I’ve Got Some Good News and Some Bad News
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. 3He sent his servants to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, 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 servants, 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 servants, ‘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 servants 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.
7 When Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17At the time for the dinner he sent his servants to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23 Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’
The Parables that Jesus tells often bewilder our imaginations. They present us with contradictions and conundrums at every turn. That is particularly true in the two stories about wedding guests.
The stories begin by telling us of some incredible good news. The Kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet. At such a banquet love is celebrated. It is a moment of high joy. It is one of the festive moments in a community’s life. In that ancient world most people eked out a subsistence living. Life was rather drab. But when there was a wedding, all that changed. Whoever was lucky enough to get an invitation knew they were in for a good time. There would be foods of every kind, in quantities without limits. The best wine that could be procured was served. Entertainment would be provided that was delightful. It was a wonderfully extravagant event.
It was the custom of that culture that had no telephones or internet, in a world where most people were illiterate, to send messengers from door to door with verbal invitations. The invitation to the wedding was sent out some days before the wedding. The messengers were sent to pre-selected homes to invite the friends of the family to the event. Then when the banquet was ready, messengers would be dispatched to each invited guest saying, “The time has come. Please join us for the wedding and the reception.”
But Jesus says, the invitation is not to just any old wedding. This is a wedding of the King’s Son. If a normal wedding was wonderful, the wedding reception for royalty would be a marvel. There would be no sparing of the expense to put on such a feast. And to be invited to the wedding of a Prince indicates how much value the King places on your friendship.
Amazingly the invited guests refuse to come. The King has a hard time believing they turned down the offer. He sends out his messengers again. This time say “Look, I have prepared the dinner, the foods have been prepared. Everything is on the tables.” But making unbelievable excuses, they still refuse to come
So the King opens up the invitation to the rest of the community. And they, who had felt excluded, came instead to enjoy the wondrous festivities. An invitation to enter The Kingdom of God is good news!
And if this were the whole story, we could wax eloquent on the fine fare to be had at the table that God spreads before us.
But there is something that smacks of bad news that intertwines with the good news. When the noble guests refuse to come to the wedding, the King sends his soldiers on a search and destroy mission to kill the invitees and burn down their city. Wow! Turn down the invitation to a wedding and it could result in your death? Seems like a rather harsh retaliation for a simple slight!
That is not the end of the bad news. There is a note about the wedding garments. These garments were not special robes only intended for wedding occasions. It simply means that for such an event you would put on your Sunday best, instead of your apron or overalls. You would dress up for the occasion. To come to a wedding with your dirty work clothes on, would be to show disrespect to the King and his son and the bride. So for weddings there was a protocol even in that ancient world.
So when the people off the streets are invited to the wedding feast, and one of the guests is under-dressed for the occasion, he is grabbed from the table, bound hand and foot and thrown into outer darkness to join those who weep and wail. Wow. You really had to watch how you are dressed for a wedding in those days. Maybe that’s why for formal occasions we ask our spouse, “How do I look? Will this be all right?”
The message of these two stories seems to be “Come to the celebration or be destroyed! Choose the marriage feast or inherit mayhem. Come to the wedding or prepare for warfare. I must confess that this set of contrasts between good news and the bad news really bothers me. How do we resolve the tension between the offer and the threat?
The history behind the story
The story makes sense if we understand who the audience is. The story is aimed for the Jewish people around AD. 30. They have been offered an invitation to be part of the coming of the kingdom of God. They have been invited long before, but now the wedding between God and humanity is about to be initiated. The prophets had been sent earlier with the invitation to announce the approaching future. Then John the Baptist had come with the news and had announced that the Kingdom is at hand. The wedding is about to begin, he had said.
But Jesus has been reading his audience for a long time. They hear his words and while some accept it with joy, others are cynical and scornful. They have refused the invitation send out by John. They are refusing the invitation of the groom himself. They are more interested in simply making a living. They do not want the Kingdom of God; they want to be king in their own little narrow domain.
