Old story. Familiar story.
So easy to go into blah blah blah mode. Yes. Even with Scripture. Sometimes especially with Scripture. So it was nice when this old story popped at me (thanks, again, John Henson and your Good as New translation):
This is what it’s like in the Bright New World. There was once a head of state whose son was getting married. The head of state was making plans for the wedding reception and sent details of the time and place to those on the invitation list. But nobody replied to say they were coming. So the head of state sent another set of messengers with a note saying, ‘Everything is ready. The food has been prepared and the table decorations have been made. Please let us know if you intend to come to the wedding reception.’ But nobody could be bothered to reply. One booked a holiday for the same date, another went off to a cottage in the country, and another arranged a business trip. Some gave the messengers a hostile reception. The head of state was very put out. Those who had treated the invitation with contempt were deprived of their offices of state and all their privileges. The head of state said to the messengers, ‘It will all go ahead as planned, but those on the official invitation list don’t deserve to be there. Go into the street and invite everybody you meet to the wedding reception.’ The messengers went up and down the high street and invited everybody, good and bad. As you can imagine, the place was heaving. But when the head of state came in to chat with the guests he noticed someone wearing a disapproving frown. The head of state said, ‘Friend, how did you get in here with a face like that?’ The person with the angry look couldn’t think of an answer. So the bouncers were called to do their duty. The head of state said, ‘Outside is the place for those who choose to be miserable.’” (God’s party is for everybody, but not everybody displays the party spirit!)
This is traditionally called the “parable of the wedding feast” (found in Matthew 22:1-14).
For some reason, I always saw the king as grumpy. I mean, when the party is finally pulled off, he goes in evidently to inspect the guests, and finding one dressed inappropriately has him thrown to hell.
I can’t tell how many times in the old days I heard this story cited as undeniable proof for dressing in your Sunday best at church. Even though I haven’t seen this story in such a negative light for some time, it still had that aura of “I hope I get this right because he’s coming for an inspection” performance feel to it.
Until I read it in Good as New.
What a different take on this “head of state”! And it’s there in the text the whole time.
His heart is bursting for the party. He simply won’t be denied his exuberant, extravagant, over-the-top celebration. Even a boatload of unresponsive, apathetic yawners who won’t even bother to hit “reply” won’t dampen his spirits. Nor will those who go beyond apathy to actively unfriending him and his messengers. Sure, he cashiers them, but he’s still going to throw the party. So all the nobodies, the riff raff, the undesirables flood the house, and he comes in, not to inspect, but to join in the fun. This has been the whole point, after all! If anything, he wants to make sure everyone is having a good time. Think Gatsby, only for losers instead of highbrows.
And then, like the proverbial fly in the ointment, he sees someone who totally ticks him off.
Not because they weren’t dressed well enough.
Not because they weren’t good enough or bad enough.
It was the disapproving, scowling frown.
“Friend, how did you get in here with a face like that? Outside is the place for those who choose to be miserable.” And out he goes.
And how about the rendering of “many are called but few chosen” (which to me signals exclusivity, high performance or status levels, and a “gee I hope I’m good enough” ‘party’ mood) with “God’s party is for everyone, but not everyone displays the party spirit.” So joy is the qualification here as in “love, joy, peace,” etc.
We’ve seen it. We’ve all done it. God is throwing the ultimate party and all we can do is gossip about the guest list, critique the catering, despise the cake, ridicule the best man’s toast and spread a toxic, carping, caviling, critical spirit everywhere. God has a very simple response: He unfriends you. And then out you go where those who choose to be miserable can enjoy each other’s miserable company, and then maybe you’ll think better of it. Maybe.
The same day I read this I came across this from Richard Rohr in a reflection he entitled “Smiling is a Form of Salvation”:
That’s why the holy old man can laugh and the holy old woman can smile. I heard recently that a typical small child smiles three hundred times a day and typical old men smile three times a day in our culture. What has happened between six and sixty? Whatever it is, it tells me that religion is not doing its job very well.
All of this makes me wonder about my own spontaneous smile quotient is – where am I in that 3 to 300 smile range on a typical day?
This isn’t a post to guilt you or me into forcing a smile, wearing a mask when your heart is broken, or faking it until you make it. That’s called business as usual, especially in church life.
It’s more like an invitation I just received when reading this story through fresh eyes. An invitation to embrace a totally different party spirit than the one most of our religion and politics encourage and stir.
I’m just choosing to hit “reply”, to click “like”, and to step into the party of life leaving the cynical frown and caustic remarks at the door, not because I want to please and impress, but because I’ve just been exposed to contagious Joy Personified.
Thought I’d share the invitation.
The party is for everyone…