The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
Read : Matthew 22: 1-14
What do you think of when you think about weddings ? I'm sure we usually remember happy days. The day the bride never looked more beautiful, or the groom never more handsome. The day their love for each other was plain for everyone to see. Weddings are days for celebrating love. Then there's the party afterwards, where everyone celebrates some more, and even the slightly embarrassing uncle is tolerated more kindly than usual. People will often say that their wedding day was one of the happiest days of their lives. So, when we think of weddings, we probably remember of some of the happiest days of our lives.
Have you ever noticed how often the Bible uses the image of weddings, when describing God's love for his people - in the Old Testament the people of Israel were often described as the bride of God. In the New Testament, the church is described as the bride of Christ. Jesus tells parables about weddings, and wedding banquets, about brides and bridesmaids. He even describes himself as a bridegroom, his first miracle was performed at a wedding feast, and so on. I think this probably shows us how important weddings were in the lives of the people of Jesus time. If you lived in a small village, a wedding was probably the highlight of the year - and their wedding parties weren't just for a few hours like ours, theirs lasted for days - that's a lot of celebrating!
In this parable Jesus tells a story about a wedding feast, which he likened to the Kingdom of Heaven. So, if weddings are amongst the happiest days of our lives, does this suggest that being in the Kingdom of Heaven will be like our happiest day ? Except, that it doesn't last for just a few hours, it lasts for ever ! We know there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain in heaven, but have you ever considered what a happy, and joyful place it will be for those who are there ?
Jesus told us that his parable is about the kingdom of heaven, which means that the king is God. What else do we know ? Well, we don't have a recorded explanation of this parable, either Jesus didn't think it needed any explanation, or if Jesus did give one, Matthew didn't think one was needed, so he didn't record it. This means that we don't know whether Jesus had anyone specifically in mind for the groups of invited guests, or those delivering the invitations. But I don't think it matters, because if it did, I think Jesus would have made it clearer in his story, or Matthew would have recorded an explanation.
So what does the story tell us ? Well, firstly, the king didn't just invite his guests once. He invited them again and again. When they refused, he sent his slaves out to try and persuade them to come to the banquet, by telling them about the delights that awaited them. That's good news for everyone - because it means that God doesn't just give people one chance to accept his invitation, we get many chances to accept.
But, you'll have noticed that after several invitations, the king stopped inviting those who refused to attend. There's a warning for us there, because it means that although God is generous with his invitations, and we are given many opportunities to accept, there will come a time when, if we haven't accepted, it will be too late to do so. We don't know when that will be - it might not be until Jesus returns for the day of Judgement, but it could be tomorrow. We don't want anyone to miss the opportunity to accept God's invitation, by leaving it until it is too late.
When the slaves who were sent out with the invitations received the guests' excuses and refusals, they returned and told the king. But he didn't say "Oh well, never mind, at least you tried" - instead he sent them out again. And again. Even after some were ill treated, and some were killed, those who were still alive, were sent out again. And again. This warns us that, if we are the ones passing God's invitation on to others, God doesn't expect us to do it just once, and then give up if they don't accept it. He expects us go on and on telling people about his invitation to them.
Although some of the slaves just received refusals and excuses, others were ill treated, and some were even killed. This warns us that when we tell others of God's invitation to them, we must expect to receive the same treatment. Not everyone will be delighted to receive God's invitation. Not everyone will treat us kindly. When we hear about Christians who are killed for passing on God's invitation, we need to remember that Jesus received the same treatment. The Son of God came to bring God's invitation to us himself, but even he received refusals and was rejected, he was ill treated, and eventually killed - we must not expect to be treated any differently.
In the end, people were found who gladly accepted the king's invitation, and once they had arrived and the wedding banquet finally began, the king came in to speak to his guests and welcome them - as any good host would do.
But the king noticed a man who was not wearing wedding clothes. Now, we know that the man hadn't gate crashed the banquet, everyone was there because they were invited, and he was no exception. But, clearly although all of the other guests had changed their clothes somehow, for some reason, he had not. We don't know how or when everyone got their wedding clothes, and with no recorded explanation, once again it probably doesn't matter, just that everyone had changed, except this one man. We also we have to assume that he had same opportunity to change, as everyone else, but did not take it.
Notice that none of the other guests seemed to notice that the man wasn't wearing wedding clothes, nor did the servants report him. It was only the king who saw that something was wrong. When we accept God's invitation, if we truly accept it and repent of our sins, we will be changed. It may begin with an internal change, which perhaps isn't even obvious to anyone else. But God, who can see what's in our hearts, knows whether or not we have sincerely accepted his invitation, and have changed as a result of it.
So, what does the king do - well, he doesn't just send his servants over to remove the man from the banquet, nor does he charge up to him shouting "off with his head" or something similar. No, the king goes up to the man, greets him as "friend", and gently asks what he is doing there without wedding clothes. At this point, did you expect the man to make excuses, or perhaps to apologise, but to be willing to put on the wedding clothes ? Although the story doesn't say so, I think that when he was challenged, if he had been prepared to change, the king would probably have let him stay.
Were you surprised when, having been challenged by the King, the man didn't reply at all ? Clearly he wanted to be at the banquet, he wanted what was on offer at the banquet - otherwise he wouldn't have been there. He knew he should have changed, and yet he was not prepared to do so, even when given one final chance by the king.
Perhaps the man thought that although the king had noticed, he would take pity on him and let him stay. Perhaps he thought the King wouldn't want to make a fuss, or cause a scene at his son's wedding. Perhaps he thought the King wouldn't want to embarrass his other guests by having him forcibly removed. If so, he was completely wrong - the king ordered him bound, and he was forcibly removed from the banquet.
You may have heard it said that because our God is a God of love, he won't really stop anyone from going to heaven. That when it comes down to it, he will actually allow everyone to enter the kingdom of heaven, because he wouldn't want to leave anyone out. While it's true that God doesn't want anyone to miss out on going to heaven, we have to accept that we cannot possibly know what God will do.
However, here and elsewhere, Jesus didn't teach that everyone would be at the heavenly banquet, or be welcomed into the Kingdom of heaven. In this parable, it's clear that not everyone was at the banquet. Those who refused the King's invitation were allowed to go their own way, no-one who refused was forced to be present. Those who mistreated or killed the slaves, were destroyed, so they certainly weren't there. The man who wanted to be at the banquet, but wasn't prepared to change, was forcibly removed from it. Yes, the banquet went ahead, but the ones who were present, were those who had accepted the invitation, and been prepared to change in order to be there.
This seems to be what Jesus meant when he said "Many are invited, but few are chosen" - because, not everyone who is invited to God's heavenly banquet, will want to go, and not everyone who wants to go to the banquet, will be prepared to change, in order to be there.
The Kingdom of heaven then, will be a happy, joyful place for those who are there, but we need to make sure that we are there, that we give everyone around us, every chance to be there too, and that they understand that only those who say "Yes" to God's invitation, will be able to enjoy the wonderful things at the banquet, and be able spend eternity with God in heaven.
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