A Cause For Rejoicing

A Cause For Rejoicing

Matthew 22:1-14

The King, a proud and jealous man, invites all the right people. Lords and ladies, the nobles and his advisors.

He sends his many servants out. To the North and South, East and West. To tell all the honorable and beloved rulers of the land that the King has summoned them to a lavish banquet in honor of his only son’s wedding.

The servants all delivered the message, telling these Lords and Ladies, these noble people… that waiting for them was a great feast – the kind that would last for days! The roast ox is being prepared! Bread is baking in the oven… and wine – by the cask – is ready to be tapped as the wedding party begins!

But the Kings invitation was meet with silence and short words of refusal. Each and every person refused to come and honor the King’s only son at his wedding. Everyone that the King loved, admired, had held in esteem… each and everyone

The servants, nervously reported this news back to their King. Leaving this proud royal man feeling slighted and confused..

So he sent his servants out again, thinking there must be some mistake, they can’t possibly refuse his invitation.

The servants again deliver the message, but with yet more urgency: “the Oxen, the Cattle, have been butchered…” they said, “the soup is literally on the table… the bread is hot out of the oven… all you have to do is come and eat! Celebrate! Come to the wedding feast!”

But again the Lords and Ladies, the nobles and the trusted advisors… all of them, each and everyone… refuse to join the King’s feast. Saying “I have so much to do today….”   Saying, “My business needs me…”

And with those excuses they left the bread on the table to cool and go stale…

A few of those nobles even became so irate at being asked, again, to come to the King’s feast that they killed the messenger. So as to be left to their work. To be left to their own will!!!

When the servants returned again to the king… their number having grown smaller. The King’s sadness turned to anger. Harsh, quick, and cold.

With fire in his eyes, he called for his army to be readied.

Once the boots were laced tightly, the helmets fastened, and the swords sharpened… He ordered them to descend on his own kingdom! To raze it to the ground. To set it all a flame. He ordered his army to round up those who had killed his servants, those who had offended and dishonored his son… and do the same to them.

As the army marched away through the gates of the castle, the King watched while his head hung low, he again turned to his servant, always close at hand, saying, “The wedding feast is ready, but the guests did not come. Who will marry my son?”         And again a flame entered his eyes, but this time with a renewed hope that this wedding feast could be saved and celebrated!

“Go”, he said, “While the army attacks! Quick! Go and get them the peasants, the serfs working in the field, those hidden away in the street alleys. Bring them in. Any of them! All of them! They can share in this feast for my only son.”

So the loyal servants rushed out into the streets for a third time, but this time as the battle raged around them. Going North and South, East and West. Calling to any and all! “Come, for the feast is ready!!! Come for the banquet! Come to honor the Only Son!!!” They called to the good and holy, and to the bad and troubled alike.

Meanwhile… Together the king and his only son, the groom, stood waiting at the gates. Waiting to welcome their unexpected guests. As was their custom, they held in the hands and draped over their arms wedding robes for all their guests to wear. Festive clothing in every bright and royal color you could imagine.

The king was now nervous at the thought that his invitation, his gift to the people, could possibly be rejected for a third time. Together, king and only son… stood at the gate. Waiting. All the while watching the fires burn in the city and off into the distance…

But before long at all, they saw one… then two… then a crowd of people walking up to the gate of the castle! Each looking shaken and a little singed from the battle happening behind them.

The Only Son, ran to greet the people arms thrown wide, with the joy of a groom seeing his bride for the first time.

Patiently, with each and everyone the Only Son helped them into their wedding robe. Serfs and peasants, prisoners, children… all of them. For they were each all honored guests!

The casks of wine were drained, the roast oxen was carved and served, the band was playing loud and cheerful!

The king, joyful and content, came back inside the hall, taking his seat at the high table. And with a pleased eye he examined the room. Reveling in the joyful dancing, the excited people. He watched happily the swirls of purple and red and orange and blue and green of the festival robes dance around the hall.

But suddenly, his eyes settled on a man sitting off to the side of the hall, wearing a sour expression, and wearing no wedding robe at all.

The king got up quickly, feeling yet another sting of disrespect and offense on behalf of his Only Son. Taking a calming breath, he walked straight at the man. Calling, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes, my friend?”

But the sour man glowered at the king, turning his nose up at the festivities around him. The king turned to the guests around him shouting, “Tie him up! Thrown him out! If he doesn’t want to celebrate my Only Son’s wedding… then he can take his chances in the burning city beyond these walls! For today is cause of rejoicing”

So the guests bound his feet and hands, and tossed him into the night. But without a second thought they turned their faces back to the warm glow happening in the halls of the castle. As a bride and groom danced and laughed, celebrating, each and everyone as partners in joy.

_______________

So, did that answer any of our questions, or did is just leave us room to ask more?

Our parable today is one of those that make us cringe… it is very confusing…

Who is the bride in Jesus’ parable?

Who are the nobles?

