This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on October 15, 2017.
It’s one thing to ask why Jesus had to die. It’s another thing to ask why they killed Jesus. If you want to get a strong sense of why some wanted Jesus dead, read Matthew 21 and 22. Chapter 21 begins with Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, where crowds enthusiastically proclaimed “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” (21:9) This was followed by Jesus clearing the temple as he told religious leaders they’d turned his Father’s house into a den of robbers, the cursing of a non-fruit bearing fig tree, a seeming symbol of God’s non-fruit bearing people, and an inquisition regarding his own authority that morphed into an uneasy exchange with the religious leaders about the authority of his now dead cousin, John the Baptist. All of this just before Jesus pulls three parabolic arrows from his quiver and aims them squarely between the eyes of the Jewish leadership.
These are parables of judgments. The first concludes with Jesus telling religious leaders that prostitutes and tax collectors were entering God’s Kingdom before them, the second accuses them of rejecting God’s prophets and God’s son, and then just in case he hadn’t been clear enough, Jesus offers them this story of a wedding feast. Some of his parables delivered his meaning slowly, subtly. Not this one. It is intentionally diaphanous. The religious leaders already know “he is talking about them.” (21:45) Now everyone listening should know Jesus’ view of God, God’s preferences and God’s perspective are dangerously different than the religious voices to which they’d become accustomed.
Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a King who prepared a wedding feast for his son. The King follows the normal protocol in their culture of a double invitation. (Vs. 3-4) The first invitation lets the guest know of the event and calls for an initial response. The second invitation let the guests know everything was ready and it was time to start making their way to the party. Between the two, guests could both check their schedule and check around to see who else planned to attend the party. This would factor into their decision to participate, and their decision was no small matter.
In this Mediterranean society, the most important commodity someone could possess was honor. Someone’s honor determined where they could work, who they could marry, who they could start a conversation with, what parties they could attend – honor determined everything. The amount of honor or glory someone possessed was directly related to their public reputation. There was no honor without public recognition of it. This is important here because those invited to this party were making decisions that affected the honor of the host. This kind of a feast required an incredible amount of planning and resources. To reject the invitation to such a feast would send a shaming message to the host and about the host to the community. To reject this kind of invitation from the King was more than rejection, it was rebellion. Why would the initial guests even consider such an act?
This is where the chronology in the parable and the timeline of salvation history gets messy. In the parable, the second set of guests are only invited after the first set reject their invitation, though some have surmised that the King’s plan B in the parable was always God’s plan A by design. From this comes two important points: 1) In Scripture, election is not primarily about individuals being chosen for special privilege, but about communities being chosen for special service, namely: to bless all the peoples of the earth. (Genesis 12:2) This might cause one to wonder if the first guests of honor stayed home because they were asked to bring less honorable guests with them to the party. 2) The formation of Jesus’ global Church was not an exclusion of the Jewish people but an inclusion of all peoples. Combined with the context of Jesus’ conflict with the religious leadership, this gives merit to the possibility that the first list of guests were not meant to symbolize the whole Jewish people but Jewish leadership. In fact, while this parable does foreshadow the wedding feast of the lamb (Revelation 19:9), it seems to also be very much connected to the present. The life and ministry of Jesus represents God’s great banquet, going on before their very eyes. The invitation list is all-inclusive, but the honored guests of Jewish society have chosen to reject it. In the midst of their rejection, Jesus has called out to outcasts (lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc.) and outsiders (gentiles). This is a startling sign of God’s radical hospitality to some. To others, it is shocking, shameful, threatening, and it must be stopped, whatever the cost.
I wish that were the end of the story. It’s not. Instead, we have this strange incident of a guest being violently removed from the party for inappropriate dress. This whole guest list was herded in from the streets. Presumably, no one had time to change clothes, and it seems these guests wouldn’t have possessed the resources for them anyway. What is going on here? New Testament language about spiritual clothing (Colossians 3:12) and early Christianity often picturing conversion as a new set of clothes prompts me to think something metaphorical is happening. God’s Kingdom is one of love, justice, truth, compassion, kindness, humility, holiness and grace. These are the clothes we must wear to God’s great feast. If we do, we enhance and expand the life of Christ’s party. If we don’t, we’ve elected to disrupt it and may eventually be shown the door.
Dr. Jason Edwards
Second Baptist Church, Liberty, MO
Tags: Inclusion, Honor, Shame, Judgement, Grace, Love, Holiness