The Wedding Banquet
—Rev Kate Harrison, 15 October 2017
Matthew 22. 1–14
Let me tell you a story:–
Once upon a time there was a great leader who lived in a great white house on a great hill. This man had so much power that he could decide whether the world would be destroyed. He was always right. Always right. And anyone who dared suggest that he wasn’t was a liar and a spreader of fake news. He loved people to come to his house and to admire him, his beautiful family and to bow down in awe at his power. But not everyone recognised how wonderful this humble man was. Some people even said they didn’t want to come to his wonderful parties. But this just showed that these people were unworthy and so their invitation was withdrawn…
I’ve never been known for my subtlety. Now, I know some of you have probably heard this morning’s Gospel reading and sermons about it once or twice before. And you will probably have heard the banquet described as heaven and the king as God. But doesn’t the king in today’s parable sound much more like some of our megalomaniac world leaders than he does like God as revealed through Jesus? Today I have a challenge for you. I want you to look at it a different way.
The parable is delivered to the Pharisees who are questioning Jesus’ authority. Directly before this point in Matthew’s Gospel we have had the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. When the Pharisees are asked in that parable how the landowner should have dealt with the tenants, they say that he “should put them to a miserable death”. And this is what we see in this parable. The king is merciless. This sounds like a big showy occasion. When people aren’t prepared to come and celebrate with him (or is it to celebrate him?) he gets the hump. He calls them unworthy. he sounds like a petulant child. And then he goes and sends his troops out to kill them and burn the city down. This is the way the Pharisees would have had the landowner act. This is not the way Jesus tells us that God acts. The clue comes in the translation of some of the first words of the parable. We heard them this morning as “the kingdom of heaven may be compared to…” But there is an alternative translation. In technical terms, the Greek used here is a passive tense, so it’s actually more accurately “the kingdom of heaven has been compared to…” So, what if Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, “you have believed that this is what the kingdom is like: a kingdom where worthiness is tested and there is retribution, where outside appearances are more important than whether you are good or bad. But I’m here to tell you that it’s different. What would that mean to our relationship with God?
The very next chapter of Matthew sees Jesus completely tearing apart the Pharisees. He calls them out for demanding honour, being concerned with the outward appearance of their religious activities and for being hypocritical in not following what they teach. This is where that behaviour leads. If the Kingdom of Heaven was one the Pharisees would recognise it would be full of people who care more about outward appearances rather than a heart that was ready to worship. The people in the banqueting hall today may be dressed in fine clothes ready to enjoy the party, but they don’t even know the king.
What happens to the one who is not dressed properly, who refuses to play the political game? He is turned out—rejected.
You see, God doesn’t care about what we do for show. He cares about our hearts. He cares that we know Him. Our love for God comes from a knowledge of Him, not because He has offered us the finest things. Yes, the benefits of the heavenly banquet are more wonderful than we can imagine, but if we are only showing up for the party, we have it wrong. We love God because He loves us and because not loving Him leaves a gap in our lives which can’t be filled with earthly finery and showiness. God calls us to the banquet because he loves us. His love doesn’t depend on whether we are ‘worthy’, because, believe me, if it did, we’d all be thrown out to where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. No. We don’t have to earn his love by being the best at praying or by giving the most. We have His love and, unlike the Pharisees, our response is to love in return. It is a great honour to be invited to the wedding banquet. Because our King is a King who invites us because He loves us, rather than because he needs to be adored, we are truly honoured. And adoration and loving service is our natural response.