Sermon Sunday 11th October: The King’s banquet

If you watched Children’s Church last Sunday, you will have heard a very similar parable to the one Alan has read to us today.  Jess did a brilliant job!  But today’s parable isn’t quite the same, so I can’t really put my feet up and just ask you to look at it! So here we go. 

We get lots of things in the post, from flyers, which we just toss to the side, to very special envelopes like this with an invitation to a friend’s party, and we give some thought to what kind of present we should take, and what we’ll wear … and that doesn’t just apply to the women! 

Well, today’s Bible reading is a parable Jesus told.  Let’s remind ourselves about parables.  It’s a teaching tool, much used by Jesus to illustrate a point that otherwise might not be understood. It is not a retelling of a real event, it’s a made up story, but one which could happen, and it can be like the Proverbs Ben has been has been sharing with us in the daily online readings  with a point exaggerated to give it more emphasis, to make its meaning undeniably clear. 

And we need to remember who Jesus was talking to.  In verse 45 in the previous chapter, it says, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.”  And the parables obviously struck home because the next verse says, “They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.”  Oh, and one other bit of information: it is often assumed that a special set of wedding clothes was sent along with the invitation, to be worn to the wedding. 

So let’s look at the story:

It’s about to a king who’s arranging a wedding banquet for his son, this is going to be some do! He will draw up his guest list, family and friends of course, but maybe a wider group of acquaintances and political allies as well, he was a king, and political alliances are sometimes made or cemented by marriage.  So the invitations are sent out.

Immediately before the banquet, he sends out his servants to remind them that the banquet is due to start (no text messages in those times), but they refuse to come.  It seems they’ve tossed aside their invitations as if they were flyers.  It won’t be a banquet without guests, so he sends his servants out a second time, to tempt the guests by telling them about the elaborate food and preparations that have been made to honour such an important event. But still, the guests felt the invitation didn’t rate their time or attention – one went off to check on his field, another had business to attend to.  The rest of the guests were so irritated by the servants that they set upon them, beating them, and even killing some of them. 

As some of these guests may have been political allies, killing the king’s servants was seen as a grave insult and he destroyed them, and even burned their city. 

So the king calls his servants a third time and tells them to go out into the streets and gather everyone in, no matter what they were like, good or bad, presumably rich or poor, all were to be welcomed at the banquet.  And they came and filled the hall. 

But as the king was walking among his guests, he comes across a man who was not wearing wedding clothes, and asks him why he didn’t have the proper clothes.  The man has nothing to say in his defence, absolutely nothing.  So the king has him tied up and thrown out into the darkness where he’d be surrounded by people weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth. 

That is the end of the parable but Jesus’ summary is simple, pointed, and profound:  “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

As this is a parable, let’s take a step back and see if we can see more clearly what the parable might be saying.  You may or may not agree with my interpretation!

The king preparing the banquet can be seen to be God, the son for whom the banquet is being held is Jesus.  But it’s a wedding banquet, and Jesus, as far as we know, wasn’t married. Don’t forget that this is a parable, so maybe the marriage just represents a great time of celebration. 

So let’s turn our attention to those invited.  It first went out to close family, friends and allies, the ones you’d expect would come. Where did Jesus first go to preach in a new town?  The synagogue.  So the Jews were usually the first to hear the message, the message that Jesus was the Messiah they’d been waiting for.  But did they accept Jesus as Messiah?  No, not at the first call.  Did they respond to the second call, when even more detail was given about the riches that awaited them through following Jesus?  No, they were concerned about following all the rules that surrounded Jewish life.  They couldn’t see that he was the Messiah for whom they’d been waiting. 

Furthermore, they beat up and killed the servants who had come with the invitation because that meant a change, as much to the way they were teaching as to the teaching itself.  happened to Jesus and his followers?  They were persecuted, and Jesus was hounded to his death. 

So what about the third call to the banquet?  It was to everyone, it could have been to society beyond the Jews, to the Gentiles, anyone who would come, regardless of their goodness.  Maybe even to Jews who had changed their minds.  And they responded much more positively than those first called, they filled the banqueting house! 

And what of the man who the king found without any wedding clothes?  Well, as I mentioned earlier, the tradition may have been to send out a set of clothes with the wedding invitations.  We assume the man had heard the invitation to come because he showed up.  But he showed no respect for its importance, and he had no excuse for why he’d ignored the preparation. If he’d made some excuse, the Lord might have reconsidered.  In earthly terms, if there’d been a death in the family, he might have been forgiven for caring for his family.  If the man had been busy with his business affairs, at least he would have been using the talents the Lord had given him.   But the man offered no excuse, no explanation. .  The ultimate disrespect!  So he was thrown out of the banqueting hall.

For us as Christians today, the invitation is the call from the Lord to repent and follow him, to accept Jesus as Lord, and accept the salvation won for us by Christ. 

We can hear the invitation and simply ignore it.  Or we can hear the invitation, find it interesting or heartwarming, but discover other things in our life that appear to be more important, or distract us or call us away.  We can even hear the invitation, start to respond to it, but not fully accept it.

By not accepting the Lord’s invitation to repentance, we miss the chance of forgiveness for all the wrongs we’ve done, of salvation, of the joy of becoming a true disciple, and of having his fullness in our lives which Jesus promises us in John’s Gospel 10: life in all its fullness. 

In our lives, we must do what we feel the Lord is calling us to, but we need to inform ourselves through Bible reading, prayer, study and reflection.  And of course, listening and weighing the things fellow Christians share with us through teaching and discussion.  Potentially we are all chosen, as the invitation to salvation is open to all of us.  We need to make the most of the opportunity of a close, committed relationship with our Lord.

It was our grandson’s birthday recently, and we sent him a Lego set he was after.  Sending a present is like sending an invitation to enjoy the contents.  Do you think he just looked at the box in its wrapping paper?  Of course not!  Do you think he just looked at the unwrapped box in its clear plastic packaging and set it aside when he’d seen what it was?  Of course not!  Do you think he wanted to get it out and do it all right there and then, even though it was a school morning?  Of course he did! He wanted to immerse himself fully in the making of that wonderful Underwater SeaWorld Station!  Would that we were so whole hearted in our response to the Lord’s invitation to join in life with him. 

Then, through our salvation by him, we would be not only invited, but one of the chosen to attend, not one of the ones who set the invitation aside as if it were a flyer from a local plumber but took up the invitation and respected it.

Let us resolve to take up the Lord’s invitation, put on the clothes for the banquet and be counted at the Lord’s heavenly banquet.