JoAnn A. Post
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, maltreated 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.
‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’
Our older daughter is marrying the Nicest Guy in the World next spring. She brought a number
of potential candidates to our home over the years—some were smart, some were handsome,
some were real head-shakers. But this one, the winner in her eyes and ours, is both smart and
handsome, and, best of all, he loves our daughter and she loves him. Their union is worth
Theirs will not be what most would call a “traditional wedding”, that is, it will cost less than
$75,000 and Jerry Springer will not be there. Maybe it’s because both our girls grew up hearing
wedding horror stories at the supper table that neither of them dreams of an enormous gala. They
heard about the bride who yelled at her future mother-in-law, dying of breast cancer, for not
getting a new wig for the wedding. The groom caught kissing his old girlfriend in the cloakroom
at the reception. The family that spent $25,000 on a gown, but refused to pay the organist. Or,
my recent favorite, the bride who was loathe to let her recently-widowed mother walk her down
the aisle because, even in grieving middle age, her mother was very pretty and, the bride wept,
“I’m supposed to be the prettiest girl at my wedding. What if they look at my Mom instead of
The wedding to which Matthew invites us is a classic. The guests are homicidally ungrateful—
and soon dead. The host has anger management issues. Those who ultimately grace the wedding
banquet are mightily confused at being invited at all. And the last one in was the first one out—
booted because of a wardrobe malfunction. In a favorite pastor’s game of “I Presided at the
Worst Wedding,” Matthew always wins.
I am really uncomfortable with the picture Matthew paints, this picture of the Kingdom of God
in which everyone behaves badly. I thought that in the Kingdom of God, everyone got a second
chance; that God—presumably the host in this parable— was slow to anger and abounding in
steadfast love. I thought that, in the Kingdom of God, the least are most honored. None of that is
true in this tale. It is a tragic story which follows directly on the heels of last week’s awful
reading about the vineyard owner and his wicked tenants. (Remember the tenants who stole the
grape harvest, killed the landowner’s son, and were themselves eviscerated?)
I don’t like this portrayal of us, as ungrateful invited guests. I really don’t like this portrayal of
God. And who wants to be citizen of a kingdom in which failure to perform is so decisively and
I have to believe that Jesus was doling out a heaping helping of hyperbole—making his point in
an exaggerated, outrageous, almost unpalatable way. For example, it is highly unlikely that a
whole gaggle of wedding guests would fail to appear, and that the father of the groom would
subsequently slaughter them. It is highly unlikely that the king would haul strangers off the street
into his party, or that one of them would be tossed back out on the street for lack of appropriate
attire. This is simply not plausible. So what point is Jesus trying to make? And who are his
intended hearers? Because, surely, he can’t be serious that this Wedding War is an image of the
Kingdom of God.
When pastors gather to chat, the conversation is always the same. Dwindling worship
attendance. Declining dollars. All our congregations suffering a slow and persistent leak. People
smarter than I have tried to diagnose the problem—you can Google their findings. But, if you
strip the Bloody Banquet of its gore, Jesus has, in fact, given us the antidote to the illness, the
Week after week in this beautiful building, we hear of God’s abundant and unmerited love for us.
We are reminded that forgiveness is free. We are promised that nothing can separate us from the
love of God. We believe that all are welcome. It is all true. But we have heard it so often we
have come to take it for granted. God’s grace and mercy are as exciting to us as gravity. As
novel as noodles. As ordinary as air.
So imagine that the king in the parable has been as gracious to his friends and neighbors as God
has been to us—that the castle door is always open, his table always full, that every day in his
castle was “Y’all Come!” Day. Among the friends of such a generous king, an invitation to a
wedding banquet would be no surprise, no gift, no delight. “We can eat there any day,” the
guests might say. “We’ll catch the wedding on YouTube tomorrow.”
So what’s the connection between God and the king, between the guests and us, between the
Kingdom of God and the Church of the Ascension?
Think about it. God gives all of this to us for free. All we have to do is breathe to receive these
gifts. But God would enjoy our company once in a while. Likewise, the king was delighted to
throw a party, excited to welcome his friends. All he asked was that they show up, that they give
some indication that they shared his joy. But they didn’t and neither do we.
In my last parish, one of our young families transferred their membership to a larger church
across town. When I called to check on them, to say I missed them, to ask what had attracted
them to their new congregation, the mother said, “They have a ball pit and a bouncy house at
Sunday School every week. The kids love it!” I was speechless.
Of course, they can worship anywhere they want, and our humble congregation was not to
everyone’s taste. But to leave a congregation where they were known and loved, for a place that
lured small children with a circus every week—it still leaves me slack-jawed. Boundless grace
and mercy were not enough for them? Love and welcome bored them? For a moment, after that
phone call, I understood the anger of the murderous king. “Are you kiddin’ me?”
Did the king, does God, ask too much? Our presence at the table. Acknowledgment of the
invitation. Delight. Just a little delight would send God over the moon. Is it any wonder Jesus
was angry at the Pharisees and chief priests, these passive hearers? Day after day they listened to
him, experienced the gifts God gives for free. And day after day they said, “Meh. Maybe later.”
Our older daughter is marrying the Nicest Guy in the World. The celebration will be small; the
arrangements modest. But our delight will drown us and everyone in our wake. Because, for
some reason that always gives me grateful pause, my daughter and her fiancé realize they have
received a precious gift, a gift they wish to share with those they love. There will be food and
drink and music. But mostly there will be gratitude. Gratitude because love has found them.
Who could resist being invited to a celebration like that?
God wants to celebrate with us the way we, the bride’s parents, want to celebrate with our
friends. Love has found us. The table is ready. The door is open. All God asks is that we say,
“Yes. I’m on my way."