Matthew 22:1–14 (NRSV)
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
22 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 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.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 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.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 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.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The past few weeks we have been looking a bit deeper into the series of parables that Jesus used while teaching in the last week of his earthly ministry. In Matthew chapter twenty-one, we see what we now call Jesus’ triumphal entry which is followed shortly after by Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. Where Jesus basically becomes the incredible Hulk raging against the worship/business complex. After this Jesus teaches in the courts of the temple each day and while he teaches he performs many healings for those in need. The religious leaders confront Jesus demanding to know who gave him the right to challenge their accepted traditions. And at that moment Jesus begins to define the truth about religion and true obedience.
The first teaching was about the man with two sons who were asked to work in the vineyard. The first refused and the second said sure thing dad. The second said the right words but did not put the words into actions where the first initially refused but later obeyed the will of his father. The next lesson, again about a vineyard, Jesus spoke about a man who planted a vineyard building a wall and watch tower to protect his investment and then leased the land to tenets. When the harvest came the landowner send a representative to collect his portion of the produce only to have them face repeated rejection ultimately resulting in the death of his son.
The Pharisees rightly interpreted these stories as a direct challenge to their teachings with the accusation being that the religious leaders of that era were missing the purpose and divine call. Their response was not to take ownership of their own short comings but to seek the removal of prophet that was shining a light on their failures.
I can identify with the Pharisees. One of the most difficult things for a human to face is their own personal weaknesses especially if the individual is a leader of human kind. It is uncomfortable, a threat to your identity, and has a potential to disrupt your livelihood.
Yet Jesus does not back down. He persists by telling another parable. This time He says, “the kingdom of heaven is like a king throwing a wedding banquet for his son.” The wedding in ancient Judea was very important. It was not just an event that lasted a day, but often a full day of festivities. It was a tangible reminder of the covenant God had made with the people of Israel tracing the roots all the way to their father Abraham. It symbolized the continued fulfillment of the promise of land and nationhood for the people and the continued presence of God and his blessing. The very first miracle that Jesus performed, the first event where Jesus shows his divine appointment was during a wedding feast of a friend.
Jesus begins the story by saying that invitations were sent out but those invited refused to attend. There is a bit of a cultural understanding that we might miss. An invitation to a wedding has two parts. The first is the announcement of intention, which means the guests are informed of the coming celebration and they either accept or deny the invitation. The servants would then carry the response back to their master and the meal would then be prepared for the guests. This first part is like our current wedding announcements with a form to be returned telling the host how many people would be attending.
The second part to the invitation is where Jesus starts the parable. When the food is being prepared the host would send the servants back out into the community to inform the guests that it is now time to come enjoy the celebration. This second invitation only goes out to those within the community that had accepted the first invitation. They informed the host that they would be in attendance. So, the king sent out the servants because the food was being cooked at that moment and that the invited guests should begin their journey to participate the festivities. It is important to know that tradition because it give us a reference to why the king might have gotten upset.
The servants go out they tell the people come eat, come drink, come share in the joy. These people had informed the king that they were coming yet when the time came they rejected the invitation. The food was being cooked yet one by one the invitation is being rejected. These people are basically saying we reject you king and we could care less if your inheritance will be passed down to the next generation. They in all reality are saying we reject the king.
The king again sends out the servant telling them to deliver the message again, the meat has been slaughtered and the fires are burning. Again, the invitation is rejected. The people laugh at the servants and return to their farms and businesses while some violently oppose the king by abusing those that carried the message. This is a full-on rejection of the king’s authority, and in response to this rejection the king sends out his men of arms. These men annihilate these traitors and he even has them burn the city to the ground.
This parable is telling the Pharisees that they not only have rejected Jesus and his teachings, but they are rejecting the very God they claim to follow. In place of true faith, they place their focus instead on their own selfish desires. They were invited, they were the chosen ones, yet in their pursuit of religion they had left their God and his way and instead focus on the things of the world.
Imagine your son or daughter, your niece or nephew is the one being wed, you have helped prepare the meal and it is now ready. Enough food to feed an army and the chairs are sitting empty. You have just spent a fortune on this event, and it is about to go to waste. Everyone you regard as a friend has rejected you and in that rejection, they state that you and your family are worthless. Every one of your friends. Imagine how you would feel.
The religious leaders of that day closed their ears to the voice of God and placed their trust in their own goodness and abilities. Jesus continues his story, “the king then tells his servants to go out and gather everyone from the countryside. Bring the beggars to the table, bring the poor tenet farmers bring anyone you can find to fill the seat at the king’s table. Bring them all do not worry about their social status or education just fill the seat and let us celebrate.
