7. "Come to the King's Wedding Banquet"

Matthew 22:1–14

Banquet festivities beginSomeone is not welcome

Our application questions: What can a royal wedding party tell us about God's kingdom? God invites each of us to his banquet that we may share in his joy. Are you ready to feast at the Lord's banquet table?
Here's one parable you won't find in our Chapel's children's Sunday school curriculum. It's intended for "theologically mature audiences" only.
This parable is charged with ironies. We have the Christ of "love your enemies" telling about a king who takes revenge on his enemies. This king, in fact, recalls the most savage of Hebrew and Gentile rulers.
The invitation to his banquet declares that everyone is welcome, "both evil and good." But after the ragtag guests assemble, someone is by no means made welcome. Quite the opposite. He is "bound hand and foot, and cast into outer darkness." His offense? Lacking that well-known wedding garment. . . (continued below)




The Parable of the King's Wedding Banquet

Matthew 22:1–14


. . . (continued from above)
This anonymous guest, someone from "the main highways," perhaps homeless, almost certainly destitute. Where was such a person to have or find a festive robe?
And why, when confronted about his attire, does this pitiful guest not explain his plight? Why is he "speechless"? Is this another clue to his status: his hangdog look makes for his inability to explain?
The poor we know are often inarticulate, especially when confronted with the threats and blustering of the powerful. What street person today, hauled into court, finds a ready language of defense?
The timing of the story is nightmarishly awry. We're told that a banquet was "all prepared ... everything ... ready." But the first invitation goes nowhere. Those who were summoned "were unwilling to come." A second squad of slaves is sent; those invited "paid no attention and went their way ..." Others turned murderous; they "seized his slaves, mistreated and killed them."
We are in a nightmare world with scores to be settled. And the old savage formula is invoked, reminiscent of the worst pages of the books of Kings; provocation calls for retaliation. "The king sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire."
Eventually, to fill the banquet hall, the streets are scoured for guests.
Having compassion as we read this parable, we're uncertain as to motives. Does the king's energetic moves to fill his son's wedding banquet originate from compassion or pride (or a brew of both)? We're to judge; the outcome and its implications are left to us.
As Jesus seems to imply, the king of the parable is two-faced. He's a typical wielder of secular power. He's a host, but he's also a warrior, which is to say a sanctioned killer. In his own regard, he stands outside the law. He is a tyrant, a wicked judge.
And yet Jesus insists that the king is a symbol of something that greatly surpasses his own person. Listen again to the beginning; "The realm of heaven may be compared to a king ..." Compared in two ways: in the way of likeness and of contrast.
Jesus, the One who tells this story, knows both goodness and wickedness, because He is good, consistent and compassionate. He longs to see humans standing in the orbit of God's love. He rejoices to see the speechless and poor, the nobodies, at His table.
In this story, He condemns no one, not even the king. Such a judgment is redundant, the royal behavior being self-condemned. In utter contrast to the worldly king, the Storyteller will give His life rather than take life.
The banquet must proceed. At the table are all those "whom the servants found ... both evil and good." Which is to say, ourselves. Not the wicked on this side of the table and the virtuous on the other, well separated. No, the evil and the virtuous are intermingled, juxtaposed; they lift glasses together, banter, ponder, feast.
And more: Good and evil coexist within each guest. In this parable, our Host enters the banquet hall to approve, rejoice, include, and welcome all. Ourselves. The words that sum up this parable belong to the king who judged so harshly, who confused his status of host with his black mood of condemnation and retaliation. It's the king who says to himself vengefully, "Many are called, but few are chosen." These are not the words of Jesus but the words of a worldly host and warrior, one given to eviction and slaughter.
Jesus sums this story up quite differently. According to the heart of Jesus, He leaves us with this closing summary.


To the banquet, and to life, and to love: all are called, all are chosen.

by Daniel Berrigan, May 4, 2001


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