More often than I care to experience Jesus is right in the middle of one of his really good stories when he says something that doesn't fit, and it's usually something I was not expecting and don't like to hear. That is what happens in Matthew 22.1-14. If you read the passage you can easily figure out which of those parts is not like the other. It happens in verses 11-14.
"When the king entered and looked over the scene, he spotted a man who wasn't properly dressed. He said to him, 'Friend, how dare you come in here looking like that!' The man was speechless. Then the king told his servants, 'Get him out of here - fast. Tie him up and ship him to hell. And make sure he doesn't get back in.' That's what I mean when I say 'Many get invited; only a few make it.'"
I'll get to what Wright has to say about this unwelcome (from my point of view) twist to a rather nice story in a moment, but first what are we to make of the parable itself? Here's our author: "As with the preceding Parable of the Wicked Tenants, the son in the story is clearly Jesus himself, and the king, like the vineyard owner, is obviously God the father." Great. I also offered a hearty "amen" to this: "The central theme is the sudden lavish throwing open of the invitation no longer to the great and good but to all and sundry. Everyone found in the streets is to be invited to the banquet. We sigh with relief. Jesus is playing our tune at last. Here is the gospel we know and love, the message of a radical inclusivity in which the doors are thrown open for all to come in."
So how do I make sense of the gross interruption to a story reading as sweet as this one? I take Wright's application to heart: "The king passes sentence on the unready guests, and the one who suffers the penalty is the king's own son. One man is indeed stripped of his garments, bound, or rather nailed, hand and foot, and cast into outer darkness, and again it turns out to be the king's son, the bridegroom himself." Ah hah! This is a story of the cross. And the cross is always an unwelcome, cruel twist.
N.T. Wright finishes: "The scriptures and the power of God come rushing together in the person of God's Messiah, only to go tumbling with him down, down into the dark, bottomless pit of sorrow and shame. And only when we have stood aghast for three days on the edge of that pit will we be in any fit condition to speak once more of the wedding banquet, of the lavish welcome, of the new Temple, of robes of true holiness, and of hope. Only when we have pondered what it cost the king to prepare the wedding banquet of his son do we dare once more call God father and pray for the coming of his kingdom."
And so this story causes me to pause, as an unready guest, and to remember the binding and the shipping out of Jesus so that I might be among the few who make it. Thanks be to God for this lavish grace.