What, the ancient riddle asks, is the sound of one hand clapping? Clapping, as it is generally defined, requires two hands striking against one another. Without a second hand, clapping is impossible. We could ask a similar question: What is a party if nobody comes? A party refers to a gathering of people, but if nobody comes, it seems undeserving of the name.
We read of such a party in which a king prepared a banquet for his son’s wedding only to have the invited guests fail to turn up (vv. 1–7). As many of us begin our Christmas celebrations, we might notice the parallels between this story and the birth of Jesus. That birth should have occasioned great celebrations. But, as we observed at the beginning of the month, when Jesus was born nobody from Israel seemed to notice. Those invited by the teachings of the Law and the Prophets “paid no attention” (v. 5). Instead, in Matthew’s account, the only ones who responded were the Magi from the east, people most Israelites might have regarded as party crashers.
The Magi were like those whom the king’s servants invited after finding them on “the street corners” (v. 9). Other people—not part of the religious establishment or even the people of Israel—have responded to God’s invitation and entered into the celebration of God’s kingdom. Among them have been “the bad as well as the good” (v. 10), which has scandalized the Pharisees, who worried about Jesus’ association with tax collectors and sinners (9:11; 11:19).
Just showing up is not enough. Even those who have entered the party should seek to clothe themselves in the robes of righteousness and forgiveness, lest they find themselves ultimately on the outside.
The king in the parable invites the most unlikely people to his celebration. Even more remarkably, they respond. In this Christmas season, who might you consider unlikely to join such a celebration? Ask God to create opportunities for you to invite them to celebrate Jesus’ birth and give them the grace to respond.