Come to the banquet
1 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14 ESV)
The parables of Jesus, as do all stories, engage and even beguile us. Some parables can seem obvious at first glance while others make us pause and ponder. I resist the ‘earthly story with a heavenly meaning’ tag because that firstly suggests a dichotomy that I don’t like – earth is rubbish and heaven is what it’s all about or earth is not important and heaven is where it’s at – and secondly, it often results in moralism – a ‘do this and you’ll fulfil the parable’ sort of thing. There is a mystery to parables in that they seem to also blind and deafen people and I think it is because people jump to the first answer or solution and often miss the point – or should I say, the person.
Jump back for a moment in Matthew eight chapters …
10 Then the disciples came and said to [Jesus], “Why do you speak to [the crowds] in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. … 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matt 13:10-13,16,17 ESV)
This makes you do a double take, doesn’t it? The parables don’t enlighten and don’t give understanding if you miss something. Jesus went on to say to the disciples that they were blessed because their eyes saw, their ears heard – what? Or better still – who? Jesus!
It’s like the messianic secret – the times when Jesus told people not to talk about him and what he’d done for them – and we again scratch our heads – surely he’d want the message out there – and he does but it needs to be in a way that helps people.
People are not neutral hearers – the message of Jesus, the kingdom of God – is not an objective fact like 2+2=4 or Henry VIII had 6 wives which we can take or leave but is a message of confrontation, attack, even war you might say on sin and death and rebellion. Implicit in all the kingdom of heaven talk and increasingly explicit the closer we get to the cross in all Jesus’ talk about himself is the declaration that God is here – and it’s not you and it’s not me. And sin so affects us that we twist and turn God’s Word into what we want to hear to keep God at a distance and ourselves as the centre of the universe. So understanding parables that don’t see Jesus – hear Jesus – encounter Jesus – somewhere, somehow miss the point.
Jesus tells what we call the parable of the wedding banquet in the temple courtyards after entering Jerusalem very publicly on a donkey and having palm branches strewn before him as the crowds shout his praise and after he clears the temple of the animal sellers and money changers. What follows is the public theological sparing with the religious groups in Jerusalem – they’re asking who he is and by what authority he’s doing things – he’s answering in parables – many of them of the ‘pretty obvious’ category – they will try and trick him and he will outsmart them – he will go on the offensive and ask them questions they refuse to answer – not because they don’t know the answer but because they don’t want to face the answer. In the end they’ll string him up. Christians however say that he didn’t stay dead.
So after clearing out the temple and cursing the fig tree we have the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32) and then the parable of the tenants in the vineyard (Matthew 22:33-46) and now the parable of the wedding banquet.
Joining the dots isn’t too difficult in this parable. The king is God. The wedding banquet is the heavenly celebration. The servants are the prophets and priests who called the people to God to taste and see that the Lord is good – in the Old Testament rituals this was particularly the peace offering from which the priests and the people ate some of the sacrifice and thus had a holy communion with God. But the people rebel – say ‘no – too busy – not interested – don’t care – reject God (the king) – and some even go further and take their rebelliousness to violent levels and they attack and kill God’s messengers. It is a bleak summary of how God’s people have treated God time and time again. But the king will have his banquet hall filled and so the servants go to the highways and byways – streets of all kind – and fill the hall with folk – note, good and bad are there – all guests of the king. The king always provided everything needed for the banquet – the venue, the food, the occasion, the invitation, and it is possible also such things as the festive garments for the guests. The point is that it is all provided – it is done – your place is set – which of course makes non attendance inexcusable – literally.
