Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying:
‘The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the banquet, but they would not come.
‘Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.”
‘But they made light of it and went, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.”
Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless.
‘Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’
- Matthew 22:1-14
It would appear Jesus never got his hands on a copy of How to Make Friends and Influence People. Here in Jerusalem in the days and weeks before his trial and crucifixion, Jesus refuses to mince words or pull punches. His teaching is becoming more challenging to the religious, more threatening to the powerful and more exciting to the broken, the fallen and the downtrodden. Jesus is rabble-rousing and it will soon require a reaction. As Mignon McLaughlin wrote, ‘Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.’ Jesus will soon go the way of most troublemakers but he'll overturn death, just like he did temple tables and passionless piety.
It’s fascinating to contrast the books of Matthew and John in these few days. John dedicates almost half of his gospel to the lessons, actions and prayers of Jesus during this week. These are private messages to the disciples (and others) who will form the core of the early church in Jerusalem. These chapters are crucial to our understanding of what the Kingdom looks like lived out in community. Jesus washes feet, breaks bread and prays deeply as part of their private education.
If Jesus privately expounds and embodies the Kingdom in John then Matthew fills us in on his public prophecies and parables about what the Kingdom is not.
What’s clear from this parable is that God’s invitation to his wedding feast is not something that should be taken lightly or, as the characters in the parable do, taken for granted.
The king is not inviting them to a council meeting about the maintenance of the city’s sewage system.
He is not inviting them to a war that will consume their children and their resources.
He’s not asking them to hold a party for him.
The king is the one holding a party. The BBQ is on. The meat is ready. The chairs are out.
The word goes out from the king: Come party with me!
The word comes back written in the blood of his servants: No.
Such are the tribulations of the good and gracious king who invites his subjects to his feasts and his people to his parties. His hospitality may be mistaken for naivety. His kind heart may be mistaken for softness. His refusal to rule with cruelty may be met with apathy or scorn. Over time, such misunderstandings may lull the people into believing that their land does not belong to the king and that he has no authority over them. In their eyes, he may become a lame duck that they tip their cap to but do not follow, do not love and do not serve.
This is the what the people of Israel had become in the 1st century. A religion that paid lip service to God in its pursuit of power. An aristocracy that paid lip service to justice in its pursuit of wealth. A political system that paid lip service to God’s kingship and rule while becoming a lapdog of Rome. When God sent prophets to challenge or re-direct them, they would ignore and kill them. They were happy to accept the blessings of God and the Promised Land of God without condition, relationship, sincerity or fealty.
Verse seven gives us cause to ponder ...
He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
… because, whether Jesus intends it or not, it foreshadows the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70AD when the city and Temple walls would catch fire during the siege and burn down. (See also Matthew 24:2)
The ‘obvious choices’ to invite to the wedding feast are not turned away but rather have turned away from the king. In the fulness of time, they reap what they sow. But when the invitations that went out were declined, we learn something crucial about the heart of the king.
He loves a packed party.
He sends his servants to the streets to bring in everyone, the good and the bad, until the wedding hall is full.
This is always God’s movement — reaching out to all that they might come in.
And that’s where the parable ends … Thanks for reading …
No, seriously … That’s it. Happy ending. Everyone can go home now …
Yeah. I know. What do we do with the man who is cast out into the darkness for not wearing a robe?
The only way I can wrap my head around the king’s reaction is by imagining myself in the shoes of one of the other guests.
I was not on the original guest list. According to everything I knew about the world, I was on the outside. While the rich and the blessed attend feasts, all I know is my daily hard-fought struggle to survive.
I’m too dirty, too guilty, too broken, too lame, too sinful or too weak to find a place at the king’s table.
Yet here I stand on the side of the road, hearing but not believing a servant of the king telling me to come to the palace.
I’m invited to his son’s wedding feast!
‘Hold on,’ I cry, ‘I can’t show up like this!’ I don’t have much to offer but I’d be mad to show up like this.
I don’t believe that the man without the robe is not wearing one because he can’t afford it. That’s not the sort of thing that God condemns nor the kind of thing that Jesus makes a parable out of. This is a man who has a wedding robe but decided not to bother wearing it. It’s a man who, like those who didn’t attend, dishonours the invitation by pretending it doesn’t matter.
It’s tempting to think of the Kingdom of God as a shift from one group to another — from the religious to the unreligious — from the powerful to the weak — from the rich to the poor — but it’s not. The Kingdom draws from all quarters of society and all corners of the earth every person who longs to join the party and celebrate the feast. The God we love and the King we serve loves a full house … but we must come with full hearts. The feast is not just something we attend, it is the world that we were made for and the one who seeks to bring into being through us:
People from every tribe and tongue, from every background and story, all bound together by a shared passion for the heart of God to be made visible to the world.