Isaiah 25: 1-9, Philippians 4: 1-9, Matthew 22: 1-14
The parable of the wedding banquet. A wonderful Biblical pairing for Thanksgiving Sunday, don’t you think?
All of the important pieces are there:
A King throws a great banquet
The original guests who are invited refuse, but that doesn’t stop the host
He sends his servants out into the streets to invite everyone they can find, and so the feast goes on
That is a nice story about neighborliness, about expanding our circle to include more people, of being generous with what we have; that even if we are not feasting with who we planned to, the feast can still go on…
Like I say, a cheerful and appropriate Thanksgiving message.
Or, at least it would be if the parable stopped there…
After the king fills his banquet hall and has his new guests seated, Jesus adds this final scene:
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.”
It is hard to imagine anyone doing what this King does in this story:
Throwing a great banquet
Inviting people off of the streets
And then forcibly removing someone just because he did not have the right attire
We can hardly imagine someone being removed from Thanksgiving Dinner, or a wedding banquet, or a church service and “thrown into the outer darkness” just because they didn’t have the right clothing… especially if they were only a moment ago invited in off the street.
Such a thing seems unbelievably cruel.
What happened to the King’s generosity?
What happened to those nice feelings of neighbourliness and inclusion?
And what does this have to do with the “Kingdom of Heaven” as Jesus promised at the beginning?
In order to get at the Good News of this morning’s parable, we need to approach it again from the beginning and to understand that this meal, this banquet, is not our Thanksgiving feast, but that it is in-fact the heavenly banquet which celebrates Christ’s marriage bond to humanity.
An event of great celebration for us, and yet one that was ignored by many even as it was happening.
To begin, we need to understand what was happening in the original context, when Jesus was telling this parable for the first time.
At the point that this parable comes up in Matthew’s version of the Gospel, Jesus has already been teaching and healing around the countryside and he has finally arrived in Jerusalem, a city which He knows He will not leave until after His crucifixion.
And if His disciples needed any more assurance of this fact (that their Master was soon going to be crucified and killed for preaching the Kingdom of Heaven), Jesus has just been to the Temple where He has chased out the money changers and turned over their tables, stirring up a lot of trouble in the process…
From the Temple, Jesus went into the heart of the city to teach… where he first cursed the fig tree for not bearing good fruit, and where he remained teaching parables and heaping criticism on the pharisees and temple authorities…
So imagine this scene:
Jesus is out in the public square of the city that will soon put him to death.
Around him are his disciples, but also the poor, the blind, and the lame.
The Temple is in clear view, the pharisees and temple authorities are listening to Him criticize them over and over, getting angrier and beginning to plot against Him.
The Roman Soldiers are standing by with their swords and spears. Watching for trouble to break out so that they can put it down, violently.
Things are, to put it mildly, tense…
In our own world, we can see these kinds of scenes around us, especially in the United States where the pre-election tension seems to keep rising and rising…
People are getting sick, openly ignoring the health mandates.
Many people are suffering in poverty, unable to access the resources they need.
People of Colour continue to be unfairly persecuted by police.
Many are taking to the streets.
And some are standing out and speaking truth. A dangerous thing for them to do with so many armed people, official police and unofficial militias, eager to jump into action…
Again, things are tense.
And it’s into this tension. This almost unbearable tension that Jesus speaks, and He speaks in parables…
Now, depending when you ask Jesus, Jesus either tells these parables so that people will understand or so that they will not understand.
Parables are part story, part lesson, and part joke… not everyone gets them, and not everyone thinks they are amusing.
Already Jesus has told two such parables:
The parable of the two sons, about a child who does not do the good work he has promised, and
The parable of the talents, about a servant who makes bad use of his master’s resources
Saying these things in front of the Temple, you can surely guess who is beginning to get upset.
Let me tell you another parable, Jesus begins: “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son…”
“Now this kind sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet…
(and now Jesus looks directly at the pharisees and the temple authorities)
…but they would not come.”
Not only did they not come, but they made light of the invitation and even seized his slaves, mistreating them, and killing them
(Jesus said, now looking at the Roman soldiers)
The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroying those murderers, and burned their city…
(gesturing to the buildings around Him)
Then the King said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets…
(looking now to the poor, the blind, and lame gathered around him)
…and invite everyone you find to my Son’s wedding banquet.
Already we have said that the banquet Jesus speaks of is not the same as our Thanksgiving Dinner or any other kind of dinner we have been to on earth… it is, of course something greater…
This banquet is thrown by The King, God the Father
For his Son, Jesus Christ
In order to celebrate the bond that is about to be made between God and all people through the death and resurrection of His Son.
It is important to remember this when we reach the part about the guest who was removed for not having a wedding garment.
This man was not removed from our Thanksgiving Feast
Or our wedding party
Or our church service
And nor was he removed for literally having improper clothes… there is something else going on here.
Hear again the end of the parable:
11 …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.”