Oh and… How can a king and the peasants rejoice together while their kingdom is burning? Because the wedding feast is clearly still on even in the midst of a war!

And if God is supposed to be this king person, then God sounds kind of brutal. How could a King go to war with his own people?

This is a bizarre parable. A bit disturbing… entertaining defiantly, but also… inflammatory. And, defiantly sensationalized.

To best understand the purpose of this story, we first have to let go of our expectation for Jesus’ parable to always be realistic and then we really have to look at the culture of early Christian church. Because what this story is… is an allegory for salvation’s history.

Ok, here comes the history lesson…

First, lets set the stage for the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew was a disciple of Christ – former tax collector. He walked side by side with Jesus – witnessed his miracles – was with him when he stood trial and was hung on a cross… but Matthew didn’t “publish” this gospel until long after the death and resurrection of Christ… like 50 maybe 60 years later.

And I have probably said this a hundred times this year, but it is important to note that Matthew was a JEW! He wrote from the perspective of a Jew, he acknowledges Jesus as a Jew, and he is writing his Gospel for a Jewish family which included the early Christian church. Because the distinction between the Christian church and the Jewish tradition wouldn’t come until much, much later.

When Jesus began his ministry, it was within the Jewish community. Teaching in synagogues, he was thought of as a prophet and a rabbi. He even wore the dress of a Jewish Holy man. So the gift of salvation, that was his to give, was first offered to the Jews. But as Jesus’ ministry went on… he became not only an enemy of the state… but also an enemy of the Jewish leadership of the day. He rocked the boat way too hard.

So, many Jews denounced any connection to Jesus. Not all, of course…

And that is what Matthew is pointing out. The parable’s King, our great and generous God, invited many to come to this heavenly wedding banquet. They were to become the bride of Christ. The church. But they turned the invitation down again and again and again!

And so, as we saw with Jesus’ ministry, the invitation of salvation was opened to the Gentiles. All the non-Jewish people. The guest list for the wedding was, in essence, burned, because now… any and all were welcome at the table of our Lord! And thank God for that! Because now in order to receive God’s gift of salvation, (thanks to grace) we don’t have to meet any standards or pass any tests. It is up to us to accept the invitation, that’s it!

So all of that was the first important thing we needed to know.

Secondly, on top of that, this imagery of the King waging war on and destroying His own kingdom would bring to mind for this audience an event we know as the siege of Jerusalem or the destruction of the Temple which happened in 70AD. In which the Roman Emperor, the brutal and terrible earthly king of this land, Emperor Nero leveled Jerusalem. Most importantly, he destroyed Solomon’s Temple, the most important place for Jews in the world!… only leaving the West Wall in tacked, which we refer to today as the wailing wall.

So, the audience that is reading Matthew’s account of this parable… were still (literally) picking up the rubble from this attack. They would likely have had a very powerful emotional response to this idea of a King who grew so mad that he razed his own kingdom to the ground… because they had all lived through it not 10 years ago. Which is interpreted here in this parable as God’s judgment on those rejecting what God was doing in Jesus Christ.

So you might be thinking… this sounds like Matthew took a lot of liberty with Jesus’ teachings. He influenced this work a lot! And you would be right. Now this parable appears in other Gospels (in Luke, and in the Gnostic gospel of Thomas), so we know it to be a parable of Christ… but Matthew really “amped up” the drama and played with the story to make it a vital lesson for his audience, his Jewish brothers and sisters.

But the vital lesson for us today is yet to come.

The third incredibly important part of this story… If you can remember back to the parable, it closes with this sort of confusing encounter between the King and a guest that refuses to wear a wedding robe. It was indeed tradition in this era that when someone hosted a wedding, especially a big time affair, the host would provide the attire to the party. Putting on the robe was a way of honoring the host. So this wedding guest, invited in off the street (because now, remember, the heavenly banquet is open to all) still refuses to participate, to honor God. Still.   Despite his physical presence, refused to share in the feast!                  Lance Pape had this to say about this gentleman, “Within the world of the story as told, the problem with this guy is not that he is not taking things seriously enough. No, his problem is a failure to party. The Kingdom of heaven is a banquet, after all, and you’ve got to put on your party dress and get with the program. The kingdom music is playing, and it’s time to get up on the dance floor”[1]

And that is the big message for us today.

When you read this parable, the lesson lays in the fact that we don’t have to be concerned about the war that rages outside the castle, because God provides not only shelter from the battles, but a party of joy. In God there is always cause for rejoicing.

Salvation is a gift that is happening right now. Whoever you are, wherever you are… the great banquet of God is waiting for you to join in. You have already been issued an invitation. In the parable this invitation looked like being greeted at the Gate to the castle by Christ who was holding out to you the wedding robe. And it’s up to you whether you will put it on or not.

Don’t be like that guy that fails to party. Embrace the gift that is God’s salvation. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Lance Pape, Working Pracher

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