This second group comes and the halls are filled. The king then looks out at the crowd and he sees something that unnerves him, amid the celebration someone still rejects him a man among the celebrating masses who were refused a gift and was not wearing the wedding robe. Those at the feast we the marginalized segments of their society. They were poor and did not have the garments that should be worn at a royal wedding, so the king provided the guests with clothing fit for a king.
These garments are offered to the guest freely just as the grace of God is offered to each of us. The robe is offered yet this one individual refused to put on the covering. What Jesus is saying is that the religious have rejected but even among the marginalized of our culture there are those that can be just as sinful. They can sneak into the church and act as if they belong but fail to put on the lifestyle of Christ.
Who do we identify with in this story? At times I can fall into a trap going through the motions of religion yet my mind is off somewhere else. Instead of focusing on my relationship with God or mankind I am consumed by the maintaining a façade. At times the faith I claim is empty and I seek to make my own way through the journey of life rejecting the gift of grace freely given through Christ. It is hard for me to admit it but it is true. I like everyone else can be broken, unwilling to admit that I might be wrong and often failing. I can find myself being legalistic and judgmental, I can find myself being haughty instead of being honest with myself or others. I can easily get trapped in a prison of my own creation.
When I get trapped where is grace? Where is hope? Where is mercy or justice? Where is the ministry that reflects the joy and life of Christ? Where is the celebration and worship? With who do we identify? The religious who focus on their own merit and their own desires are lost and consumed in the fires of the king’s judgement because they reject mercy and focus on the ritual instead of reality. The one who does recognize their failures yet reject the gift of grace are equally bad. They too like the Pharisee strive to become perfect in themselves, only to find themselves in bondage.
Jesus sends his servant out to find the good and the bad to bring them in. The servants then offer all who come the garments of Christ. Both the sinner and the saint are clothed in Christ. Do we believe that? Do we believe that people can be changed? As we enter this time of open worship and communion as Friends consider your place in this story. Who are you? And does that bring or reflect the joy of God?
You remind me of a very powerful piece of writing by Isaac Penington, a short excerpt I offer here. I hope you will be encouraged to follow the link and read the entire preface to “The Scattered Sheep Sought After.”
“My people have committed two great evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” This was ever and anon the complaint of the Lord concerning Israel, from the beginning to the end. The Lord did delight to beget, nourish, and bring up that people for himself; but they were almost continually revolting from him, and rebelling against him. He did mighty things for them; but they still forgot him. He redeemed them by his outstretched arm; he fed them, he defended them; but they knew him not, Isaiah 1:3. but decked themselves with the ornaments which they had from him, and then lift up the heel against him. Ezek. 16:7. and Deut. 32:15. In plain terms, they got what knowledge they could from him into their own vessels, and then they would set up for themselves, live of themselves, without fresh bubblings-up of life from the spring, from whence their knowledge came. The priests said not, Where is the Lord? but could handle the law, and teach the knowledge of it without him; and the prophets could prophesy by another spirit. Jer. 2:8. And thus the Lord God of life lived not in them; but they lived upon such things as once came from the life; but, being separated from the spring, were dead, and nourished but the dead part in them, the estranged from God. And thus, though their professions were great, and they multiplied prayers, sacrifices, and fasts, and drew nigh to God with their lips, yet their hearts were far from him. They had forsaken the fountain; they drank not of the waters of the spring, of the rock that followed them; but they drank of the waters of their own cisterns. They set up that knowledge of the law for their light which they had hewed out with the tools of their own understanding, without the spirit that wrote it. This was Israel’s error of old: they drank very zealously of the waters of the law; but they drank it not from the spring, but out of the cisterns which themselves had hewed.
And as it was thus with Israel of old, so hath it been with Israel since. The Christian Israel hath been always backsliding, always forgetting the Lord! still getting what they could from him to live of themselves, but refusing to live on him: getting what knowledge they could from the scriptures without him; getting what they could from their exercises and experiences; but neglecting the spring of their life. And so this Israel also dies; this Israel likewise withers, and becomes a scorn to the heathen. For though they speak great words of their God; yet they themselves are but as the heathen; uncircumcised like them; unacquainted with the virtue and power of life like them; always striving against sin in that which cannot conquer; and so they also are slaves under their lusts and corruptions, like the heathen, and know not the truth, which makes free indeed.” (http://qhpress.org/texts/penington/sheep.html)
The whole piece is excellent, but too long to quote here.