They think that the Kingdom is something that will reduce their lives, and constrict their freedom. But Jesus is aware that the Kingdom of God is for the enhancement of life. The hound of heaven is not the hound of the Baskervilles as they presume, but a Saint Bernard that will lead them to life, to a banquet, to warmth, to a celebration of love and life. The Kingdom of God is a feast beyond all fantasies. A wedding of a King’s son.
But Jesus knows that if the invitation is to splendor, he also knows that to refuse to participate in the wedding is not simply a matter of losing out on a good time. It is to sign their own death warrant. Things in Judea have been going so bad for so long, that “in the fullness of time” which is actually “in the nick of time” God sent his son to prevent the coming cataclysm. The leaders of Judaism are heading for a precipice. The generation that Jesus addresses is about to enter the downward spiral of violence with civil war breaking out in the nation. And then in the late 60’s Rome will finally get so frustrated over Palestinian affairs that they will come in to decimate this people. (The situation in Syria today is almost parallel to what Rome faced in the generation following the death & resurrection of Jesus.) Rome is about to attempt the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by the eradication of the people of Israel.
Jesus has come to offer a path, away from the precipice. He has come to offer them a road, that leads away from such a death, and to the possibility of life. Judaism wants to stay on the same highway it has been traveling. John and Jesus have come to put warning signs at the top of this cliff. “Kingdom of Joy, this way.” But Israel had become like the lemmings. They would rather follow their instincts than God.
So in this story that Jesus tells, the alternative for the nation is not simply: a banquet, or poor fare. It is life or death. It is life, but on radically different terms, or death, from acts of self-destruction and Roman annihilation. In such a time there is no place for nice little stories. Jesus is taking on the role of a prophet, standing in the face of the lumbering crowds, saying don’t go down the road you are presently travelling, instead take the invitation to living life with God as King and his laws as your life preservers.
The story is a sad one. Israel continued to say “no” to the invitations to peace, and instead the Roman armies comes in like a tornado destroying the nation.
And yet, even with the rejection by Israel, the invitation is still offered. If Israel does not come, the banquet will still go ahead. But now the kingdom will be open to people who never expected an invitation. Jesus reaches out to the reprobates of the day, the irreligious, the moral derelicts. And they come to hear him. But that is not enough for the banquet being prepared. The Samaritans, and then the Gentiles are invited. For all of these groups this was the best news they had ever heard, and they came by the hundreds and the thousands. They had known for a long time, that the road they had been traveling, had been leading them to destruction, but they did not know of another way. When they heard the invitation they knew it was what they needed. And they accepted the invitation to be part of the celebrations of joy.
But what word does this have for you and I almost 2,000 years later?
First of all, the invitation is offered to every one of us. To be part of the marriage between God and humanity is extended to each of us. To share life with God as our divine companion is offered to all of us. It is not coercion. It is not forced upon us. It is offered. We may come if we choose. That is good news!
What if we do not choose to come? I cannot escape the reality that there are always consequences for all human actions. If I choose not to come, I live life without God as my travelling companion, and I may end up with hell on my hands, instead of heaven beneath my feet. I may end up with my sins eating away at the foundations of my life. I may end up with futility on my hands, instead of joy and life. That would be bad news!
But there is a third message. To come to the Kingdom, and not be changed, is not to have come at all. To come only for the food, but not to participate in the change that the Kingdom of God is calling for, is still to be on the outside. To be part of the Church, but not be changed by the experience would be a tragedy.
That is what the symbolism of the wedding garment may be all about. Hear the words of the Old Testament Prophet, Isaiah. (61:10)
“He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with garlands
and a bride decks herself with Jewels.
Hear the New Testament book of Revelation (19:7)
“The Marriage of the Lamb of God has come
The bride has made herself ready
To her it has been granted to be clothed
with fine linen bright and pure
For the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints…
Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb.”
To be part of the church, but not to be changed in heart and attitude, in life style or intention, is sad! I’m afraid it is possible to be inside the church, but not inside the Kingdom where all things are to be made new.