Saturday, 2 December 2023 The Rev’d Tim Searle,

Saturday, 2 December 2023
Hell The Wedding Banquet

St Matthew 22: 1 – 14  The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

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

This is an example of a parable that starts well, but finishes confusingly! At first, its motive seems clear, moving our thinking from a king who only invites a privileged few, to a king who welcomes all, both good and bad. But what happens at the end is the ultimate plot twist. The king, on seeing a guest improperly dressed, orders him to be bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness. The parable ends with Jesus, enigmatic in tone, saying “For many are called, but few are chosen.” It makes for uncomfortable reading.

The punishment for this unlucky individual seems particularly grim: to be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It’s clearly a depiction of Hell, though perhaps not quite the image that we’re accustomed to. There’s no descent into the depths, and no fiery demise, just an unequivocal casting out and complete separation from God. On the day of judgement, it would appear that just turning up for the feast is no guarantee that your name’s on the list.

Matthew has his Christian audience in mind here. Perhaps they, like us, pictured themselves among the righteous guests invited off the streets but spared the king’s wrath. Yet there is no space for complacency or smug self-satisfaction in the kingdom. All, whether among ‘the many called’ or ‘the few chosen’ must examine their hearts and consider whether they, like the man, are improperly clothed. This is not about good and bad, it’s about choice and our willingness to be reclothed by God. The man cast out is a symbol of those eager to enjoy the feast, but not ‘change’ for the celebration.

Matthew’s Hell, therefore, is not a punishment, but a choice. Rather than a fait accompli, it invites us to examine our hearts afresh before God. The invitation to the feast is open, but faith is no free lunch. So the question is: what will you do with your invitation?

Prayer

God of judgement —
we fear that word,
imagining all we have done
to incur your wrath.
Save us from our folly!

God of judgement,
your good and just judgement,
brings healing and wholeness
to all who wear your garment of praise.
Enliven us by your gracious invitation!

God of judgement,
empower us by your Spirit
to shut the gates of Hell in our lives.
To choose you, and only you.
God, our Sovereign, we worship you!  Amen

Today’s writer

The Rev’d Tim Searle, Minister, The United Church, Winchester

 

Copyright

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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