This Monday Sandra and I hashed out some semblance of meaning from this strange parable of Jesus’- but we definitely left with more questions than answers. I think you’ll see what I mean. Again this week, a parable describing God’s kingdom.
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.”
Today I’m gonna take us behind the scenes of a biblical text, I’ll be a student today right alongside you. In seminary, a few of my professors reminded us often: read any given scripture in light of what the rest of scripture tells you about God. Today, we read this uncomfortable text in light of knowing that God is loving and just. We also know that Jesus’ invitation on our lives expects us to be willing to change. These truths can be found all throughout the bible, so we start there. God is loving, just and desires real change in our lives.
Okay, the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding feast, and those who are too busy to attend are truly missing out. If we are too busy with “important” things- like work and what else- interfering in someone else’s business- maybe even hurting others, this simply means we are refusing the spirit’s invitation to the feast of Christ. The Kings says, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.’ It can also mean we are saying one of two things: 1. Either Spirit isn’t worthy of our time or we aren’t worthy of being spiritual. Neither is true. This first half of the parable resonates with me. I can wrap my head around a kingdom in which simply saying YES gets anyone and everyone into the party; and being too important or busy to acknowledge God’s son means are missing out on the best part of life.
What gets really tricky, is that one guest who gets thrown out because of not wearing the wedding robe. Here’s where I’ll be a student with you, because honestly I don’t know anything about 1st Century customs at the time of Matthew’s writing. I do know people dedicate their lives to this study, so let’s listen in to professor Kimberly Wagner’s take:
“First, the harshness of this parable may be off-putting to the present-day faithful who appreciate their Jesus gentle, meek, and mild. However, there is something about the violence and intensity of this parable that shakes us up and may remind us that we are participating in not just our personal or even communal stories, but also in God’s eschatological story. What we do as people of faith matters. It is so easy these days to compartmentalize all the pieces of our life, particularly our faith life. We check “going to church” off the to-do list and may view our faith as one small aspect among many. The intensity of this parable and harsh consequences of refused invitations reminds us that living out our faith is a matter of urgency and importance.
Second, this parable insists that our faith ought to make a difference in how we live our lives. At first read, the last part of the parable (found only in Matthew) doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. One of the last-minute invitees, recruited off the streets, shows up not wearing a wedding robe. The king notices this and inquires: “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” When the mis-dressed guest is literally speechless in reply, the King commands that the attendant “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” How was the guest supposed to know he needed to pack a wedding robe? After all, he never got a “save the date!”
But, again, Matthew invites us to the world of allegory. [this is why we need biblical professors in our lives]. The “wedding garment” symbolizes the Christian life that we “put on.” This language is used in Galatians 3:27 where the community is told, “As many of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” And this image is unpacked in Colossians 3:12: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” In other words, there is an expectation that being a Christian, a Jesus-follower, will make a difference and be obvious in the way we live our lives. This parable, through metaphors and life-and-death consequences, insists that we, like Matthew’s community, need to live lives that do not just prioritize our faith, but reflect our faith to those around us.
Finally, this parable reminds us of God’s broad, persistent, and generous invitation. In this parable, God/the king does not desire to party alone. Instead, he keeps extending invitations to everyone around so that the wedding feast will be a rich array of people from every corner of the city. Likewise, the invitation towards faith and faithful living is extended to us, insistently, persistently for us to accept and relay to others.”
That’s helpful, right? Thanks Profession Wagner! It brings us back to what we already know about God: God is loving, just, and wants us at the party! God wants us to take our faith seriously enough that we change toward God- becoming more loving and just. Welcome to the party, friends, let's wear the robe.
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Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.