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“Preoccupied and Pretending: Guests Unworthy of the King’s Banquet”

Oct.30, 2011 Mt.22:1-14


“A King prepared a wedding banquet for his son.” Are weddings a big deal? Oh yes, and rightly so – they’re intended to be a once-in-a-lifetime commitment of two people from here on forward, for better for worse, in sickness and in health, in the sight of God. Are wedding banquets a big deal? Certainly; this is meant to be a time for celebration and rejoicing as family and close friends share in the happiness of the bride and groom. Some cultures go to great lengths to make the wedding banquet special: I remember being involved with some Italian families in the Sault Ste Marie area that laid on 7-course banquets at great expense to ‘seal the deal’ of their children’s vows.
    Weddings are a big deal, worth dressing up and waiting for. Our family’s most recent wedding was that of our daughter Meredith and her man Davies back in December. What to wear...Meredith found herself buying not one but 2 gowns before she finally picked which one she’d wear (selling the other afterwards on Kijiji). Davies and the groomsmen looked very sharp in their tuxes. Meredith even bought a special outer coat that would match their ‘colours’, for they were getting outdoor shots taken after the ceremony at Benmiller. We went to print out an 11x14 portrait for our next-gen ‘wedding gallery’ and she said, “No, wait - here’s an edited photo”: she had photo-shopped out some of the snowflakes! Why the big deal about what we wear? We want to ‘look our best’ for our beloved; the groom honours the bride by taking time to make sure his tie’s straight and shoes aren’t scuffed. We give worth, we show the other person’s precious to us by putting effort into our presentability.
    And we wait for the participants. This most recent ceremony didn’t get started (as some of you well remember!) until it was over 45 minutes past the announced start-time. It’s still a mystery to me how the bridal party could have started at 7 o’clock in the morning at the hair salon and STILL wind up 45 minutes late for an afternoon ceremony, but that’s what happened. And they weren’t slacking off, they were busy getting ready all that time. The bride refused to go down the aisle looking rushed, with her hair or veil out of place or one eye’s makeup not done. She was convinced the dignity of the occasion warranted taking every effort to maximize her beauty - for the pleasure her man would get out of seeing her.
    And our guests patiently waited. Ten minutes might be considered ‘fashionably late’; we were way beyond that! Twenty minutes - 30 minutes - nearly an hour passed before the strains of the bridal march were heard. I felt very bad (not that I could do much about it except apologize and alert the best man by cell phone) – normally I start getting irritated and impatient if a meeting’s tardy by even 10 or 15 minutes. But our guests waited, and didn’t complain. Why? Because they loved Meredith and Davies and us their family; they were showing respect and honour, proving they appreciated the value and significance of the occasion by waiting - their gift of time. Their remarkable patience heightened how special the day was.
    That serves as a strong contrast to the guests invited in Jesus’ story about a king’s wedding banquet for his son. There’s a huge difference between the king’s desire for many to enjoy the celebration, and people’s adamant refusal and scorn of what was meant to be The Big Day.


