The Wedding Banquet, the king’s demands, and a kingdom of opportunity
a Homily for Proper 23 A | Text: Matthew 22:1-14
A Strange Wedding
There’s a part of this story that Jesus tells the Pharisees that makes sense to us and a part that doesn’t at all.
This is the story of a weird kind of wedding. This isn’t like any wedding I’m sure any of us has been to. Who here has come to a wedding after the personal invitation of the groom’s father’s slave? None? Clearly we’ve all been sheltered.
Many of the story’s conditions are fascinating. This isn’t our culture and we can’t exactly relate to it all. But we shouldn’t skip over them. We should explore them a little. To help the whole story make more sense.
Jesus begins by again saying
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…”
This may be a simile – the kingdom of heaven is like…
Or it could be a contrast – compare the kingdom of heaven to… This is the reading that makes more sense to me given the fact that the king seems a bit…let’s say…fickle.
So let’s compare the Kingdom of Heaven to this wedding. Not the wedding, but the wedding banquet. The king has invited people. Are they his friends, or his son’s? Are these people that care about the king or the king’s son or are they people that are expected to care? And what of the bride and her family? Or the king’s family for that matter? Are these even the people that should be at this reception in the first place?
Given the response they give to the invitation, these people clearly have better things to do and don’t really want to go.The king says that he’s got everything ready, everything paid for, so these people need to show up.
So he sends some slaves to go collect the people. Right about here is where I stop relating to the story. I don’t know about you, but stories that involve kings who have slaves is about two steps removed from my reality as it is. I can imagine a wedding with a poor father sitting there, looking at the empty banquet hall, the food is almost ready, and what he wants most is to honor his son on his wedding day. Won’t someone show up? If we skip this next part, we could see the king doing just that–getting someone, anyone to come. But something has to happen first.
The king has to send out his slaves to gather the guests. What do the invited guests do? They brutalize and kill the slaves. Like the tenants in the previous parable about the vineyard. Again, these are people brutalizing and killing the king or master’s slaves. And just like that previous parable, the king or master brutalizes and kills them. Then replaces them.
This story has a little bonus “treat” in it. Oh goody! we think. As if that weren’t bad enough. What is the king going to do now? Well, he finds a guest isn’t dressed right, so he throws him to the outer darkness.
So the question raised at the beginning is now even more confusing. How does this compare to the kingdom of heaven?
What its not like
Last week I spoke to the value in learning what the kingdom is not like. That holds true this morning, given that this is practically the same story with a small twist at the end.
I am most drawn to the image Jesus uses of a wedding banquet. We probably shouldn’t get it too confused with our experience of weddings, but I’ll hazard to go there.
We celebrate the marrying of the couple twice, don’t we? Once in the nave and a second time at the reception: out there or at a banquet hall.
And we do what we do: we worship GOD, hearing about the glory of GOD in scripture and in preaching. We pray and bless the couple. Then we gather around GOD’s table for Holy Communion. The people are dismissed to proclaim the Good News to the world.
But most of us get into cars and drive to the reception hall for a second party. One where the food tastes a lot better and the portions are much bigger. We drink and we dance and we have fun.
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound anything like what the King is trying to give his son. He tries to order them to come. He’s less interested in giving these people a good time and more concerned with being out a few thousand dollars. Would we think the Kingdom of Heaven is supposed to look like that?
More than a decade ago, I drove with a close friend of mine from Lansing over to Bemidji, Minnesota for a wedding. My buddy was to be the best man for a childhood friend. It was a weird situation and really, really long drive to get there. More than 16 total hours, I think. And we got there and the evening before the wedding, the groom started to freak out. He thought this might be a big mistake. He didn’t really want to get married. It was she who wanted it.
My buddy caught up to him before he could skip town. He told one of his oldest friends that it was too late to get out of this. The night before is too late. They’ve paid for everything, the guests are all in town. He is as good as married.
At the time, I was really conflicted by the advice. Yes, I thought it is too late. But I also wondered what kind of marriage begins with such questions. How fair would that be to her and to her family in the end?
It was no surprise a year later they were divorced and the friend left town.
In the kingdom of heaven, it is never too late. It isn’t about spending the money or planning the event and it isn’t even whether or not anyone else shows up to the banquet. It is about the banquet itself!
Jesus loves to eat. And so do we.
Jesus also likes to make sure that everyone gets to. That’s why we pray every week in the way he taught us
give us today our daily bread
and not give me today the bread you owe me. May we all be fed today.
Food isn’t as scarce as our willingness to share it is. This wedding banquet Jesus talks about reminds us of our banquets. Not just the one we will have in a few moments, but the one we had on Wednesday at Women Dining Out. Some seriously good food was eaten, by the way. And the banquets we share at our tables at home with friends and family: these powerful opportunities to give thanks and praise GOD for the abundance.
For the kingdom of heaven reveals abundance where we see scarcity. It gives us hope when all we know is pessimism.
May we know the willingness of GOD’s offering to us. May we receive it as an opportunity to love more, and may we be so filled with GOD’s love that we wouldn’t even think of taking one more bite.