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.’
Reflection Some years ago members of a URC congregation read their way through Matthew’s Gospel during Lent, meeting weekly to share reactions. In discussion, one member commented, “we do a lot of wailing and teeth gnashing when we read Matthew.”
Weeping and the teeth gnashing feature in this parable of the wedding banquet, but that’s only one element in what’s alarming about it.
The king, who has issued an invitation to his son’s wedding banquet, takes rejection badly. Those who declined the invitation and mistreated royal messengers are killed by his army, and their city is burned to the ground.
Even those who accept the king’s invitation are not safe. One guest, who has been brought in off the street, is consigned to outer darkness (with tears and teeth gnashing) because he is improperly dressed. (How many of us habitually walk down the street dressed so as not to look out of place at a wedding?) If the king in the parable represents God that’s a frightening picture.
There’s a hint, though, that this picture is not complete. In the parable, although we hear from the king, and only from the king, the son, for whom the banquet is given, is silent.
Certainly, if I’m rich, I’m unwise to reject God (as did landowners and business owners in the parable). I might find myself replaced by the poor. Even if I’m someone who has accepted the invitation to God’s party (as we Christians tend to picture ourselves) once I’ve done so I’m expected to behave in the right way. If the image of God in this parable still worries you, take care to read it as part of the bigger Gospel story, where the Son also speaks, and we find that God is ‘With Us’, not against us.
Prayer O God, May I never take your loving invitation for granted. May I always listen out for what your Son is saying. May I be ever mindful that you are with me day by day. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Trevor Jamison, Minister, Saint Columba’s URC, North Shields.