In today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel, we are presented with another parable, the parable of the wedding banquet, which again begins with the words “The kingdom of heaven is like…”. I believe that the reason why Jesus gave so many illustrations about the nature of the kingdom of heaven is because it is so important that we understand. Unless we have such understanding, how can we expect to live in the reality and truth of the kingdom? We know that our life is positively influenced by our faith and as St Anslem once said doing theology is faith seeking understanding; reading the Bible helps us in that endeavour. Usually when the Bible mentions something several times, it is because the writer wanted to draw specific and special emphasis to the point that was being made.
I’ve shared with you before how Communion is sometimes described as being hors d’oeuvres to the heavenly banquet or the wedding banquet; well in today’s reading we learn more about the nature of the banquet – who will be invited (and who won’t) and we are given some food for thought about how we are in our relationship with God.
So, let’s look a little more closely at this parable…
“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.”
We know that in this parable the King is none other than God, his son is Jesus Christ, and the wedding banquet in question is the banquet for the wedding between Jesus and the bride of Christ – that is the people of God or the Church. This was to be the long expected messianic feast that the Jews expected to share with the Messiah at the beginning of his rule.
The servants who were sent out were the prophets and latterly Jesus’ disciples, and the people who had been invited refers to the nation of Israel. Tragically they ignored the prophets and refused to come to the banquet. Let us be under no illusion; this refusal was a shocking insult to the king. If the king requests your presence, you don’t ignore him or say you’re busy!
Despite such an insult, and quite incredibly, the king tries again…
“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”
Despite directly encountering Jesus, the people of God still chose to pay no attention and went off into their field or their business; even worse, the rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. John the Baptist was beheaded, many of the disciples were martyred, and other followers of Jesus were brutally killed. This represents a shocking insult to the king, and to his son and is like the groom being jilted at the wedding by the bride. Yet in those words we read “Everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.” Those words remind me very powerfully that the Lord is here, he is with us to the end of the age, and he is with us right now. That’s the thing about the nature of the kingdom of heaven…his kingdom has come, is coming and will come. Whenever the people of God act in accordance with God’s will, we see signs of the breaking through of his Kingdom.
It is interesting too to think we might consider ourselves as the servants being sent out to invite others to meet Jesus. We can also experience rejection – both active and passive. If we invest of ourselves in terms of our time and talents in extending that invitation only to experience rejection it is disheartening isn’t it? I know that I’ve invited many people from this community to join us here in fellowship; quite often they have indicated that they will, only to not turn up. BUT, I must be satisfied in knowing that I have nevertheless extended that invitation in the first place; I have been faithful to God. We’ve got to be prepared to sow the seeds and do the inviting in the first place.
The parable continues…“The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”
We sometimes struggle to think about the nature of the judgement of God. With our justice system, it isn’t unusual for people to hear of a sentence and perhaps think “that’s not fair”. But God’s justice is absolute justice, and his judgement is people who reject him realising the consequences of their rebellion. People so often seem to want to engage with life on their own terms or not at all. I would say ok, but are you prepared to take responsibility for yourself and the possible consequences of your actions? Throughout Salvation History the people of God have had to learn the hard way; I think there is nothing new under the sun, and God’s people today still don’t always “get it”. For the people of God in the decades after Jesus’s death and resurrection, it isn’t hard to remember in reading these words of the king’s judgement of the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
The parable doesn’t end there though. Quite incredibly the king tries yet again…
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
Nobody in their right mind can ever say that God doesn’t go to extraordinary lengths to reach and connect with his people and very often people we don’t necessarily expect. Incredibly and graciously that reaching out involves an invitation to all the people that could be found, the bad as well as the good. Thank God for that. Thank God that this includes us too.
We can all too easily have an attitude of “what’s in it for me?” when instead we should have an attitude of “what’s in it for Him!” In responding to the invitation, we should seek to be aware of the significance of that invitation. One of the guests who responded turned up and was not wearing wedding clothes, and when challenged about that was speechless. That speaks to us about the challenge of having a superficial faith. We do not become a Christian and then forget about it, putting our faith on the shelf. That is a life-insurance type of faith, a faith filled with a sense of entitlement; but that’s not how faith works. We must do everything we can to deepen our faith, to grow as his disciples, and to be prepared. Our faith should be active and dynamic, not passive and forgotten. The guest who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes insulted the king; it was tantamount to making a declaration this isn’t really important to me – YOU are not important to me. Yet Christ has provided a garment of righteousness for everyone, but each person must put it on (i.e. accept Christ’s gracious provision of his life given for us) in order to enter the King’s banquet (eternal life). There is an open invitation, but we must be ready.
Those who are called but reject God’s gracious invitation will be punished, as will those who seem to accept the call but fail to follow through. We must seek to be both believers and followers, seeking to live in complete obedience to God.
With these words in mind, let us affirm our faith in the words of the prayer: Lord Jesus, for too long we’ve kept you out of many aspects of our life and have lived a conditional faith. Yet we know that we are sinners, and we cannot save ourselves. No longer will we close the door when we hear you knocking; we will listen out for you and be vigilant. By faith we gratefully receive your gift of salvation. We are ready to trust you more as our Lord, Saviour and Redeemer. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to this world that you so lovingly created. We believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing our sins and giving us the gift of eternal life. We believe your words are words of truth and life. Come into our heart, Lord Jesus, and be our Saviour. Amen.