Many are called but few are chosen

Fr Alec
Sunday, October 12, 2014 - 9:30am

One of my favourite sayings comes from the explorer Ranulph Fiennes:


‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.’


The wisdom of this statement seems to me to go far beyond the recommendation that we take a cagoule with us when we go hiking. Rather, it suggests, we will only be comfortable, only truly at home anywhere if we have taken account of, and adjusted to our environment. And this applies as much to the Kingdom of God as it does to the North Pole.


On Thursday night, I had a fascinating conversation, which has stayed with me ever since. It was about our image of God the Father – how we understand his Fatherhood. The question was,

‘Are we stuck with this picture of God we have inherited as an old man with a white beard?’

God, of course, is nothing of the sort. Our Father in heaven is not limited by humanity as we are. Though we may associate wisdom and knowledge with grey hairs, they don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Eternity is not the same thing as age. We might just as well imagine God as a young and vigorous Father- doing justice to his power, creativity, and unpredictable energy.


I was put in mind of a speech from Brand, a play by Ibsen, in which the fanatical preacher encounters a young couple on the mountainside. He finds that they are in love, and they thank God for the joy he has given them. But Brand challenges what he sees as a soppy and muddled picture of a senile God…


“All you want is to flirt, and play, and laugh; to do lip service to your faith but not to know the truth; to leave your suffering to someone who they say died for your sake….”  [My God] is a storm where yours is a gentle wind, inflexible where yours is deaf, all-loving not all-doting. And he is young and strong like Hercules. His is the voice that spoke in thunder when he stood bright before Moses in the burning bush, a giant before the dwarf of dwarfs. In the valley of Gibeon he stayed the sun, and worked miracles without number – and would work them still, if people were not dead, like you.”


The harsh picture painted by Brand is both bracing and unnerving; extreme, but hard to argue against. He calls for All or Nothing, and preaches a God who challenges us to change, rather than blandly blessing the status quo.


This, it seems, is the God whom we meet today in Matthew’s gospel. In Jesus’ picture of the Wedding feast, we discover the same frisson of alarm, as we half-recognise ourselves among those who have been invited to join the celebration, but have tossed the invitation aside.


Reading the passage through, we may even be somewhat taken aback that the king, having dragged in the newcomers is ready to fling out those who have flouted the dress code- casting them away bound hand and foot. The response seems out of proportion, even capricious. Nor does it seem to match the loving God whom we know and expect.


Perhaps it helps to read the story from another angle. I wonder whether perhaps this is as much a picture of what humanity is like as it is of what God is like. Though we are perhaps inclined to latch onto the language of judgement, the ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’, we may overlook two things:


Firstly, the king’s constant and insistent desire to draw his guests into his lavishly-prepared feast- the disproportionate way in which he sends slave after slave after them. This is a king who humbles himself- almost making a fool of Himself to win the company of his ungrateful subjects.


Secondly, we may overlook the way in which the choice belongs to the guests. ‘Many are called, but few are chosen.’ Says the gospel. But who does the choosing here? The invitation comes from the king, but the decision to attend belongs to the guests. We are posed not with the question, ‘Do we submit to God’s commands?’, but ‘Do we accept God’s invitation into the kingdom of Heaven?’


And how do we accept? Grudgingly? Flippantly? On God’s terms or our own? Do we come to the kingdom of Heaven in wedding robes, or in our own clothes?

Here is the All or Nothing of the Kingdom of God. God insists that we come to the wedding feast appropriately dressed. Nothing else is acceptable.

But what tyranny is this? Must we really submit to something so arbitrary and trivial? But this, I think, is to mistake the meaning.

We cannot be at home at the wedding feast, cannot belong in the Kingdom of God, if we come inappropriately dressed.


As Paul writes in Colossians:


‘As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,’


We stand now, like tantruming children in the warmth of the home, refusing to put on our winter coat. Like teenagers sulkily refusing to wear a suit to the wedding. Like shivering airline passengers in shorts awaiting a delayed flight to the tropics.


It is time to swallow our pride and dress for the wedding. To clothe ourselves with love, because the banquest is prepared and it is God Himself who invites us.