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The Parable of the Wedding Feast


Here is the Gospel lectionary reading for today....
Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 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.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “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.
‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. 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.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’
N. T. Wright explains this difficult parable in this way....
This story is about the coming of God's kingdom, and in particular the arrival of the Messiah.
Israel's leaders in Jesus' day, and the many people who followed them, were like guests invited to a wedding--God's wedding party, the party he was throwing for his son. But they had refused. Galilee had refused, for the most part; think back to Jesus' sad warnings in 11.20-24. Now Jerusalem was refusing the invitation as well. God was planning the great party for which they had waited so long. The Messiah was here, and they didn't want to know. They abused and killed the prophets who had tried to tell them about it, and the result was that their city would be destroyed.
But now for the good news--though it wasn't good news for the people who were originally invited. God was sending out new messengers, to the wrong parts of town, to tell everyone and anyone to come to the party. And they came in droves. We don't have to look far in Matthew's gospel to see who they were. The tax-collectors, the prostitutes, the riff-raff, the nobodies, the blind and lame, the people who thought they'd been forgotten. They were thrilled that God's message was for them after all.
But there was a difference between this wide-open invitation and the message so many want to hear today. We want to hear that everyone is all right exactly as they are; that God loves us as we are and doesn't want us to change. People often say this when they want to justify particular types of behaviour, but the argument doesn't work. When the blind and lame came to Jesus, he didn't say, 'You're all right as you are.' He healed them. They wouldn't have been satisfied with anything less. When the prostitutes and extortioners came to Jesus (or, for that matter, to John the Baptist), he didn't say, 'You're all right as you are'. His love reached them where they were, but his love refused to let them stay as they were. Love wants the best for the beloved. Their lives were transformed, healed, changed.
Actually, nobody really believes that God wants everyone to stay exactly as they are. God loves serial killers and child-molesters; God loves ruthless and arrogant businessmen; God loves manipulative mothers who damage their children's emotions for life. But the point of God's love is that he wants them to change. He hates what they're doing and the effect it has on everyone else--and on themselves, too. Ultimately, if he's a good God, he cannot allow that sort of behaviour, and that sort of person, if they don't change, to remain for ever in the party he's throwing for his son.
That is the point of the end of the story, which is otherwise very puzzling. Of course, within the story itself it sounds quite arbitrary. Where did all these other guests get their wedding costumes from? If the servants just herded them in, how did they have time to change their clothes? Why should this one man be thrown out because he didn't have the right thing to wear? Isn't that just the sort of social exclusion that the gospel rejects?
Well, yes, of course, at that level. But that's not how parables work. The point of the story is that Jesus is telling the truth, the truth that political and religious leaders often like to hide: the truth that God's kingdom is a kingdom in which love and justice and truth and mercy and holiness reign unhindered. They are the clothes you need to wear for the wedding. And if you refuse to put them on, you are saying you don't want to stay at the party.
Perhaps the essence of the message in this parable could be summarized in this one sentence: God loves us right where we are, but he loves us too much to leave us where we are.

Sacred Space offers these two questions to guide our personal application of this passage:
  • Is it possible that the relentless pace of daily life is blinding me to God’s glorious invitation to be part of his kingdom?
  • The kingdom of God is open to ‘both good and bad’ and we are called to help build it. Am I dressed for the occasion – am I ready to be part of this wonderful task?

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