Jesus is fond of telling stories of kings. There is the familiar story in Matthew (22:1-14) , for instance, the king who throws a wedding banquet, but all the usual invited guests can’t be bothered coming. Too busy. Too distracted. Too self-absorbed. The king is peeved, tells his slaves to go out and get whatever riff-raff- they can find off the streets. There’s got to be a party! The slaves hall in an odd assortment of guests: street people, the drunk and disorderly, door-to-door salesmen, tax collectors, a harlot or two. OK, the king is satisfied now. He goes in to check out his guests and lo and behold, there’s a man without a wedding robe! Shocking! Don’t these people know the rules of proper society? The king confronts the unsuspecting guest, who turns to him aghast – what have I done? You scum, the king infers, and orders the man kicked out – and here’s the punch – “into the outer darkness where there will be much groaning and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.” This, Jesus insists, is an allegory for the kingdom of God.

Now hold on a minute here. Who’s being chosen? OK, maybe it’s the rabble of guests – the invited guests didn’t want to come after all. And maybe the man who was amongst this sorry lot, in his ignorance or stupidity or defiance (we’re not told which), fails to see the significance of this kind gesture from the king, fails to respond in an appropriate and honorific manner, so the king gets pissed off. There’s a certain logic in this; we are told (and intrinsically feel) that we should supplicate ourselves to the awe-inspiring majesty and power of God. Appropriate acts of deference and sanctimony are expected.

But Jesus had a clever mind. And a hard message to get across to a fairly ignorant mob of humanity which, struggle as though some of them might, after several millennia of evolution, still haven’t been able to peak around the edge of the curtain to find out what it’s really all about. So he tells these obscure stories, open to multiple meanings and translations. If we go with the most obvious, the one outlined above, we get our usual projection of God more or less validated: God in his kingly robe sitting on his throne wagging his perennial finger at errant humanity. Like a seditious prosecutor, if we don’t get it right, out we go, tossed into the sticky realms of hell, where life is pretty horrific. Who wants to groan and gnash there teeth for all eternity after all?

But here’s another take on Jesus’ story-telling skill. Maybe, like so many things said by gurus and enlightened ones, the real message lies underneath the most obvious? As though there’s a shadow world sitting simultaneously along side what we might call normal reality. What if the chosen one was the guest who gets thrown out for not obeying the “rules”, the social order? What kind of perverse twist is put on the story then? For remember, many are called but few are chosen. Chosen for what? To be thrown to the dogs, out to the rim of utter darkness, to groan and gnash one’s teeth? What can this mean about our God? Our conception of God? Of heaven and hell and the meaning of life?

I’ve read this story carefully twice and, forgive me, both times this is how I read it: God chooses the select few to make the soul’s journey out to the outer rim of darkness, where, despite the pain and agony one meets there, the soul gestates for a period, before eventually giving birth to … to what? God-consciousness? Could this be the ‘ticket’ to the kingdom of God? The invitation to step inside the temple? Think about it. This was the journey Christ took after all: thrown to the dogs, into the darkness, the dark night of the soul, plenty of pain, gnashing and thrashing – not a pretty sight for God’s chosen one. And what was the result of all this misery? God-consciousness. He ascended into heaven…

Call me a heretic, but I can’t help suspecting there is at least an element of truth in this interpretation of Jesus’ story.

So here’s how it might go…God calls us. But the ones most likely to come (from our human perspective), the priests, the wealthy elite, the “success” stories in our world, can’t really be bothered or don’t even take heed of the nice invite. So God calls others, the Others, the vagabonds, the least likely to sit at the Lord’s table, the rejects and least successful. This is a common narrative in Jesus’ stories, after all. So there we are, the uninvited guests who get called into the house of God. The few remnants of church goers, the happy do-gooders, the ones whose hearts have grown compassionate and wide from living on the fringes of so-called privileged society. But this isn’t enough is it? It can get cozy, sitting in a church with a bunch of like-minded social misfits. The initial thrill of feasting on the glorious fare offered by our Lord can wear off after a time. And then what? Well, you join the quilters group, get involved in parish duties, volunteer at a soup kitchen, maybe even take up a daily prayer practice. But, says the author of this story, you’re still sitting in an orb of restricted light, thinking all the while this is what it is to be holy and one of God’s chosen. God is bigger than this, isn’t that so? Much, much bigger. So, those who are truly called, who are deemed as capable and ready, are invited to the outer reaches of the cosmos to view the Big Picture, the macro-universe of God’s creation. Whoa. This is freaky. Not different from those psychedelic drug trips we took a few decades back. Don’t know if I like being out here. Feels cold and lonely and desperate. Bring on the groaning and gnashing of teeth.

But God’s bigger purpose in all this? Who am I to presuppose such a thing! I can only imagine there’s a light at the end of this sordid tunnel, God’s light. God’s true light, not the safe, comforting light that brightens up the inside of the corner chapel near where we live. A soul must give birth, be born again, into this new light. This is the Pascal mystery. This is, indeed, what Christ consciousness is all about. This is what Jesus came to show us. This is the profundity of his life, that out of a seething swarm of ignorant humanity, he was able to transform the darkness, the outer darkness, into light, into God consciousness. Like the hundredth monkey syndrome, he did something that one day all of us will come to do, like the first monkey who was born with the knowledge of how to peel a banana, though generations before him had to be taught this peculiar skill.

So this is our story for today. I believe God calls us in ways we least imagine. I believe there is safety in numbers, in living a beautiful, peaceful life, in surrounding your day with prayer and reminders of God. But God’s true plan is bigger, much much bigger than this. So don’t get too comfy; there may come a day when the king crashes the party and points a finger at us. Not an accusing finger, but a beckoning finger, a hand to hold onto to while he escorts us out into the outer darkness. Remember, only a few are chosen for this ride.

Page Updated October 25, 2020