Everyone’s Invited to the Party

outside dinner party

Jesus once told a story about a king who threw an outrageous extravaganza to celebrate his son’s happy nuptials, a bash sure to blow the socks off every party planner in the kingdom. 5 star chefs filled the tables to overflowing. A chart-topping band stood ready to get the dance floor moving. The party giveaways would put Oprah’s Favorite Things to shame. However, in a shocking turn of events, every single one of the RSVP guests decided last minute they had better options and would not make the festivities. The king swallowed his pride, weathered the outrageous insult and pleaded a second time with the guests. Please, join us. The dinner’s ready. You won’t have to wait. It’s all gratis. It will be fun, I promise. Come, party with us. Yet again, every guest brushed off the invite.

But the king refused to surrender the party. This king never gives up on the possibility of joy. He sent his servants out for a third pass, instructing them to gather everyone they found, the riffraff and the wealthy entrepreneur, the ones who were belles of the ball at all the swankiest shindigs as well as those who never, ever get the call. Bring them all, good or bad, the king said. Robert Capon describes the scene:

[The King] doesn’t give a fig that they look like pigs and smell worse. He doesn’t care that they don’t know hors d’oeurves from Havana cigars. He doesn’t care that they eat with their hands and blow their noses without handkerchiefs. In other words, he does not make any stipulations about them at all. They do not have to get their act together in order to be worthy of the party, any more than the prodigal son had to guarantee amendment of life before getting the fatted calf. They have only, like the prodigal, to accept the acceptance and go with the flow. The king and the father, you see, are party people.

So in streams the motley assortment of high society debutantes, roughnecks and more than a few moochers. And the king was glad to have each and every one. However, off in the corner sat a solitary sulker. This was the one person present who had refused the king’s gift of a wedding garment, the gift allowing everyone proper attire for the gala. Always the kind host, the king asked, “Friend, how did you miss the gift at the door? Why don’t we go pick out any suit you like.”

But the brooding man sat mute. His silence leveled yet another snub of the party, another rebuff of the king. Apparently it’s possible to be at the party without really being at the party. At least the first set of guests had the decency to not feign interest, but this silent, sulking fellow mocked the generosity with his defiant posture. So the king gave the sulker what he wanted. The man obviously had no desire for the festivities, so the king removed him from the banquet hall with the vigor that surely would catch his attention and surely would force him to grapple with how, outside the king’s party, there’s sorrow, not feasting.

But everything about the story tells me this: the door was always open. With only the slightest wisp of interest, the king would again welcome the man back onto the dance floor.

The sad truth is this: not everyone wants the party. Everyone gets the invite, but not everyone has the good sense to show up and join in the soiree. But the party’s waiting for us, always. If you’ve ever wondered if you’re included – you are. And if you’ve ever wondered if you’ve run so far that you wouldn’t be welcomed back – you haven’t.

13 Replies to “Everyone’s Invited to the Party”

  1. I think I’ll go with your interpretation of this story, that anyone no matter how far they’ve run, will be welcomed back. (Jesus words about weeping and gnashing of teeth for the people who refused to come, for the guy who didn’t dress up, are terrifying, and I don’t know what to make of them. People want to just go with Jesus words as being the most true part of the Bible, but He can be so harsh.) If you have any insight into the weeping and gnashing of teeth part beyond what you wrote, I’d love to hear it…

    I’m going to think on this, the invitation to the party, the clothes we are offered to wear, and that He uses the image of a party, with all the implied joy and revelry that is implied. Thank you for this.

    1. Hey, Katie. I take it to offer a pretty severe warning, that outside the party, it’s really no party. I think this parable is a real tragedy, a cautionary tale reminding us how that refusing love (and the final scene reminds us that refusing love has to do with something more than just assenting to some theological proposition – but then we all know in every other area of our life that pursuing love is much bigger than that) is really the way of ruin. I see this coinciding with Lewis’ notion that hell is that ever-shrinking portion of God’s reality, that tiny reality for those sorrowful souls who simply refuse to be loved (I’m actually not fully convinced that this parable is referring to hell, but whether or not that’s the case, the general idea of refusing love is the same). The only ones who aren’t at the party (or find themselves removed from the party) are the ones who in one way or another refuse the party/love that is freely offered.