Note first of all to what a great extent the king went to make this an outstanding occasion that people could rejoice in. Matthew 22:2, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.” This isn’t just an ordinary wedding; not even an Italian wedding! This is a gala event, a royal wedding – remember all the fuss over Will & Kate! Visiting dignitaries, international news crews (if they’d had them back then!), gilded carriages - this royal wedding would have been a show-stopper. Spare no expense; v4, “My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered” – in a poor agrarian economy where meat wasn’t something you had every day, this was destined to be a once-in-a-lifetime feast.
    So, there’s the extent of his preparation, the lavishness. Next note the persistence of his invitation: he doesn’t want anyone to miss out! V3, “He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come...” Reading carefully, you deduce there were at least two stages of invitation, as was customary back in those days: first the general announcement of the marriage, so people could start preparing; then the actual invitation that the day has come - it’s time to load up the donkey and get moving.
    After the initial surprising refusal by the invited guests, the king issues yet another invitation: v4, “Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner...everything is ready.Come to the wedding banquet.” Very patiently, persuasively, highlighting the delectable menu; the king WANTS people not to miss out, he’s eager to share the joys of the day with them.
    Then when the first batch of invitees disappoint him, the king still persists in wanting to share the event with others: v9, “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.” He extends the invitation even to the non-blue-bloods, the hoi polloi, the commoners and man-on-the-street that normally would never be privileged to access to the palace corridors. He’s just so intent on having someone - ANYONE! - share His good things and delicate delights.
    And while the feast is on, does the king stick to himself and his select few at the head table? No, he gets up and wanders around to see how people are enjoying themselves, as if it actually adds to his enjoyment to witness their satisfaction. V11, “When the king came in to see the guests” (literally, those ‘reclining at table’ according to the custom of the day in which you lounged while you ate). It can take a bride and groom a long time going from table to table passing out wedding cake as they interact with friends, sharing the joy of being together at a happy occasion. Joy is multiplied when you see others appreciating what you’ve provided.
    At the heart of God’s purpose for the universe is His intention for His creatures to see and savour His glory. God enjoys seeing us appreciating Him. As the Westminster Catechism puts it, our chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” In Psalm 81(10,16) He promises to those who would follow His ways, “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it...But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” Jesus says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (Jn 7:37f) His invitation springs from His longing to meet our needs. In Ephesians 5(27), Paul describes how Christ is preparing the church as a bride that He Himself will take pleasure in as we reflect His cleansing and goodness: Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her “to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
    The thrust of the Bible is towards the consummation of God’s intimate relationship with His people, described in the language of a groom and bride enjoying and relishing each other’s company at a wedding banquet: Revelation 19(7-9), “Let us rejoice and be glad and give [God] glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, "Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’" And he added, "These are the true words of God."” That’s the climax towards which God’s act of creation and redemption is driving, inviting humans throughout history into close relationship with One who is eternal. God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1Tim 2:4) The closing chapter of the Bible has these words of invitation: “The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”
    The king, then, is compelled to share all his goodness with others, and derives pleasure from witnessing how others enjoy his feast.


With it being a royal wedding and all, you’d think people would be climbing over each other to get ahold of an invitation to the Big Event. But, surprisingly, that’s just not happening. We see 3 different levels of rejection to the king’s offer: passive indifference, active resistance, and inexcusable infiltration.
    First, some show PASSIVE INDIFFERENCE, the cold shoulder. V5, “But they paid no attention and went off— one to his field, another to his business.” They were careless about it, made light of the invitation. It’s not as if their preferred alternative was all that exciting: fields - those weeds will still be there to pick tomorrow; business - one’s ordinary, work-a-day world. How indifferent they are to the opportunity to attend a royal wedding!
    A second group is more vehemently opposed, showing ACTIVE RESISTANCE. V6, “The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.” Shocking! This bunch of rebels mistreated and insulted the messengers, acting shamefully, outrageously. Some even outright murdered the king’s servants! One commentary notes, “He who insults or assails a king’s heralds assails the king’s majesty.” It’s a slap in the face to the sovereign, a bold act of treason. The king in the story interprets it as such and reacts in a way keeping with the custom of those times - v7, “The king was enraged [NLT furious].He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” He was quick to quash this threat to legitimate authority.
    There remained one more class of person who rejected the king’s invitation - not outright, but in a hidden way, insidiously. This is the person who shows INEXCUSABLE INFILTRATION. After the king’s servants go out to the intersections and invite to the banquet any who will come, anyone they can find, the weeding hall is eventually filled with guests: v10, “the bad as well as the good.” When the king’s looking around at the guests, the next verse tells us, “he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.” (Mt 22:11-12)
    A little background here is helpful in order to understand just how gauche this man’s conduct is. We surmise from the text that the king must have provided ‘wedding clothes’ for everyone, because those gathered from the streets didn’t have opportunity to go home and change their clothes, they were brought directly to the feast. Yet this bloke refused to even bother to change from his grubbies by putting on the supplied garments. Little wonder the king takes this as the affront which it is! “I provided all this rich banquet, and you wouldn’t even go to the trouble to slip into the splashy robe I provided?!” Another hint the clothes must have been provided is the fact the man is ‘speechless’ in response - there’s no excuse; everything was there, why didn’t you just put it on?
    The king’s response is severe, different but just as definite as when he sent an army to destroy those who murdered his servants: v13, “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” The infiltrator is bound, ejected, and subjected to endless regret.
    These 3 types of rejecting responses contrast greatly with the king’s magnanimity and generosity in inviting people to the banquet in the first place. Yet this is often how people respond to the Good News of Jesus, the forgiveness and salvation God offers in the gospel. Some people are just passively indifferent: busy with their field or their business, getting ahead in this world, making it to the top of the ladder, accumulating houses and cottages and cars and gadgets and toys and RRSPs and ‘stuff’. Some of these in their materialistic drivenness and workaholism leave a mess of wrecked relationships in their wake. Others get all these acquisitions checked off their list but are left wondering if that’s all there is to life; it seems so shallow. They’ve missed the dimension God created them for.
    Another group are those who show Active Resistance, outright antagonism. These may be avowed atheists like Richard Dawkins who scoffs at biblical faith and balks at the very idea of intelligent design, but when you ask him for his theory of how life began, all he has to offer is a tale of aliens bringing some ‘seed’ of life from another planet! Such an approach is intellectually unsatisfying and evasive – it just pushes the question back further and tries to avoid it. Yet they are defiant in their stance, because to admit to a Creator would obligate them morally.
    But most sneaky are those who practise Inexcusable Infiltration, like the man who refused to put on the wedding clothes provided by the royal host. They seem to be part of the wedding feast - the Church - but are they really? They are in fact pious pretenders, putting on a show, maybe coming to church Sunday mornings but acting in very unholy fashion the rest of the week. They may claim to be Christian but refuse to accept Christ’s righteousness, His equipping that He won for believers at the cross.
    Have you chosen to put on the wedding clothes provided for you, or are you here more in body than in soul? In the language describing the Lamb’s wedding supper in Revelation 19(8), “to her [the Church] it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure" —for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” Have your deeds this week been ‘righteous’? If you had a webcam following you 24/7, is there anything you might not want recorded?
    The New Testament picks up this metaphor of being ‘clothed’ to describe how believers ‘put on’ Christ in their daily living. Romans 13(14), “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Galatians 3(27), “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Are you an Inexcusable Infiltrator, trying to ‘put one over’ on God – or are you the genuine article, having put on Christ as a garment? Don’t be like the Emperor Constantine, who, when he was baptized, is reported to have kept one hand out of the water in case he might have to use it for unChristian purposes. Jesus needs to be Lord of the whole ‘you’ if He’s to be your Lord at all.
    Some questions for reflection...V5, Are we paying attention to God more than our daily affairs? Or do your ‘field’ and ‘business’ edge out time for basic Christian disciplines like Bible reading and prayer?
    V11, being without wedding clothes: Do others see Christ outfitting us? Have they noticed any change in our temper, our speech, our habits from the days before we knew Jesus?
    And v14, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” Are we choosing the BEST banquet? Do we honestly accept and honour God’s RIGHT to choose a people and make them fit for heaven?


