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.
“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.” (Matthew 22:1-14 – NRSV)
This is the third in the series of parables clearly targeting the religious authorities – two Sundays ago we heard the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32), followed by the parable of the wicked husbandman (Matthew 21:33-46) last Sunday.
Most obviously, the parable of the wedding banquet bears the same message as the previous two parables: The religious authorities have failed in their duties as religious leaders and so the promises of God – “the kingdom of heaven” – will be given to others. Their most glaring failure is their rejection of “the son”.
Luke has a similar parable – see Luke 14:15–24. The ejection of the guest into “the darkness” is characteristically Matthean. (See Daniel j Harrington SJ, The Gospel of Matthew, Liturgical Press, 1991/2007, 307.)
This is no ordinary banquet – it is a royal banquet. Who could – who would – refuse an invitation to such an event? However, in this story, the invitation is disdained. The would be guests simply do not care – an incredible response. Some of them actually turned on the king’s messengers and “mistreated them, and killed them”. The king does what kings do – “He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city”.
The face of this outrageous situation, the king does something correspondingly extraordinary – he sends his messengers out into the streets to invite anyone and everyone.
Many scholars say that we should assume that wedding garments were made available. The point is that this one individual refused the garment.
There is a matter of factness about the parables. They are not pious stories telling us of what things will be like in heaven but secular stories telling us of the way things are here, the actual place of God’s saving work.
It is tempting to place God in the role of magician or puppeteer. God thus becomes someone who makes things right – or should make things right. With God around, there will be no injustice, right?
God has promised to be with us – see for example Exodus 3:12. But that is not a promise that things will work out as we wish. God will be with us as God.
The parable for today raises a crucial question concerning the presence of God in our midst. A common objection to Christianity is that is unreal to believe in the active presence of a loving God when there is so much pain and suffering, injustice and sheer madness about our world. The believer cries out: “Where is God?” The non-believer cries out: “There is no God!”
The presence of God as sovereign mystery may be experienced by us as absence. The silence of God is a haunting theme in Christian spirituality. Job says: “I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me” (Job 30:20).
Just as parables like the wedding banquet thrust some harsh facts in our faces, so does life. We discover God in that harshness. Where else?
The poet R S Thomas puts it well:
Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness