(for the Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost, October 12, 2014)
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 wedding 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 away, 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 was 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, NRSV).
Again Jesus is found telling a story of a king. Again this is an exceptionally generous king. Once more it is a generosity open to abuse.
In my experience, it is a rare thing to receive an invitation from royalty (in fact, I have never received one!). This, however, is not simply a weekly ‘open castle’ invitation: it is a wedding ‘banquet’ for the king’s son.
This is an important occasion.
Yet no one is coming. And more: they are not even bothering to offer their excuses. Some simply go about their business. Others add to insult the senseless beating and killing of the king’s messengers. Why wouldn’t he be ‘enraged’? There is a sense of justice – even for those of us with a Jesus-inspired sense of pacifism – at the burning of ‘their city’!
The king, however, is determined. His son’s banquet will be full. He will find worthy invitees. The doors are flung open: ‘Go…into the main streets…invite everyone you find…’ The wedding hall brims with ‘both good and bad’.
But once again, we see the generosity of a Jesus-invented king taken advantage of. First it was a story of one forgiven all his debt arrogantly refusing to act similarly. Now it is guests coming to a wedding feast and not bothering to get changed. This is not just a free meal. It is the celebration of a lifetime.
Of course, the king’s reaction seems extreme. We imagine the possibility that this guest is poor and such attire beyond him. We make his excuses…
This, however, is certainly not made explicit. What is made clear is that this man offers no excuse for attending in this way. When asked by his host for a reason he is ‘speechless’. Unlike the king he has not bothered to make preparations before coming.
Of course, Jesus is speaking once again of the history of God’s dealing with God’s beloved Israel. Her leaders continue to insult and reject. Jesus goes to the forgotten. And not just the poor. Jesus goes to all the nations.
And our story reminds us that this is not something to be taken lightly. Even if all reject, the invitation remains one worthy of our preparation.
As Isaiah 61 reminds us, God has clothed us with garments of righteousness. We do well to get dressed – equipped by God to attend the banquet of heaven.