Some may find this parable objectionable, not suiting a ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’, because it hints at a God who dishes out consequences to those who reject Him. Like a king who destroys opponents, burns a city; who casts someone bound into the outer darkness, where there will be ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’. But the consequences of rejecting God ARE severe in eternity. This is not uncharacteristic of how Jesus describes in various places the fate of those who will not be saved.
    Some people would like to live in a world undergirded by morality but without the moral absolutes authorized in the Bible required for such a framework. This week Rick Mercer’s “rant” about Teen Suicide popped up on the news and amongst various of my Facebook friends. It is a shame that 300 kids take their lives each year. It was wrong for a homosexual boy to be bullied to the point he took his own life. Bullying is deadly, murderous, against anyone. But that doesn’t mean, for that reason, that homosexuality should be affirmed or that high-profile homosexuals in government, the military, or the arts should start advocating its practice. In the Biblical view, such behaviour and desires, as with heterosexual lust and sex outside marriage, are still sinful.
    Mr Mercer closed his ‘rant’ asking what about an old-fashioned assembly where the kids are sat down and the police are called in and there’s “hell to pay”? Within each one of us God has designed a sense of moral fairness, of wanting there to be accountability, the bad guys to be caught and punished. But you can’t have a moral law without a moral Law-giver. In order to have an assembly and police and ‘hell to pay’, you first have to have an authoritative source defining what’s good and bad, what’s right and wrong. You can’t run roughshod over the Bible’s moral teaching and then turn around and conjure up from somewhere an arbitrary scheme of moral values by which to make judgments and render consequences.
    Jesus by His parables would remind us that there is a great assembly at the end of time (called judgment), complete with police who ‘tie hand and foot’ and cast into the outer darkness; that there is ‘hell to pay’ – and we need to not reject but receive God’s invitation to the wedding banquet of His Son, and clothe ourselves with the righteousness Jesus provides. Let’s pray.