Who’s on the Guest List?
"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son."
October 13, 2023, Words By: Lina Thompson, Image By: Blakely Dadson
Today’s passage is a difficult one. After having 3 rounds of conversations with other preachers and teachers, I find myself both more confused AND relieved that understanding it “perfectly” isn’t a requirement. Writing this week’s reflection is yet another “step” in unpacking this parable.
As Jesus approached the cross in Jerusalem, not everyone grasped the significance. There were those religious leaders who were threatened by his increasing popularity among the masses and wanted to shut that down. AND there some who were awaiting a Jesus that would green-light a violent overthrow of Roman oppression and were hoping this was their time.
In today’s text, Jesus is telling a parable that helps the reader locate themselves in the grand narrative of all that is happening — including the meaning of his journey to the cross. The story features a king, servants, and an invitation to a royal wedding. The crux of the story is the “invitation.” We see a king who has gone to great trouble, and expense, to prepare a lavish feast, only to be snubbed by those he invited. Offended, the king sends his soldiers to burn down their city.
So he sends out another round of invitations — this time to everyone, “the good and the bad alike,” filling the feast with party-goers.
Everything seems fine until the king comes back in to “look at the guests” and notices someone inappropriately dressed for the wedding. Offended once again, he throws that guest outside where there is weeping and grinding of teeth.
What is all this about? Why is Jesus telling this parable? And how is it like the Kingdom of God? Where is the freedom and good news?
Well, there is the idea of a grand feast where everyone is invited. That seems to align with what I know and believe about God’s Kingdom.
But what do we do with this king? He sits in the place of power and influence and also has a very fragile ego. One moment, he opens the doors to all, and the next, he administers violence and judgment to those who should have been guests at the party.
This king doesn’t resemble the God of the cross, and for good reason – he’s not meant to. This leads to the question: who does the king symbolize? Jesus directs this parable to the religious leaders, who, on the surface, represent God’s grace and mercy, but whose actions often become an invitation to judgment and violence, especially against the marginalized.
Do you see?
This parable, like the two before it, is supposed to challenge our perception. How we see power, and mercy and grace. Who has it? Who is it for? How is it distributed?
How often have those of us within the church experienced an invitation to “grace” in our own lives only to turn it into a set of hoops for others to jump through?
How often have we said, “You are welcome here,” until people show up with the wrong “clothes.” How much of this is genuine hospitality and how much is about our own ego and need to control the invitation list?
All of a sudden this “party,” or wedding feast, has turned into something else. The invitation to a wedding party that is to be this lavish, gracious, beautiful, inclusive feast has become a place of harsh judgment, exclusivity and even violence.
Thinking about this parable in light of what is waiting for Jesus at the cross is particularly poignant. If the cross is an invitation to an abundant feast of grace for all people, it can, and let’s be honest, has, sometimes become weaponized against those who show up with the wrong “clothes.”
Our journey of formation, I think, is to be aware of this power dynamic. It is also to confess when we’ve used this power — particularly in preaching and teaching, to “invite,” then “shame” those whom God loves.
Dwelling Among Us
In this week’s parable, Jesus describes a wedding banquet that turns bloody. To what are we being invited – a holy war or a holy feast? Interestingly, the Hebrew word milchamah, which is often translated as, “war,” also contains the word lechem, which means bread (Duet. 20:1). It can be interpreted either way.
Which is it? War or Feast? Our image of God may very well determine our answer, which is the point of this week’s text.