And then there is that little scene at the end. The king has already sent his army to destroy the murderers of his servants. The bad stuff is over – let the party begin. And as the king meets his guests it is very apparent that one person is different – he’s not wearing a wedding garment. ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ There is irony in the description for the king calls someone his friend who is treating him with contempt. Jesus said the same word in a similar context to Judas when Judas identified Jesus to those who came to seize him in the garden. What we have is an individual who for some reason is present at a banquet whose host he either rejects or regards as inconsequential or irrelevant and who lives his life on his terms. We don’t know his reason precisely because he is speechless – there is no excuse – his behaviour reveals his heart and his attitude – the king is nothing to him. He doesn’t even beg for forgiveness – he is so locked up in his own world – and to that world he is then sent – not just outside, evicted from the premises, not just away in the dark (weddings banquets were often held in the evenings and there are no real street lights in those day) but into the outer darkness – the Greek emphasis is on the word ‘outer’ – where he will rue his behaviour, his choice, his action – to reject what the king provided – remember, it was everything – for him to attend.
When you think of the wedding banquet there are a lot of people who don’t attend. Their choice. Those who do attend can only do so because the king makes it possible. ‘Many are called but few are chosen’ expresses the sad mystery that people can reject the king. It is incorrect to say that the king chooses some but not others. That isn’t the world of the parable at all. The king had prepared everything for the banquet – the people responded to his gracious invitation depending on their relationship with him. If you’re attending the banquet all thanks to the king. If you’re not, you’ve only yourself to blame.
We don’t know how the crowd responds to this parable but we’re told that the Pharisees went out to make plans to trap Jesus (Matthew 22:15).
Where are you in this parable? That’s what a parable does – confronts you in some way. The Holy Spirit links you and the parable somewhere, somehow.
There’ll be elements, I suspect, of you seeing yourself either making excuses not to attend – or since you’re actually in church, having secret desires to wear your own clothes, do your own thing, and have God fit around you in some way. C’mon, God, I do most things you want, give me a break on this point please? Jesus might have died for sins but can we overlook this or that one because I don’t want to change – repent – or have to work at a new lifestyle?
Or there will be an awareness of the truth that your invitation to the banquet, your presence there is all God’s doing – deep down you know it for today you know and believe that you are saved by grace alone – called and chosen and washed in the waters of baptism and you wear Christ’s righteousness as a robe – sure we get it dirty everyday – but returning to your baptism in daily repentance gives you new clothes each day.
I suppose I could summarise it by saying – do you hear Law or Gospel?
And then words give way to a banquet – sermon gives way to liturgy – it’s not only in heaven – it’s here on earth too – and we are again confronted by the host – Jesus – who says: Take and eat this is my body given for you; take and drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus has prepared everything for the feast – the venue – the meal – the fellowship – the peace – again all fulfilled in himself and he invites his followers to come to him.
Everyone who comes to the banquet encounters Jesus – whether they believe it or not – and he is there, he says so – and so people receive him in faith – he is there to forgive, so people come with sins to forgive – he is there to strengthen, so people receive health and faith in their weakened state – yes, Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.
And because this is a real encounter the Lutheran Church doesn’t want people to be bound and thrown into the outer darkness – that’s a tough graphic image. St Paul talks about eating and drinking Holy Communion without discerning the body resulting in eating and drinking judgement on oneself (1 Corinthians 11:27-30) – and that’s hardly a good thing. Such eating and drinking is on our own terms – we believe what we want, we live as we want and God, you just have to cope with that. But the consequences are not healthy and so Lutherans constantly teach, say, remind, ask all who commune: Is Jesus physically here? Are you repentant of your sins? Do you need strengthening to struggle on in faith and repentance? Where there are 3 yes’s then come and receive the banquet. It is all for you. Even if the yes’s are hesitant, struggling, with tears – come to the banquet, it is all prepared for you.
But where there is any ‘no’ – then honestly look at why. Why do you want God on your terms? Why receive Jesus’ gifts when you don’t want what they bring – it’s like spitting him out again – no, I don’t want you on your terms! And if he were to suddenly appear before you and ask ‘Why?’ then you’d be speechless! Instead listen to God’s Word – think, pray, and discuss why there is that ‘no’ and hear what Jesus has to say to you – how he can help you with your sin, your pride, your fear or whatever it is that you’re clinging to. He loves you!
Then and now, the focus of the parable is Jesus. The centre of the banquet is Jesus. He has prepared it all so that we might live with him.
For what more could you ask? Seriously.
- Matthew 22:1 - 14