The Kingdom of heaven is like a wedding feast. Who do we invite? We restrict entry into the Kingdom at our peril.
Isaiah presents a vision poetically and powerfully asserting God’s inclusive intent to save all humanity from all that has ever threatened to destroy it – especially death – with a banquet of celebration and salvation. This intimate and moving passage is often used as a reading at Christian funerals: ‘…. he will destroy death forever. The Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek.’ If we do not rush to make the customary quick cut to the unimaginable fulfilment of this prophecy in the man Jesus, but linger with the ways it might have been read for all those ages before, and even after the life of Jesus – we perhaps find a better perspective on the Incarnation of the universal Christ. In the man Jesus, we can appreciate it for the truly momentous event it is.
This vision and reality are best appreciated by setting them against the broader background of the activity of the Spirit of God – summed up in John’s Prologue as the Word, through whom ‘all things were made’. The vision of Isaiah is not simply fulfilled in the work of the man Jesus but in that work as a reflection of the wider, fuller work of the Holy Spirit of God in the Cosmic Christ. This whole process is better described then, from within the impact created by reflection on the role of the cosmic Christ, described at the outset of John’s Gospel.
The one word Paul is unable to restrain is ‘lavishly’! Calmly he describes the state of divinely dynamic equilibrium he has been brought to, by being a partner in the divine dialogue. All human conditions (poor, rich, well-fed, starving) he can now face with equanimity. Why? He has the One who gives him strength – God. We have got used to the idea that human beings can claim to get ‘strength’ from an encounter with the divine. But it was not always thus! Paul claims it, but then humanises his conviction about God as a source of power: ‘All the same, it was good of you to share with me in my hardships’! Paul may not have been the most tactful man to have around. He scrambles back to his major theme – God will fulfil all your needs, as lavishly (that word!) as only God can. The utter certainty of his conviction is startling. He can only end with a song in praise of God our Father forever and ever.
Matthew has Jesus portray God’s passionate wish for his kingdom to embrace everyone by comparing Him with a king inviting folk to the wedding feast of his son. The king ends up inviting anyone off the streets because he receives such ungracious responses from those on the actual invitation list. Such is Jesus’ insight into the mind of his Father. God’s ‘kingdom’ is God’s love for all – expressed in the comparison by the king’s invitation to all – good and bad alike.
We restrict entry into the Kingdom at our and the Church’s peril. It is too weak to describe the work of the Spirit of God as inclusive in its attention to all. Inclusivity is part of what we mean if asked to define ‘God. Christians must be alert to this fundamental characteristic of God as defined or described by Jesus. The work of the Holy Spirit cannot be confined to those who call themselves Christians. All are invited – good and bad – to the wedding feast, to the dialogue. Humanity is one in its origin in God, in its destiny in God – summed up and exemplified in the Word spoken in and by Christ.