“Once more, Jesus spoke to them in parables”. That`s what St. Matthew tells us in those verses we heard a moment ago (Matthew 22.1-14). And I wonder what you made of that story about the King who gave a banquet for his son… and all those people who couldn`t be bothered to join in? Let me ask you to engage with three things this morning.
Firstly, notice the Lord returns to his essential teaching: The kingdom of heaven. This Kingdom, he says “may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son”.
As I`ve tried to say many times before, we will not understand the Lord and what he about until we see THIS as his essential focus. He is making an announcement of a material change. What he calls the Kingdom is in effect `regime change`, a new dispensation, a new age. Throughout his ministry the Lord is giving an account of something ready; something coming into being…. And what this parable underlines is that it`s something that draws you in. It feels like an invitation. So here is the Gospel; what we call `the Good News`. And if someone asks you what it is you can simply say, “In Jesus a whole new world is coming into being – and you`re invited to get on board”.
Now, what I`d especially want us to grasp this morning – and I know I go over this ground again and again, – is the very GIVEN-NESS of this message. What`s on offer here is not a nice religious theory or philosophy; no ideas or thoughts to titillate the intellect; not a product which we have to explain or persuade people into believing. No, it is simply the announcement… “Everything is ready…. come to the wedding banquet (22.4) of the King`s son”.
It is I think, our failure to take hold of this `given-ness` which is at the root of our lack of confidence in faith and witness and leads to our fundamental weakness when it comes to witness for Christ. We have come to assume that what we might look on as the success or failure of things as resting on our shoulders and efforts. But nothing could be further from the truth. No, although we would rightly adopt a respectful tone; (indeed an invitational one) there is always an element of `take it or leave` about the Gospel. A certain `non-negotiability` about it.
However, rather than talk about Jesus and what he has and will do; and rather than live lives shaped by this truth we would rather engage in intellectual; jousting; employ the techniques of sales and marketing or use the language of `meeting needs` so as to get people interested. After all a single-minded proclamation will, always run the risk of appearing arrogant. But we don`t seem to be listening to Christ or what the Scriptures tell us.
That man born in Bethlehem is the one Israel had long waiting for. He is `God with us`. He has reconciled all things to himself on the cross; defeated death; is exalted as the world`s true king and will come again to bring everything to completion. In the meantime he has given his Holy Spirit to frail creatures such as you and I that we might be His Church- both heralds and a demonstration of what life lived under this new dispensation looks like.
Yes, we live in the midst of a multitude of other accounts of what the world is all about…. So many things which seem to deny or fly in the face of the truth of Christ. But it`s no good pretending the message is anything other than it is. This IS the truth we`re called to be faithful in sharing. It doesn`t get any grander or any more serious than that.
And that leads me to my second point. Notice, how the first people to be invited to the banquet of the king, heard the invitation and `made light of it` (22.5).I think it`s helpful to stand back for a moment and remember that the first intended hearers and target of this parable were of course the people of Israel… And the military destruction and the burning of their city (which the parable speaks of) is thought to be the Lord`s prediction of the fall of Jerusalem- which happened in AD70.
But for just a moment, hold onto that response, “They made light of it” (22.5). First of all, we have to face the uncomfortable truth that this is a parable addressed to `believers`. Before we can even begin to apply this teaching to that wider world we wish to invite into the Kingdom we have to acknowledge that to begin with, this teaching castigates `believers`. You and I are in the firing line as the ones you might expect to respond wholeheartedly, but who actually treat it all casually. We `make light of it`…. The Greek word that`s used here implies negligence!
So, this is strong stuff. Yes, it might be hard but the Lord is deadly serious about all of this; and St. Paul`s command that we should “work out (our) salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2.12) is very wise counsel. In another place he told Timothy “Train yourself in godliness”. (1 Timothy 4.7)
No, this parable is a `wake-up call`. It speaks of and to those who fail to grasp the fundamental significance of the call of Christ. It challenges our preoccupations and idolatries; whatever diminishes our engagement and eager response. And so it`s a picture that invites us to consider what we might point to in our own lives, our daily routines and behaviours, that would indicate we`re really not taking the invitation seriously?
So, firstly, the Lord tells a parable about the reality of the in-breaking Kingdom reign of God…. The `given-ness` of our message. Then secondly, he points out the casual and negligent response of those who ought to know better – the people of God; and so, he calls us to `pull our socks up`. To grasp something of the seriousness- the `life and death nature` of what`s going on.
And then thirdly, if this doesn`t seem strong enough we then have that perplexing scene of the man turfed out of the kingdom for wearing inappropriate clothing! What on earth is this about?
Well, we quite rightly proclaim the invitation of God to the abundance of his Kingdom… It IS a banquet after all! And so, as we read this parable we warm to the lavish embrace of the outsider and the undeserving -and maybe recognise ourselves among them- as we`re told the “slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; (and) so the wedding hall was filled with guests. (22.10) And we get that. We get the grace; the acceptance… but this last little point tells us that we can`t avoid the call to change.
You see the `wedding robe`(22.11)` in the parable is the robe you had placed on you at Baptism. It`s the symbol of what St. Paul describes as, “Putting on Christ”. Putting on that garment is tantamount to becoming an entirely new person…. one who reflects the life and love of Christ in all that they do.
Now, the strength of this particular symbol is easily is lost on those of us used to those delightful little garments we place on babies at Christenings. But even there the same point is being made. What`s being flagged up is the call to holiness; the altered way of life which goes with bearing the name `Christian`.
So, the Church which announces this Kingdom; this changed state of affairs…. The Church which invites everyone to the banquet with an appropriate seriousness simply cannot duck the thorny issue of where it will all lead. St. Paul tells us: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body”. (1 Corinthians 6.19-20)
No, never forget that the change symbolised in the wedding garment tells us that we don`t get all of this on our own terms. Just as we wear clothing appropriate to a particular event; in Baptism – in becoming a citizen of the Kingdom – we submit to being clothed in the virtues and a way of life which reflect the life of Christ. A life which; somewhat alarmingly, had a cross-shape to it….
So, it`s with appropriate `fear and trembling` that we come here to work out what that might look like in our daily lives- and seek the courage and strength to live it out; glorifying God in our lives.