As I start this morning’s message, can I just say that if you or someone you know thinks that Heaven is going to be a complete snooze-fest where you float around on a cloud plucking a harp and are bored to tears (except for the occasional harp lesson from Eddie Van Halen), then you’ve been getting your information from a comic strip and not God’s word.
The kingdom of God is likened to stumbling upon a hidden treasure or an expensive pearl; it is compared to an exceedingly generous employer, an over abundant harvest, and, on more than one occasion, an extravagant party. No where in the Bible does a prophet of God say, nor does Jesus say, that the kingdom of Heaven is like sitting in a room where paint is drying.
Heaven will be a celebration! If you don’t believe that, I commend you for continuing to show up on Sunday morning; you have an incredible seekers spirit since there persists something inside you that fights against the idea of Heaven as a total let down. Oh, I get it, you’ve sat in a church where you could be excused for thinking you were sitting in a lecture on medieval farming techniques; there you noticed most people fell asleep before they were fully seated. And so you think that Heaven is like that church service. I need to tell you, Heaven isn’t and church shouldn’t be. If you believe Heaven is going to be boring, please go back to your Bible and/or find some time to talk to me; let me help you see why you’re mistaken.
If, on the other hand, you truly believe that Heaven is going to be the festival God promises throughout His word – despite the occasional yawn-inducing worship service you’ve been part of, then I want to know if you are seeking to invite others to that celebration; or are you selfishly keeping the party a secret? And, equally important, are you finding ways on a daily basis to show your gratitude; or do you wonder why you need to be grateful for something you deserve?
The wedding banquet is a common theme for Jesus’ teaching, particularly when He wants to envision the coming kingdom of God. For His contemporary listeners, there may have been no more significant social event than a wedding, where a family’s honor was put on display for days of feasting and friends. One can only imagine the extravagance of a king’s wedding banquet for his son, when the normal constraints of a checking account are removed. Before Jesus even unfolds His story, His listeners are imagining what it would be like to have a place at such a feast.
This is a strange, parable, exaggerated to the point of the ridiculous. A king sends out invitations to a wedding banquet, but no one responds. It is curious that everyone ignores a royal summons, but it gets worse. The king sends a second invitation, tempting them with the delicious food. Some ignore the invitation, but many take it to another level. They seize the king’s slaves, beating and killing them, simply for inviting them to a banquet. It is quite the overreaction. Not to be outdone in overreaction, the king sends troops to destroy the murderers and burns their cities.
Matthew, of course, is drawing our attention to the fate of the prophets, but the violence shown to the king’s servants is no less disturbing. What should be a cause for joy turns to death and destruction as the king returns the violence shown to his messengers.
It makes sense that this detail is omitted in the other Gospel telling of this story (Luke 14:16-24), as it is hard to imagine any sort of positive resolution after such a massacre. Having said that, I find it hard to understand why so many commentators assume that Jesus never told a story more than once. All of us have told the same story more than once and emphasized or changed different parts to make a different point – even when it’s a true story. But people some how assume Jesus told a parable – which is a fictional tale used expressly to make a point – once never to return to that imagery again. And the poor gospel writers were then forced to rework a parable to fit a different context.
Given that the settings in Matthew and Luke are entirely different, I believe Jesus re-told this story right on the heels of His parable of the vineyard owner we heard last week and put a darker spin on it in the retelling. Or perhaps Matthew, likely writing in the mid-60s A.D. – just as discord was hitting its peak prior to the destruction of 70 A.D., may have re-framed Jesus’ original parable to suit the venomous nature of his own time and context.
Either way, the overall message mirrors the version told in Luke, which is that those original invitees turned their back on the invitation, and the king’s response is to welcome the un-welcomeable. As strange as this telling of the parable is, we must not miss that it teaches us something about all those who are too comfortable in their standing with the king. The good news is meant for the hungry, for those who would drop everything for an invitation to the banquet. When we lose sight of the radical grace of the invitation, we have forgotten who we are.
Over the past few Sundays, we’ve been looking at Enemies of Gratitude. We started with Nostalgia and the fact that longing for good ol’ days that never were can keep us from being thankful for the blessings that currently are. Then we looked at how worry for what might come or is happening can keep us from rejoicing in the only One who been with us in the past is with us now and will always be with us in the future. Longing for a revised past and anxiety about an unknown future brings us this morning to neglect of present blessings. Neglect that comes from a sense of entitlement.
We have access to education, medical care, clean water, electricity, safe housing, good paying jobs, and an abundance of food. Each of us can follow our passions such as playing sports, learning musical instruments, reading, writing, watching movies. We have the opportunity to create the life we choose; and, because of where we are blessed to live, the right – if you will – to squander that opportunity. All of it is a gift. God’s word tells us that God has put us in this place at this time, so WHAT we have as well as the OPPORTUNITIES we have are a gift from God. The moment we forget that truth, we are behaving with entitlement. Where we spend this life comes from God, as does where we spend eternity.
If you either believe that you are inherently deserving of all that you have or have been told that these things are yours by right – as a solid, irrefutable fact – are you going to be inherently grateful for them? Probably not because there is no question in your mind that they shouldn’t be yours. Without that question – without that possibility that you may not have that precious thing – you lose the potential to be grateful. So entitlement eclipses gratitude. The two cannot exist simultaneously.
One final point on gratitude and entitlement comes in the last strange twist of a truly strange parable. One of the guests, called in from off the street, has gained entrance to the wedding but doesn’t have the appropriate wedding clothes. It was the custom of the host to provide adequate garments for his guests to wear at a wedding feast. The garment that the guest provided was necessary because a guest would not be seated without it.
The metaphor here is repentance because it is through Jesus Christ that we are justified and welcomed at the Table. And so one man is questioned as to his justification to be at the table of the Wedding Feast because he was not wearing the proper clothing. You may recall that Galatians 3:27 says “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
It is the clothing of Christ that makes us righteous! Christ gave us His righteousness in exchange for our sinfulness, so that when God looks at us He sees Christ and not our sin. Notice as well that the individual is addressed as “friend” and is left speechless when confronted by the king. The implication is that the guest has proper clothing available but has declined to wear it. So he is bound and cast into the outer darkness; a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth – language that commonly refers to eternal judgment.
God has provided the wedding garment that we need through Jesus Christ. If God has already provided the clothing of righteousness through Jesus Christ, then why is it that not everyone puts on this clothing? We cannot be admitted without it. Our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). God makes us righteous through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
As in the previous parables which involved vineyards, we are faced once again with the truth of everyone’s accountability in their response to Jesus’ invitation to the kingdom of Heaven. The privileged religious leaders – filling entitled – are judged for rejecting the invitation, and the populace of Israel, who also are also privileged to be the children of God, will be judged for their response tot he kingdom. But even Jesus’ professing disciples, remember Judas is called “friend” on the last night, are culpable for what they ultimately do with the invitation. Not all who respond do so from the heart.
The ballroom is crowded with the good and the bad. Our birthright as the followers of Christ is to remember none of us deserves to be here, and so we should never impose our quality-control standards on anyone else the king wants to invite to the banquet. Our job is to go and tell, to invite all, and to leave to the host any thinning of the crowd.
Whenever we allow ourselves to believe that we deserve what we have, or that we are somehow more worthy than another, we will find ourselves incapable of gratitude. The proper response to the king’s invitation, Jesus declares, is to run breathless to the banquet, dressed for the marriage of Heaven and earth, wondering how we ever got put on such a guest list in the first place.