March 12, 2023
This is the third parable in a row we’ve heard from Jesus.
Two weeks ago, we heard the parable of the unforgiving slave … the one whose debt was forgiven, but who refused to forgive the debt of another.
Then, last week we heard the parable of the vineyard workers … the ones who thought they were entitled to more money than the other workers.
These parables provided lessons on forgiveness and generosity. Today, it’s the parable of the wedding banquet … another moment when God’s preferred reality breaks into the world.
Jesus offers these parables as a response to temple leaders who questioned his authority. This is his last trip to Jerusalem and the cross looms some chapters down the road.
Jesus begins each of the three parables with “The kingdom of heaven …“
This morning, Jesus tells the gathering that the kingdom can be compared to a king.
In the story, a king arranges for a wedding banquet for his son.
At the time, such wedding banquets were opportunities for guests to affirm their allegiance to a king or to another high-ranking official. These events were times when the host would learn who was loyal or who could be trusted for support. Invitations to such events were rarely turned down.
Think of it as biblical networking.
The king invites the well-connected members of society … the religious, business and political leaders … the people who you’d think would appreciate the invitation … except that they don’t.
The people ignore the invitation … so the king sends servants to let them know that the banquet has begun … and they ignore the reminder.
Then, the king tells the servants to let the invitees know that the food has been served and there is an abundance on the table.
But instead of coming to the table to enjoy the meal, the people respond with contempt… some go on with their own plans … they keep working in their businesses or in the fields … while others beat and kill the servants.
Naturally, the king becomes angry and has his soldiers burn the city down and kill the disloyal people who mocked the invitations and murdered the servants.
But despite the violence and the death, the food is still on the table. The king isn’t about to let a little rebellion spoil his plans for a celebration.
So, the king sends servants to invite anyone they find to the banquet. All are to be invited. The king doesn’t want to be by himself. How would that look?
This time, the invitations are gratefully accepted … the place is packed.
Even though the banquet is well-attended, the king inspects the crowd and he finds one man who isn’t wearing the proper wedding garment … he wasn’t expecting the invitation and you would think that the king would cut him some slack for not being prepared.
But the king has him bound and tossed into the darkness.
Like other passages in the Bible, there is more than one way to read this story.
We could look at it through modern eyes … maybe the banquet is the church … and people keep turning down our invitations to be part of the community.
But this idea falls apart when you realize that congregational councils aren’t out burning down neighbourhoods when the invitations are being ignored.
Traditionally, this story has been read as the king being God, the servants being the prophets, the first group of invitees who reject the banquet invitation as Israel and the destroyed city as Jerusalem.
The final group … drawn from the streets … who accept the invitation is seen as the Gentile church.
This interpretation carries a lot of problems because of its an anti-Jewish slant. So maybe it’s best if we recognize that this parable’s lesson was aimed at the politics and hypocrisy of the temple leaders.
Jesus even tells us that it is the kingdom that is being compared to the king.
The king’s reaction can be seen as a condemnation of all who reject the invitation to be in the kingdom through their words or actions.
It can be seen as a reminder that what we do as people of faith matters. How we act affects others in ways that we might not see or understand. Grace ripples out from ourselves.
During the early part of the last century, German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that grace may be free, but it does come with expectations … that there is a difference between “cheap grace” and “costly grace.”
It is costly grace that fully carries the promise of the gospel at its heart.
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves … being forgiven but not repenting … accepting grace without discipleship … grace without the cross … and grace without Jesus Christ.
Costly grace calls us to follow Christ and to carry the cross with us. It may … as it did in Bonhoeffer’s case … cost us our life … but it also gives us our true life.
So, maybe the guest who got tossed out on his ear was clothed in too cheap a garment.
If we understand the wedding robe to be the Christian life, then these parables are connected by the question of “How are we clothed?”
We are called to wear the clothing of compassion, kindness, forgiveness, generosity and humility.
So, do we?
Through our words and actions, do we encourage others to wear such clothing? Are we a reflection of God’s kingdom to the world?
Our Lenten journey presents an opportunity to consider if we fully accept the invitation to live a life of faith … to consider how that faith informs our lives … and to reflect upon the clothing that we wear in the world.
Have our words and actions provided glimpses of God’s reality to the world?
This story from Matthew makes it clear that there are expectations … standards to be met … for those who accept the invitation to the banquet … for those who follow Christ.
If we don’t meet those expectations … we cheapen the gift we have received … we cheapen grace.
Accepting the invitation isn’t enough … we need to take the summons of grace seriously and step away from life as usual.
We need to understand the cost involved in discipleship and in bearing the cross in the world.
Through baptism, we are clothed in God’s mercy and forgiveness … in God’s unconditional love … and we are called to continually invite others to be clothed in that same wedding garment just as we are called to invite them to the party.
The banquet represents a new and inclusive gathering … one that forms the foundation of the church. It’s a gathering where there is joy and there is abundance for all … even if it takes some reminders.
Only those who truly share this joyful love … who seek to bring a plus-one to the party … and who understand the expectations of grace … will be among those who are ultimately chosen.