There are so many things that fill up our minds and hearts. We have jobs, families, friends, children, school, homes, leases, anxiety, depression, insecurity, conflicts, and lots of other stuff. We are busy. We are occupied; we are pre-occupied. We sometimes have trouble sleeping enough, exercising, eating well, going on vacation even, putting away our work, stopping binging on TV right? Life is difficult, complicated, and overwhelming. Just keeping our heads above water is hard enough. We are so aware of our limits because we can’t even get caught up on our Email or the TV shows we’re supposed to watch. So how are we supposed to follow Jesus if life is this hard?
Let’s look at a passage in scripture that I think you’ll be able to relate to, maybe even in a new way. Jesus’ parables take on new meaning, I think intentionally, as new audiences read them. Matthew has a version of this story and so does Luke
Let’s start in Matthew. To give you a little context, Matthew is the Gospel that was written to Christian Jews in Jerusalem. In this part of the Gospel, Jesus has entered Jerusalem is marching toward his own death. Matthew focuses on how Jesus’ friends and close ones, the Jewish leaders in particular, have abandoned Jesus. Before this parable, Jesus offers many other images of how the Jewish people have betrayed their own savior and Messiah. Matthew is using the Parable of the Wedding Banquet then to reinforce these points. Let’s read Matthew’s version:
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
So what’s happening here? Jesus, as he often does, starts his parable with this idea of the kingdom of heaven. He describes a king, in the style of rabbinic parables, this king is God and he inviting people to his son’s banquet. This is noteworthy. In this case, the king’s son is Jesus. This parable is more heavily allegorical than many others, just as a note. The king represents God and his son Jesus. He’s describing a wedding banquet and these variety of banquets would have been months in the planning. Most people think that the guests of the banquet is Israel and especially Jewish leaders.
The king sends his slaves, who would not be low-class people, a king’s slaves were generally highly thought of, to remind the people of that they’ve been invited. It is a second invitation (which is customary since the plans have been going on for months and months). They disregard the notice, they are busy with their affairs and they don’t want to get involved. Matthew briefly mentions their self-involvement: taking care of their farms and businesses.
Matthew ups the ante when he describes the king’s slaves, his messengers, being killed by those who deny the invitation. It is a radical act. The king counters their radical act with his own, he sends new slaves to go and gather everyone, “both bad and good,” so that the wedding can go on.
This story is really about the people who were supposed to receive Jesus as their savior and follow him disregarding him. For Matthew’s audiences and Jesus’ audience it serves further as an indictment of those who are not following Jesus.
So the parable has meaning to the Jewish leaders Jesus is addressing, and it has meaning to Matthew’s Jewish audience. But what about us? What’s our “take away?”
I really think Matthew’s message is fundamentally about those who believe, but don’t follow. Those who know what the deal is but don’t really do it anymore. The entitled Christians among us, I suppose. It’s for those of us that know the secret, for those of us that are followers of Jesus, for those of us who are super-involved with Circle of Hope, we might actually think we are too busy for lots of invitations. We get it already, we are satisfied. We don’t need to participate in everything, and I agree with that, but you are still important and you matter. First, I want you to be encouraged—the body is more than you. Things can happen, even on your behalf, without you being there. But at the same time, if you are always too busy, or you haven’t been in a cell in five years or something, well what’s up? You’re being invited and you matter.
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”
Now we’re talking about a whole different thing. Luke is a Gospel written to foreigners, called Gentiles. We are right in the middle of the part of Luke called the “Gospel of the Outcast,” where Jesus is touching poor people, crippled people, sick people—outcasts. In fact right before this parable he tells them when you throw a party, don’t invite your friends, invite poor people
Luke is probably making more of a socioeconomic point than a cultural one. The excuses from the wealthy are a matter of their own wealth and self-service. They are too rich, too successful, too in love to participate in the banquet. So the owner send his slave out to the streets to find the outcasts and invite them, and there’s room for even more people, so he invites them as well. The word is “compel” in this transition. Why? Because they are so used to being rejected, downtrodden, they need to be convinced to join. (By the way, this passage also did a great deal to justify violent conversion—“compel,” I suppose can be interpreted in many ways.)
He, in the words of one commentator, subverts honor. He takes it from the rich and gives it to the poor. There is a conversion that then happens to the wealthy host. He learns that everyone can be included in the banquet (truly, the Kingdom of God).
What does it mean for us? For one, do not let your worldly status hinder you from entering into the body of Christ. You don’t have to be rich or poor, white or black, man or woman, adult or child, gay or straight. All are included and welcome, as they are, and I guess you could say, in spite of who they are. We are creating a new identity together. Even if you don’t feel like you have the social status to connect, if you aren’t popular enough, if you aren’t making friends, if you just broke up. Whatever, you are included.
From our proverbs: Bringing people to Jesus is our primary goal. How someone identifies himself or herself when we meet them is less important than making room for them in God’s Kingdom.
Secondly, watch your priorities. What is taking up your time? Ask God to clarify how to prioritize yourself and don’t be in charge of it all. There are good reasons and excuses to blow off his invitation to the banquet. If this isn’t your thing, that’s fine. But I think we should ask questions. How important is our field? Our oxen? What are you missing out on? How busy are you? Can you simplify your life for the sake of Jesus? Is your marriage taking up too much time? Your kids? Your job? Your house? Your anxiety? I think for now, we may just need to note how we are busy and ask God and our friends about it. Receive the accountability and see what else God does with it
You are irreplaceable. We need partners and we need you. You matter, even if you don’t think you do. It’s true we will cope without you, but it would be better to have you.