Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Monday, October 24, 2011

ungrateful guests, 10.9.11

Matthew 22:1-14
1Once 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. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again 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.’

5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those 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, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then 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.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Before we dig into today’s parable, would someone remind us of the parable we talked about last week?

We talked last week about how the Bible pictures the church as the bride of Jesus, so it fits that the wedding of the king’s son would be a good image for the coming of God’s Kingdom.

This parable follows last week’s parables that show Israel’s leaders rejecting God’s calling. Here, instead of abusing the landlord’s servants who came to collect rent, the invited guests reject, beat and kill the servants who come to tell them that the wedding feast is ready.

We recognize why the tenants might act how they do. Greed makes sense as a motivation and we can see how the story fits together, even though we share the landlord’s anger when his servants suffer injustice. The “bad guys” in today’s parable don’t make sense to me. Their violence towards the king’s servants doesn’t get them anything. It seems impulsive, almost sadistic. They not only don’t care about being invited to the wedding feast; they seem to have something against the king who invited them and go out of their way to reject his message.

Like last week’s parable Jesus tells this parable because of the situation around him. Let’s start with the easy part: who is the king in the story? Right, God is the king and we’re talking about God’s kingdom as a wedding feast. Who are the guests who were invited but refuse to come?

Why do you think they refuse?

Who are the people the servants finally gather into the feast?

How do you imagine they feel about being there? What would it be like to be invited into God’s wedding feast?

The amazing thing about our faith is that every day we are invited into God’s kingdom, God’s feast. Whenever we read scripture or come to the communion table or spend time with God in prayer we hear that invitation again.

We’ve been invited to the feast not because of anything we’ve done right or wrong; remember, the servants bring good and bad people in off the streets. We are all invited to the feast of God’s kingdom and because we hear that invitation and enjoy the banquet we also become servants and invite others to the feast as well. That’s an amazing opportunity, a grace-filled invitation.

I’d like you to move around a little bit so you’re sitting with two other people. Take a minute in silence and think about your faith, your participation in God’s story. Think about how your life in Christ is like a wedding feast. Now share your thoughts, your story with your two neighbors. Take turns sharing until you have each had a chance.

The party rolls on into the evening, but then all of a sudden the story takes a disturbing turn. The king strolls through the party visiting with his guests, many of whom he might not have known before. In the living room he runs into a guest without a wedding robe, a guest who didn’t follow the dress code. The king orders him tied up and thrown out.

This part of the story never made sense to me. It seems strange that the king is so upset about the man’s clothes, especially since he didn’t know he was going to a wedding. Then I stumbled on a parable from a first century rabbi while I was preparing for supper and scripture last week. As most scholars know, Google is the best place to start any biblical research. When I googled Old Testament parables I also found some parables told by early rabbis.

One parables came from Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai, who taught from about 30-90 AD. One day some rabbis and their disciples were discussing repentance. One rabbi advised that we should repent the day before we die. Obviously, we don’t usually know when we’re going to die, so we should repent each day and always be ready to meet God face to face. To show the point Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai told a parable.

This is also a parable about a banquet, but in this story the king decides to give a banquet for his servants. The twist in the story is that the king invites the servants to a banquet but doesn’t set an exact time for it. The wise servants know that kings live luxuriously, so everything is always ready for a banquet and they had better be ready. They get cleaned up and dressed for the party and wait to be called in.

The foolish servants figure that banquets take preparation so they’ll have plenty of warning before the big event. They go about their business like normal. Suddenly, the king calls everyone into the feast. The wise servants have been waiting, so they are ready for the party; the foolish servants are caught off guard and go to the king’s banquet in dirty work clothes. The king is happy with his wise servants and their preparation but angry with the foolish servants and their carelessness.

Reading that parable opened my eyes to the parable we’re studying. God, the king of heaven and earth invites us to a banquet. It’s amazing that the invitation is wide open; everyone is welcome. At the same time it is still a banquet hosted by a king, so we should have on our best clothes to show our appreciation and make the celebration special.

The issue isn’t really clothes, but our reception of God’s welcome. Often because we know the invitation is for everyone we treat God’s kingdom casually. We just show up without thinking much about the attitude that’s appropriate for the royal celebration God prepares for us. I think that’s even more likely to be the case for those of us who grew up in a church because faith has always been a part of how we see the world. We can forget how truly amazing God’s love is. When we grow up with faith it’s easy to take it for granted, like the noble invited guests in the parable.

Imagine that you are the king. You’ve invited people into your home to celebrate and the first round of guests wouldn’t even take the time to show up. Now there are guests, but one of them hasn’t even bothered to dress up for your son’s wedding. How would that make you feel? Now with your two neighbors again spend a few minutes sharing how you are prepared for God’s banquet. Are you wearing your wedding robe and showing that you are grateful for the invitation? What would make the faith you are living more fun, more like the joyful celebration it is meant to be?

Jesus invites us to joyful, loving life together and he calls us to invite others to the feast as well. Whatever it takes to unbind the joy in our faith, let’s do it so we can live a party of love and justice for ourselves and for others. The feast is for everyone; let’s celebrate with joy.

Thanks be to God.

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