Once upon a time, there was a man called Theophilus who was looking for something more in life. He had done well in life. He had reached a certain age and decided it was time to hand over the business to his children. His wife had sadly died some years before, and he decided he didn’t need much now to get by. He thought he might travel a bit, see new things, maybe try and explore the feeling that he had that there might be something more to life, something he just hadn’t experienced yet. He had some deep questions too, like “what does it all mean?” and “what is the purpose of life?” and “where does God come into it?”
So he packed a picnic in his bag, took all his savings and went into town to go to the library, so that he could go on the internet and maybe find some answers to his questions, and maybe call in at the travel agent to book himself a place on one of those exciting life-changing trips. The town seemed quite busy. There were a lot of people around, and they were all busy talking. There was a lot of rubbish around, as if someone had opened a sack of papers and let them fly out.
Theophilus bent down and picked up one of the papers. It was a card, good quality card at that, and it contained an invitation:
The King invites everyone, and that includes you, to a banquet to celebrate the marriage of his son in the Kingdom of Heaven. Do come.
Theophilus’ heart lifted, though he didn’t know why. The invitation felt important. He wanted to go to the banquet. He wanted to find out what it was all about.
A woman, a neighbour, was passing. “Have you got one of those too?” she asked. “Isn’t it daft? Fancy inviting everyone. I think it’s a con, like the junk mail you get through the door – you have been specially chosen to receive this invitation.”
“So are you going?” asked Theophilus.
“No,” said the woman. “I threw mine away. Don’t believe in it. Mind you, the man who was handing them out had a very good patter.”
“Where is he now?” asked Theophilus.
“Oh, I think he went along the kingsway,” said the woman. “I didn’t really notice.”
Theophilus set off down the kingsway. “Maybe if I catch him up, he can tell me all about it, and I can decide whether this for me or not.”
Further along the road, he came to a crowd of people looking upwards to a tall building. There was a man at the top, threatening to jump.
“What’s the matter?” he asked one of the crowd.
“He’s a local businessman. His business has gone bust because of the recession and he doesn’t know what to do. He thinks the only solution is to jump.”
“That’s no good,” thought Theophilus, and he slipped down the side road and found another entrance to the building and took a lift to the top. He made his way out onto the roof. “Here,” he said to man who wanted to jump. “You can have this money.” Theophilus had come out with a lot of cash that day, all his savings, ready for the adventure that he wanted to take. “I was going to travel, but I would rather you took it and lived.” He shoved the money into the man’s hands. “I’m going to a banquet,” he said. “Do you want to come?”
“No thanks”, said the man. “I need to sort out my business affairs. But thank you very much for the money. It has given me hope and a new start.”
Theophilus set off down the kingsway, somewhat anxious that he had lost time because of the little adventure.
Theophilus was quite fit, and he walked at quite a pace. Every now and then, he would see another invitation discarded on the pavement, so he knew he was on the right road, but the Man with the Invitations always seemed to be ahead of him.
Further along, the kingsway went through a rough area of town. There were dodgy characters around. Theophilus ignored them and just kept walking purposefully. It had been a lovely autumn day, but in the late afternoon, it was starting to get chilly. He drew his coat around him. A mongrel dog came round the corner and sniffed his ankles. Theophilus moved away. An old man followed and apologised, and tried to pull the dog away on a piece of string. The old man’s coat was ragged and threadbare, filthy and smelly. Theophilus pulled himself away, and then he thought, “No, this man is a human being, made by God and loved by God.” He pulled off his coat and gave it to the man. “Here,” he said, “make sure you keep warm. I’m going to the king’s banquet,” he said. “Why don’t you come with me?” The old man shook his head. “Too late for me,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Theophilus set off again, walking as quickly as he could. He had lost more time. He saw another invitation caught in some rubble, so he knew he was still on the right road.
He got as far as one of the estates on the edge of town. There was a group of kids hanging around.
“Has a man come this way,” he asked. “A man giving out invitations?”
“Yes,” they said. “He was here a while back. He went that way. We wanted to go, but we didn’t know how to get there.”
“I’m going,” said the man. “You can come with me.”
So they did. Theophilus had half a sandwich left, a bag of sweets and a bottle of water in his bag, and they shared the lot.
They were walking in the countryside now and it was getting dark. They played a game of ‘hunt the invitation’, to keep themselves on track. They found one on a stile going in to a field. Across the field, they could see a large grand house, all lit up.
“That must be it,” said Theophilus and they tumbled over the stile and into the field. Of course it was clarty and didn’t do much for their poise and appearance. They found another stile which took them to a lane. And then they found a set of golden gates, all lit up in the dark night. The ragamuffin crowd turned in down the driveway. Other people were arriving from all directions, from all parts of the world.
When they got to the door, they could see just what a mess they were.
“Oh dear,” said Theophilus, “I’m not sure we’re properly dressed for this!”
The door opened at that point, and a smartly dressed man opened his arms to them.
“Come in, Theophilus and friends. We have been waiting for you!”
“I’m afraid we’re a bit muddy,” said Theophilus. “We came as we were, following the invitations.”
“You are dressed in the very best of clothes,” said the Invitation Man. “When you gave away your money and saved the businessman, you put on a fine shirt. When you gave your coat to the tramp, you put on a tailor-made suit. When you brought the children with you, you put on the best shoes and socks and tie and cufflinks. At this banquet, these are the clothes that matter. Come in, come in. You are welcome here!”