A Banquet For the Poor

Leadership, Fear and Trust
October 9, 2017
Resurrection and Hope
October 22, 2017

I have, hanging on the wall of my study, a photograph given to me by my sons, of the time I was arrested nearly three years ago. A large policeman is escorting me and my companions onto a bus to take us away to be charged.

The wedding feast was prepared and ready, the guests had been invited and yet those guests had comprehensively and rudely rejected the invitation. So everyone else was invited instead, the good as well as the bad, because those guests initially invited had been found not to be worthy.

Matthew’s parable of the wedding feast (22:1-14) echoes the story told by Luke, (14:16-24) but it is escalated and dramatized in typical Matthew style. It is confronting and challenging for those of us listening today, as much as it must have been for those listening to Jesus in the temple.

This is the third parable in a sequence told by Matthew which starts in Chapter 21.

Matthew 21 opens with the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to the crowds cheering and shouting at his arrival, anticipating an imagined armed and violent challenge to Roman occupation and authority.

Jesus instead goes straight to the temple and overturns the money tables accusing the Temple authorities of turning God’s house into a den of robbers. It is a direct challenge to the economic basis of the religious authorities.

Jesus returns to the Temple the next day and he in turn is challenged by those religious and community leaders over the source of Jesus’ authority as the leaders seek to shut him up and ridicule him in front of the crowds.

In response, Jesus tells his audience three stories in which the main characters are first a father (21:28-32) with two sons, then a landowner (21:33-45) with wicked tenants; and then finally, this story of the wedding feast of the king’s son.

In these stories Jesus is speaking directly to the authorities. His audience is being profoundly challenged to look beyond their current lives and ways of thinking, to hear and see something different.

He’s trying to break through their complacency and fierce protection of their current laws which maintain their status quo, privilege and position, and to think differently.

This story tells us about the three invitations given to the chosen wedding guests while each refusal from the guests escalates their rejection of the King, from simple refusal to disrespect, and finally to seizure, mistreatment and murder of the king’s slaves.

Jesus directly challenges those around him:

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.

The king’s first invitation is ignored.  In the second, the king elaborates on the preparations for the feast, the food and the offering.  It echoes those of Wisdom in Proverbs 9:1-6:

She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, “You that are simple, turn in here!”  To those without sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

Like Wisdom, the king does not differentiate in who is invited, worthy or unworthy, good and bad. Everyone is invited!  The invitation is urgent and unique, with the ultimate action and judgement in God’s hands, not ours.

It is an exceptional invitation; an invitation to the wedding of the king’s son.

If we believe in the Spirit of God who spoke by the prophets, and who still speaks, then the prophetic word is still coming and it demands our total and immediate attention. God has not gone silent.   However, it is possible to be intensely religious, as were the religious and community leaders to whom Jesus was speaking in the Temple, and yet, continue to refuse to listen to the Spirit in our time.

We might well be asking ourselves, what is this urgent invitation saying to us today?

Are our pews and our churches full of the good as well as the bad, the worthy and unworthy?   Are our pews and our churches full not only with the nice people, but also with the rich, the unkind, the ungenerous, the rude, the arrogant and the bullies?  Are our pews and churches full of the poor, the rejected, the homeless, the unemployed and the refugees ?   Is our church filled with those who would not ride a donkey for fear of looking foolish and those who still sit behind the money tables and exercising their power?

Jesus reminds us, the messianic banquet looks like life on the streets, not a dinner party of the elites, so you’d better check which feast you’re attending.

I can imagine Jesus standing in the temple, people pressing in around him to listen to him; everyone watching the leaders who are under pressure, trying to trip up Jesus. The anger of these leaders would be growing alongside their fear of the Roman occupiers who would not take kindly to the increasing unrest.

Sadly, Jesus’ words do not break through the pressures of their world as is still the case today. They do not listen.  Our willingness to obey the law and live well in this world, prevents us from listening and hearing what Jesus is saying to our hearts and minds.

And let’s be clear, our willingness to judge others as worthy or unworthy, does not follow God’s own judgement or the generosity of God’s invitation through the Spirit.

Matthew’s final words in this parable are difficult and violent, more so than in Luke. The guest who is not wearing the wedding garment and the guest’s subsequent punishment, emphasises Matthew’s themes of rejection and exclusion.

Have we turned up, uncommitted and unwilling to stay, coming simply to look and hedge our bets? Are we the person who has been baptised, confirmed, attending church, and continuing to live as though God was incidental in our lives?

When we pray for those who are excluded, do we then also change our behaviour and refuse to follow those leaders who entrench exclusion, rejection and discrimination and do we start to make the changes Jesus is seeking?

When we ask for God’s mercy, do we practice mercy ourselves with those around us?

When we hear about bad behaviour, do we continue to join the crowd with the leaders and authorities shouting ‘crucify, crucify’?

Everyone is worthy of an invitation.  The invitation is scandalously, deliciously broad, thank God. All are invited.  Everyone!

In fact, there are only two ways to end up on the outside of this party: either you ignored and rejected the invitation and refused to come in the first place; or, you imagined because it was so broad, it couldn’t be worth much, so attended without paying attention and assumed you’d make it through because clearly others less worthy than you were also attending, and your entitlement and privilege would see you through and so be clear, it doesn’t.

The invitation has gone out, God’s intervention in Jesus is both totally inclusive and utterly decisive. There is no ambiguity.

The question is not whether you can manage to fit this party into your busy schedule.

This is the invitation that changes your schedule – and your life! This is an invitation to give yourself up to God’s future in Jesus Christ, which is rushing towards us with unstoppable power and overtaking our present lives with a costly summons.

And in that place lay my fear-filled willingness to be arrested and possibly lose my job because of a criminal conviction because God’s message to the unworthy is different to that of our leaders, secular and religious.

The Lord be with you.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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