levine has given my faith a boost.
Now let’s look more closely at Jesus’ parable. It seems natural to assume that the king who held a wedding feast for his son represents God. There’s very troubling language of violence and retribution attributed to this king. But all the stuff about violence was probably added to the parable after Jesus’ time – I don’t believe God sends troops, destroys people, and burns cities when we don’t come to God’s parties. That sounds much more like humans being vengeful – and in fact it reflects historical fact 40 years after Jesus told this parable, when the city of Jerusalem was burned to the ground by the Romans.
Rather, we see God inviting us to be God’s guests at the great banquet of creation, the feast of life. God makes everything ready; God clothes the earth in “the beauteous garb of spring” as we would put flowers on the table for a special meal. God sends out the invitations – to all of us – and then God waits. There’s no coercion involved – no troops will be sent, no cities burned if we don’t come. We don’t have to accept the invitation. God just waits on us.
I am by nature a cautious person. I’m sure many times that has prevented me from saying yes to an invitation or an opportunity that seemed risky to me. I’ve lived by what I call the principle of least regret: given a choice to make, which one am I least likely to regret later? That’s a safe approach, but not always adventuresome.
If I had my life to live over, I think I’d try to be a little less cautious, a little more spontaneous, more adventurous, more open to what God might be inviting me to do.
One think I do know – I don’t regret the times I’ve taken a chance, struck out into unknown territory. Leslie and I just celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary this week. (And they said it would never last!) The decision to marry is one of the greatest adventures in life, and perhaps among the riskiest. Who can really know if two people can continue as partners over so many years, so many changes? We know the rate of separation and divorce is high. People get hurt all the time in intimate relationships. What makes us strike out into the unknown and make lavish promises “till death do us part”?
I think it is the sense of possibility, the sense that something new and wonderful has a chance of being born and growing. There is every risk of failure. It’s not a sure thing, but there’s an invitation to try. Now, it goes without saying that Leslie was taking a much greater chance on marrying me than I was taking with her. Her grandmother, when she learned that I was a priest, said, “Oh Leslie, don’t marry a priest – there’ll be no end to the trouble!” And she was right. But there has also been no end to the joy and adventure and satisfaction.
Obviously, our wedding was in the fall. But our engagement – the time of invitation, the time of decision – was in the spring, that season of newness, of possibility, of excitement and growth and opportunity. “’Tis the spring of souls today” as the Easter hymn puts it. It is no mystery why we celebrate Easter in the spring – when else would we? New life and resurrection are the bywords of the season.
So, on this October Sunday, we transport ourselves – for the moment – into the mindset of Spring: we consider new possibilities with an open mind. We try to separate the weeds from the flowers. We wait for God’s invitation to the great feast, and pray we don’t miss it. The good news is that God invites everybody in: the slaves were sent out into the streets to gather everybody – the good, the bad, and the ugly. At this moment, you may see yourself as a pretty good person, worthy of entrance. Or you may be thinking you’ve really messed up, and God wouldn’t want you. But actually, it doesn’t depend on you. The invitation depends on God, and God is inviting you in. It’s the invitation of a lifetime! Don’t miss it!