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The rebuffed king destroyed those he thought loved him but turned out to be his enemies, and he befriended those he thought despised him but turned out to be better friends than the originals.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come.
"Again, he sent out other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, "See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding."'
"But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. When the king heard about it, he was furious. He sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.
"Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.' So those servants went and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.
"When the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?' He was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."
Matthew 22:1-14 NKJV, condensed
Going to See the King
This parable is full of unexplainable behaviors. Imagine this situation. The president of the United States had a son or daughter who was getting married and the family sent out more than one invitation to each prospective guest to come to the White House for this very special celebration. But not one of those invited guests cared to attend the wedding; they all had more important things to do! What are the chances of a scene like that ever happening.
But that's just the beginning of the story. Not only did the invited guests treat the president's family with contempt, some of them had nothing better to do than surround the couriers and threaten them with bodily harm. They actually beat up some of them; others they murdered for no apparent reason. Why would Jesus use such violent images? If this was a party, wouldn't everybody want to come!
When no guests showed up for the sumptuous wedding feast, our commander-in-chief got angry and sent in the army to retaliate. The troops even burned down their cities like they do in official warfare. Is this not an odd story to follow the phrase, "The kingdom of heaven is like. . ."?
The gala meal was prepared but no one was there to enjoy it. So the president ordered staff members to go out into the streets of Washington and persuade everyone they saw to get over to the White House immediately and be prepared to party. Every seat must be filled. I suppose people had heard what happened to the invited guests and weren't about to ask questions or say, "Nay."
So now the grounds around the presidential home were filled with people from all walks of life. Miraculously at the gate each person was given suitable attire to wear for such an occasion. Delight and excitement mounted as each well-dressed attendee waited to see the president make an entrance with the bride and groom. Finally we get to the good part of the story. We can smile now because things are going well.
But wait, there's commotion over in one corner. The president is confronting someone for not wearing the garment supplied at the entrance. The culprit is speechless and doesn't know what to say. Then the president ordered the offender handcuffed and his feet shackled. The security guards throw him out into the darkest and most dangerous street of the city where he could lament his misdeed. Should we pity this man or did he have it coming?
This is a wedding celebration that is just one stress after another! What should have been a joyful event turned out to be full of conflict. Jesus ended it with this admonition: Many are called, but few are chosen! Sounds like all those employment applications we fill out and someone else gets the job.
In many cultures the behavior of both guests and host in this parable would be considered unforgivable. So how is this situation like the kingdom of heaven? Within the original context, Jesus was probably speaking words of judgment to those who had questioned his authority. But what does it say to us today?
People whose names were on the place cards never showed up. People who didn't have a chance of being invited were summoned at the last minute to fill the hall. One of God's great sorrows is for the children of God to forget who they are and neglect to attend family celebrations--like the wedding in this story.
Being Pennsylvania Dutch, I understand people who would rather work than attend parties. A mystery to us is why Jesus used the illustration of a wedding reception to which we bring nothing to the table and have no assigned responsibilities.
Another part that is difficult to appreciate is why everyone is invited into the banquet hall, both good and evil alike. Just put on the robe that covers all sins and a person is accepted. Somehow that sounds too easy. Besides, we are not sure everybody deserves equal treatment. Does this mean in God's kingdom we have to sit around and talk to people we don't know or even care to know!
One of the miracles of our Father's kingdom is that when and where God reigns, strangers are turned into kinfolk. Those unwilling to join in the celebration exclude themselves and miss the party. Many are invited to the great wedding feast, but few throughout their lifetimes have practiced the humble traits that are needed in order to get in. Life is the wedding rehearsal; how are we doing?
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What is the most memorable wedding experience you've had?
What are the characteristics of a family-style meal that make it a good image of God's kingdom? If you lived in poverty like many people in the world, why might the idea of a free banquet have more appeal to you?When we call God our Father, who is included in our family? Be as specific as you can.
You had a previous invitation in general terms, but today you get the summons. It's drop everything and come. This is God's personal invite to you. Will you come? If not, what is your excuse? What do your actions say about how you think and feel about God? Give some examples of people making light of God's invitation today.
Think about the many strands woven into the wedding garment. The Bible speaks of being clothed in righteousness. What else would you include? Explain the symbolism of the wedding garment. What does it mean to be clothed in child-like trust?
What gives you more pleasure-- spending time with your heavenly Father or spending time on the things you have provided for yourself? Name some ways you accept God's invitation in your daily life? What are the outward signs that you take God's invitation seriously?
What is the main event in this parable? Explain your answer.
Look at this parable from a different perspective--that of the servants. What is the servant's role in regards to the wedding feast? How is that role similar to being a Christian?
"I got a robe; you got a robe. All of God's children got a robe. When I get to Heaven gonna' put on my robe, gonna' shout all over God's Heaven. Heaven. Everybody talking about Heaven ain't going there. . .." In what ways does that spiritual express the message of this parable?
Jesus has been called "The Lord of the Dance." Do you like that image? Why or why not? To what extent are joy and celebration a part of your spiritual life?