      I have been finding more and more gratitude in how Jesus does not fit within any of our paradigms. Jesus’ love is unbounded, but it is not mushy. It is sturdy; it tells the truth. Jesus’ love is strong enough to rescue us and strong enough to enact justice. I think Jesus blows apart all our paradigms, left to right. I see a warning here for those of us who want to draw absolute lines about who’s in and out (Jesus says everyone’s welcome, good and bad) but also a warning for those of us who want to neuter the power of God’s love, who want to believe that God’s love will not undo us, as if Divine Love will not rock us to our core and call us into the blinding light.

      1. I used to find comfort and reassurance in the Reformed doctrine that the only way we can come to the Father is by his own intervention in overcoming our resistance — it relieves the fear that I could be so rebellious, so resistant, as to be left out through my own refusal. I think that the refusal that counts is a wholesale, committed sort of refusal — maybe the pockets of resistance deep within me, known and unknown, willed or in spite of myself, are not sufficient refusals to leave me in the darkness. And yet, it is hard to imagine anyone being so cold, so proud, so fearful, or so anything else that she would not be won over by God’s love. How does that happen? Does it ever actually happen, or will the outer darkness finally be empty after all?

        When I am not in the midst of the Bible, I can understand these progressive interpretations of wrath (thinking of all the other places where wrath is proclaimed, both in OT and NT), but many times these interpretations seem hollow when faced with one or more of those wrath passages. I don’t quite know what to do with it all.

        I do not like the wrath of God
        I do not like the taste of cod
        Not that one is like the other
        Just that both seem awful odd

        1. Thank you for the poetry, Marcy. The teachers I find most helpful on this are not the progressives (whoever they might be) but the older voices like Gregory of Nyssa or a more contemporary voice like C.S. Lewis. I think it’s a mistake to believe that God’s love never burns, strong and potent as it is – and if we will not have it, then it’s battle we will lost. I think it’s a bigger mistake to believe that God’s love is not as rampant and scandalous and overpowering as Jesus seems to insist.

          1. George MacDonald’s unspoken sermons seem to convey that idea, too — that the consuming fire IS the love, and vice versa. I also think of William Blake’s line about learning to “endure the beams of love.” I don’t want to eviscerate God’s love, reduce it to something merely soft and sentimental, but I do want to understand wrath, the fire, the inexorable opposition to evil, in a way that doesn’t carry the implication of personal dislike, disregard, disgust, especially in any sense of people being created as ‘vessels of destruction,’ the dark side of predestination. I think of hyperbolic lines like ‘Jacob I loved, Esau I hated,’ or ‘But for Cain and for Cain’s offering God had no regard.’


  2. Love this message .. and your blog and writings.. (your words have a way of making friends. drop a few here… ) my words are like my license plate M H JESUS…. Miracles Happen with JESUS… be blessed

        1. I think it is a description of the great sorrow that exists outside the ongoing experience of God’s love. Whenever we choose to reject love (whether for a season or forever), it is indeed a place of tears – which is why it is so ludicrous to go this way when all we have to do is say yes and give ourselves to love.

          1. That makes so much sense, though it can be a long walk into giving ourselves to love. It can be its own fire of cleansing…Nadia Bolz Weber just said on On Being yesterday that she thinks “Father Forgive Them they know not what they do” holds true for us now…Thank goodness for God’s forgiveness and wide love.

  3. An allegorical way of explaining how God is always there waiting for us to turn or return to him. The only part that I do not fully understand is the wedding garment. Does the wedding garment represent the forgiveness of God that some people will not or cannot fully accept?

    1. I just saw this, a year later. My apologies. I’m not sure it’s exactly a strict allegory, so I don’t that it represents any one particular thing. I think, at its simplest, it is just a gift. And God gives all kinds of gifts all the time, generosity overflowing.

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