“Many are called, but few are chosen” – this does not refer to our dinner, or our party, or our church service, so what does it mean?
For years, when I read about the guest removed from the King’s feast and “thrown into the outer darkness,” I imagined a poor, hapless fellow. One who came in out of the cold for the promise of a free meal. One who wasn’t dressed for a wedding but had the courage to come in all the same, and then was so rudely treated once he was discovered… I felt terribly for this man. And I’m sure you do as well.
Read in this way, it sounds like the worst possible thing that could happen to a neighbour; to someone who accepted an invitation to dinner or a worship service: “come as you are, don’t worry about it you’re more than welcome” and then he is literally tied hand and foot and thrown outside… that cannot be the Good News of Jesus Christ.
And surely, it is not.
Rather than think of the guest removed from the banquet as one without proper clothing, what if we imagine him as one who had not fully “shown up” for the banquet…
He has been invited to celebrate the wedding of the King’s Son
He has come inside
He has taken a place at table
He has eaten the food and drank the wine of this celebration… and yet his heart isn’t moved. He isn’t joyful.
He isn’t “under-dressed” for the wedding. Just “under-whelmed.”
He’s heard all about how this wedding will mean the end of sin and death, he’s heard the vows, and soon the ceremony which has forever bonded The Son to His bride, and yet… he doesn’t seem to care.
Imagine for a moment that you are at the wedding feast.
The ceremony has just been performed…
Vows has been made between the groom and his bride. The Father has shed tears watching the ceremony. Friends from every walk of life have been invited inside to celebrate.
Only, this wedding is not between two young lovers, it is between God and humanity… between Christ and creation… between the author of heaven and us.
How could any of us possibly give honor to such an occasion? How can we bring a gift beautiful enough? And yet, after witnessing this wedding, how can we not at least try?
How can we not try to give thanks in our praising, our singing, our sharing, our living?
When the King comes into the banquet hall to see his guests, this is what the King sees… all of these guests, all of these normal, humble people, trying to give thanks for something which is so beyond value that it is impossible to describe… yet they are trying…
In their celebrating, their praising, their singing, their dancing, their worshipping, their living…
It is a great celebration, a great commotion, untold millions of people praising the King, giving thanks not only for the saving act done in the wedding but also for the privilege of getting to join the celebration feast!
On such a happy day, on such a joyous occasion who could not join in? Who could be anything but overjoyed at what has just taken place…
And yet, as the King walked through the revelers and the feasters, and those giving toasts… he saw a man oblivious to all that was happening around him.
This man wasn’t lost. He understood what was happening. He just didn’t seem to care…
He sat, and he stared at his plate, without a wedding garment on his shoulders and without a wedding happiness in his heart… and we know what happened next.
“Many are called, but few are chosen”
As Jesus finished this parable, the people around him must have been just as stunned as we were when we first heard it.
Everyone around, from the disciples to the poor, to the Romans, and even the Pharisees, must have, if even for a brief moment, wondered to themselves how they would act at the great banquet… whether they would have a wedding joy in their hearts…
Friends it would not be “Good News” if it were only up to us; it would not be Good News if our ability to come into the Master’s banquet or to stay there were purely up to us and our ability to give thanks to God.
The Good News is that even when we lack faith, even when we lack joy… or celebration… God still comes to us…
The Good News is that our wedding garment, the symbol of our joy and thanksgiving over what has been done in the wedding between Christ and creation, is not something we make, rather it is something made for us, and draped over us, in the same way that Christ equips us with every other thing we need in life: our strength, our courage, but also our joy and our faith…
Christ has clothed us with all of these things.
We know this to be true because we know the symbol by which Christ does this… that he went to the cross, with all of our sin and our doubts, and he came back radiant in glory, clothed in white light… in order to show us how to be clothed like him in heaven.
Friends, the Good News this morning is this: Though it is true that “many are called but few are chosen”…Christ has already done and will do all that is required for us to be seated at His Father’s banquet… if only we will glorify Him, confessing Him with our lips and loving Him with our hearts… that is all that is required to be in Him and He in us...
That if we are able to do just this, we will find ourself at the banquet with such a beautiful wedding garment that we will have no fear of being left outside…
The Good News this morning is that the same God who has joined Himself to humanity in Christ Jesus is also a God who has made provision for His guests in the same way…
Christ bids us welcome, Christ clothes us in faith and righteousness, Christ clothes us with the joy of the wedding feast…
Each of us has been invited.
Without cost, without condition, without dress-code…
If only we will celebrate with the King and proclaim the Good News that has taken place at this wedding.
We celebrate, not out of fear of being cast out, not out of obligation or duty, but because this truly is an event worth celebrating: the marriage between Christ and humanity… what could make us more thankful?
That no matter what happens between now and then.
No matter what troubles we will endure or pain we may face… God will still get the Kingdom God wants…
God will call us into His banquet hall, and we will be invited to praise and give thanksgiving for eternity.
Thanks be to God.