The wedding banquet
23A Matthew 22:1-14
October 15, 2017 Trinity Searcy
"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son."
In elementary school I remember getting high marks for Reading Skills but not quite as high for what was called Comprehension. I need help from you with this parable. This is no ordinary story. It looks like an elaborate allegory, in which everything could have a deeper meaning. Barbara Brown Taylor says our first clue is this opening line. "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son." The king is God, and humm, who do you think the Son might be? Our second clue that this is an allegory is the OUTRAGEOUSNESS of the plot. How many people do you know murder the mailman for delivering the wedding invitation? And how likely is it that a wedding banquet can stay warm while the king mobilizes his troops, declares war, and burns a whole city to the ground? By the time all that happens, the sesame chicken wings will be seriously overdone. /
Most of us have not been involved in a royal wedding banquet, but we have some idea of the preparation that takes place for a special event,/ an engagement party, Christmas dinner, Thanksgiving, prom, birthday, rehearsal, wedding, or baptismal dinners,/ the kind of dinner if you do not prepare it yourself, you might pay a caterer maybe $25 a plate. You want the food to be as beautiful as it is appetizing. You work for days polishing silver, picking invitations, place cards, napkins, --- not to mention the mammoth job of cleaning your house. A dear friend who can arrange flowers comes to your rescue with the table settings. You choose the best wine you can afford (Chateau Lafitte Rothschild). You spend sleepless nights deciding on the seating arrangements. You finally decide on the music, you ask your favorite musician to play a soothing piano in the background. Of course, you now also frantically must have your piano tuned. You give the caterer your final count. Then in rapid succession your phone starts ringing with guests who call at the last minute and offer some feeble excuse for dropping out. And then there are those who just never show up and you never know why. I don't know about you, but my freezer has been half full of left over party food for guests who never came. But God must not have a sub-zero freezer, for when guests do not come to his invited banquet, the feast goes on as scheduled. Only the guest list changes./
From now on the story becomes more complicated, so listen carefully. The first invited guests are the Jews. The messengers delivering the invitations are the prophets. Notice that good things, such as farming, business, not bad things keep people from valuing the invitation, making it a priority. The routine of daily life, running errands, taking care of children, cleaning house, paying bills, soccer games keep them from accepting the king’s invitation. Then the invited guests, the Jews, kill the messengers. Subsequently, these murderous guests are destroyed by the king's troops. This refers to the burning of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans. The second wave of invited guests are the Gentiles, that’s us! /
We, the latecomers, the Gentiles, have no history with the God of Israel, and sometimes act as if grace gives us permission to live any way we want. Meanwhile, the charter members - the early Christian Jews- who have known God forever-are still trying to figure out what it means to be free from the Law. Pretty soon, the early church has a discipline problem on its hands, as believers belly up to God's table with no sense of what it means for them to be there. As far as they are concerned, they show up in God's presence however they want to show up, because Jesus has squared everything with God forever. The invitation to the royal banquet is "come as you are." All are welcome, nothing is required: no fancy clothes, no etiquette, no RSVP.
"WRONG," Matthew says to his congregation. Being an invited guest does not mean you may do as you please. Being invited at the last minute does not mean anything goes. PEOPLE OF GOD! YOU HAVE BEEN INVITED TO FEAST WITH THE KING! RISE TO THE OCCASION! /
The under-dressed wedding guest gets bounced because he will not respond to the occasion as a very honored invitation. Maybe the under-dressed guest just thinks what he wears does not matter. He thinks the king is just looking for warm bodies. He is happy to eat the king's food and enjoy his music, if that will help the king out. That is just what he is doing, too-- standing near the piano in his striped shirt and plaid pants, tapping his foot and popping one more canapé into his mouth when the king walks right up to him./
Whatever his logic, our late guest does not respond to the AWESOMENESS of the occasion. Instead, he demeans it, by refusing to CHANGE. And… I'm not talking about clothes either. /
Like everything else in this story, the wedding garment has a deeper meaning. It is not a white linen tunic embroidered with gold thread. It is a whole new way of life…..A way that honors the king, one that recognizes the privilege of being called into his presence,/ even if the invitation arrives at the last minute. The under-dressed guest's mistake is not that he shows up in shorts. It is that he shows up short on spirituality and thinks no one will notice, least of all the king.
This parable is also about God's countless, daily invitations to come into our lives and our response to him. Fleming Rutledge tells us that the banquet hall is brilliantly lit, the music is playing, the sound of laughter is spilling out of the windows. But even then, we sometimes do not hear that constant invitation because our lives are so busy and cluttered; too noisy to hear the invitation to this banquet of joy because of the cacophony of the orchestra practicing and tuning up around and inside of us.
So, on one hand, this is a story that addresses a very particular situation in the life of the early Christian church and no longer has anything to do with us. On the other hand, it happens to each of us every Sunday right here. This may not be the heavenly wedding banquet, but it is certainly the rehearsal dinner where each of us gets a chance to practice our parts. Everyone in Searcy was invited to be here at Trinity this morning, but as you can see, some of them have other things to do. Some are at work, some are still in bed. Now, we are here. I don't know about you, but sometimes I make it here just by the grace of God. We sometimes arrive much like the under-dressed guest, rolling in without thinking too much about it. We have shown up with our spiritual shirttails hanging out, lining up at the buffet table as if no one can see the ways in which we too have refused to make the CHANGE--- refusing to surrender our fears and resentments, refusing to share our wealth, refusing to respect the dignity of every human being, and most of all… refusing to put our life into the care of God. Those are the old clothes all of us often wear to the king's banquet-- the brand name clothes we prefer to the tailor-made wedding robe of NEW LIFE.
Paul describes the garment as "putting on the mind of Christ." Putting on Christ is risky. It means surrendering, laying ourselves open to being made new. It means extending one's hand in trust to be led where we might not have ever thought about going. It means being one with God and one with each other, taking an interest in God's children as far away as North Korea and Iran and as near asHarding College. But most of all, it means living in the promise that we will know God and that God will indeed change us. /
God is not looking for warm bodies. God is looking for wedding guests, who will rise to the occasion of honoring the son. The irony is that we can do that in shorts and running shoes as well as in suits and high heels, because our wedding robes are not made out of denim or silk. They are sewn from the whole fabric of our lives; using patterns God has given us-- patterns of servant ministry, silence, forgiveness, stewardship, loving-kindness, peace. When we stitch them up and put them on we are GORGEOUS, absolutely GORGEOUS. I DON'T KNOW WHY WE WOULD BE CAUGHT DEAD IN ANYTHING ELSE. Accept the king's invitation. This invitation is offered hereweekly at Searcy . I don't know about you, but by this time of the week, I am pretty hungry. So let's hurry on in to the banquet. (Bon Appetite!)
Katherina Whitley, Worship That Works, 20th Sunday after Pentecost, year A.
Barbara Brown Taylor, "Wedding Dress," Home By Another Way, 192-196.
Fleming Rutledge, "How to Dress for a Wedding," The Bible and the New York Times, 209-215.
Kayla McClurg, Matthew, Ordinary Times A.