The King’s Wedding Banquet
Matthew 22:1-14 September 26, 2021
When you think about Christians or Christianity, what first comes to your mind? Everyone has different images associated with Christian. For some they are quite negative, for others quite positive. Still others see Christians as problem that secular society has to deal with. One of the popular images of Christian is that of the hypocrite. Many have heard people complain that they do not go to church because those who do are just hypocrites. Most Christians are not hypocrites but just people who are dealing with issues and having mixed success. Last week I spoke about Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding banquet. This week I’m going to look at Jesus’ parable of the king’s wedding banquet.
Jesus gives us a strong image or symbol of the kingdom of God. In this morning’s reading from Matthew, he likens the kingdom of God to a king who put on a banquet for his son’s wedding. The image of wedding banquet is a strongly positive image of God’s realm.
Have you been invited to a wedding banquet? Today we generally call them wedding receptions.
The parable begins: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son (Matthew 22:1).” When Matthew writes about the kingdom of God, he uses a similar phrase, the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven are synonymous. Jesus tells us the kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet. In the ancient near east, weddings were a time of joy and celebration. For the masses of poor people, it was one of the few times they ate meat and drank wine. You would not want to miss a wedding banquet. Once I was invited to a Polish wedding reception. The family of the bride went all out for it. They had good food and plenty of it. They had plenty of beverages. The dancing and celebration went on for hours. It made Protestant wedding receptions seem wimpy. When the King invites you to a wedding banquet, you are in for a time of good food, drink and celebration. I cannot imagine anyone would want to miss a king’s son’s wedding banquet.
In ancient Israel, people were invited twice to a wedding banquet. The first invitation was given well in advance of the occasion so that the guests would be ready. Then on the day of the wedding banquet the host sends out his servants to personally invite them. The servants tell the guests that everything is prepared and now is the time to come to the feast. No one would refuse an invitation to a wedding banquet. To refuse such an invitation was considered rude and insulting to the host. If a king invites people to a wedding but they refuse the invitation, that action can easily be considered a conspiracy of rebellion against the king. What kind of fool would refuse the king’s invitation to a wedding banquet?
Jesus tells us the king’s guests refused both invitations to come to the feast. He tells us that they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The people who were first to hear this parable were scandalized. No one would be that rude and insulting to a man who invited them to a wedding banquet. Nobody would deliberately insult the king.
Matthew understands this parable as an allegory of salvation. Of course, the king is God and the son is Jesus. The people first invited were the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus is telling the scribes and Pharisees that even though they claimed to be honoring God in all that they did, they actually were rejecting him. This is not a parable about the good people and the bad ones. It is told to those we might call “religious people.” Jesus is telling the religious people of his day that God sent prophets to invite them to the kingdom but they ignored God’s prophets or even killed them. He is saying that God is now sending Christian prophet missionaries to invite them but they get the same treatment as everyone. He tells the first century listeners that now God is inviting everyone to His kingdom—even the ones that first century religious people would look down on. As we look at the parable let’s see it as Matthew captures it as an allegory about God’s salvation.
This is a serious parable. As I said earlier, it speaks to good people, to religious people, maybe even to today’s church people. Could it be that there are those who are rejecting God’s invitation? Perhaps when we make Christianity a burden, we are rejecting God’s invitation to joy? Sometime faith in Christ Jesus does seem burdensome. Getting up Sunday morning and going to church often feels that way—especially if one is a night person.
Without Jesus there is no joy. Without Jesus there is no hope. Without Jesus there is no eternal purpose in our lives. I once read a book that speculated about the condition of humankind if Jesus never came. The author looked at all the institutions in the world that were founded by Christians. He noted that there would be few great schools of higher education or hospitals or social service organizations. People’s hearts would not overflow in aid and relief supplies during times of war or disaster. We have a problem with human self-centeredness and selfishness today. Imagine the problem we would have if people had not come to Christ Jesus and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Greed is terrible but it would be even more terrible. Lying is a way of life for many—especially in high offices—but it would be even more terrible without the leaven of Christianity in our culture. Slavery would continue as an institution without the intervention of genuine Christians. As you go through this coming week, think about the difference Christ Jesus has made in your world and your life. With Jesus, we have a great present and the hope of eternal life with him.
It is sad that there are those who at some time became a part of the church and now consciously and intentionally refuse the King’s invitation to be a part of His church or who just act as being Christian. It is not easy being part of a church. However, the church has a greater mission than any other organization. We are called to make disciples for Christ Jesus in a world that has enmity for God. Within the church we must work hard at being united in Christ and united as His people. The evil one loves it when he can stick a claw in and create division and disunity among people. The evil one is having a heyday in the USA as the political folks are fostering and encouraging division among people. As the people of God we must stay focused on Jesus. Being a follower of Jesus means that we actively evangelize among those who have strayed or who need to know what Jesus is telling the world.
The King was angry at guests refusing his invitation and had his servants round up everyone and bring them to the banquet. However, “… they made light of it and went away, one to his farm another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers and burned their city (Matthew 22:5-7).” Since the invited guests refused to come, he opened the banquet to everyone. The king told his servants, “’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 (Matthew 22:8-10).” It is clear that God first spoke to the people of Israel. They responded, then strayed, then responded and strayed again. Jesus spoke directly to the people of Israel—especially to the leaders—and they rejected him. While most rejected him, there were some who heard his teaching and became disciples. While there were those who rejected the teaching of the first Christian missionaries, there were others who heard the message and accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. What was first intended to convert the Jewish people to a new understanding of the Lord God and salvation was then opened to people of the entire world. Today our mission is to continue Jesus’ mission and proclaim His good news with joy.
There’s an odd piece at the end of the parable. At first it does not look like it fits. The king comes into the banquet hall and is happy because it is filled with people. However, he sees one man who was not wearing proper wedding clothes. He goes over to him and says, “Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes (Matthew 22:12)?” The man is speechless. He offers no excuses or comments. The king told his attendants to tie him up, and throw him into the darkness. Into this parable comes a word pointing to the final judgment. There is a general consensus among those who study parables that Jesus is using the term “wedding clothes” as symbolic of the life a believer has when he has accepted God’s invitation to salvation. An ancient church custom arose in which those who were baptized where baptized nude and then given a clean white garment to wear after baptism. The white garment symbolized the new life they were putting on in Christ Jesus. Their old life and sins were forgiven and in Christ Jesus they put on a new life. This new life that we put on when we accept God’s invitation must reveal itself in our lives. The new Christian identity reveals itself in acts of justice, love, compassion and kindness. If one claims to be in Christ but their life does not reveal a sincere living of the faith, then one is a hypocrite. People are hypocrites when what they say they believe is not lived out in their lives. Remember too that we are not perfect and are works in process so I’m not saying we will perfectly live out our faith. However, we will reveal that we are genuine followers of Jesus. We will talk about him and how he works in our lives. We will be compassionate and generous. We will be constantly working to become like Christ Jesus himself.
It is wonderful that God invites everyone into his kingdom. He offers everyone salvation in Christ Jesus. Our job in life is to seriously deal with the things in our lives that are not of Christ and to live openly as a Christian. Resist the evil one’s temptation to play at being Christian. Remember this is about joy and peace and eternal life. Being Christian is not about long faces and carrying heavy burdens. It is about following Jesus one step at a time. It is about being faithful today and trusting God for tomorrow. It is about being Christian in all that you are and all that you do.
CH (COL) Michael W. Malone, USA RET
Veterans Memorial Chapel