Saturday, April 29, 2017

Parable: The Wedding Banquet

For many are called but few are chosen.  It sounds more like a recruiting poster for the Marines or the SEAL teams than the biblical witness that proclaims whosover will may come.  As we look at his parable, let this verse resonate in your mind.

For many are called but few are chosen.

Now to the parable.  Once again, we have Pharisees and religious leaders trapped in the crowd of people who think that Jesus is a prophet or maybe even the Messiah.  The religious hierarchy wants Jesus out of the way but for the moment, they are stuck with him as he launches into his third parable in a row that seems to put these self-righteous leaders squarely in his sights.

There could be some allegory at play here but the message comes through with or without it.  If you want to go with the allegory, the king is God the Father.  The son is the Lord Jesus Christ.  Those originally invited are the Hebrew people.  Those invited later are the Gentiles.  Servants once again would be the prophets.  Some variations apply.

This is also a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven.  How do we know this?  Jesus said it was.

It differs somewhat from the previous parable in that the Landowner expected something from the tenants.  They should have given him what was due him.  In this parable from Matthew’s twenty-second chapter, the King—God if we go with the allegory—is being generous. He is extending grace.  He has a wonderful invitation.

We struggle to understand this today.  People get engaged.  They set a wedding date.  Sometimes they even send out hard copy invitations, and people come if they can.  For people that you know well, you want to come and be a part of this wonderful event; but there is work, school, sometimes both, kids, sports, doctor’s visits, dental appointments, the bills need paid, the car needs tags and new tires, online passwords have to be updated, the dishes need washed, and the grass needs cut.  That’s probably the short list for many of you.

If you can make it, you can make it.  If not, well that’s just life.  Sometimes you just have to make sure that you have a quorum—pastor, bride, groom, and a couple of witnesses.  Everyone else is icing on the wedding cake.

But in this parable, the king sends out the invitation.  This is not an ad hoc event.  The wedding banquet is not a shotgun affair.  It is not impromptu or off the cuff.  Those invited have expected this invitation for some time, and now the time has come.  In the allegorical sense, the Hebrew people have expected God to call them as his bride for ages.

This is not a banquet on a budget.  During marriage counseling, I stress the point that the couple needs to budget for the marriage and not put themselves into hock for the wedding ceremony.  I pray that wisdom rules at this early juncture.

But in the parable, this is not a banquet on a budget.  It’s not a reception with ginger ale and finger foods.  There is a feast to follow this wedding. This is a big deal!  You wouldn’t miss it for anything.

Yet, the servants sent out with invitations were ignored, given excuses, and sometimes even abused or killed.  Hold on a minute!  Put yourself behind the phylactery for a moment; the very invitation that you had wanted all of your life arrives and you have something else to do.  Really?

Oh, couldn’t he have picked another week?

If I don’t get my taxes done this week, I don’t know what will happen.

Who does this guy think he is to hold an event on Wednesday night?  I’ve got church!

I wonder if when God sends his Son back to claim his people, if he will have the respect for our schedule.  I mean he surely wouldn’t do this on a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening.  Hopefully it won’t be while I am in the middle of watching NCIS.  I don’t like that much television but I do like my NCIS. Surely, he won’t schedule this during my television time.

Now you know that this parable has value for us, but for now just picture the Pharisees squarely in the  sights of Jesus. 

The king destroys the cities where they killed his servants.  If we get allegorical, this could be God using the Roman Empire—as he has used the Assyrians and Babylonians before—to destroy the temple and much of Jerusalem.  It could be destruction reserved for the end of the age.

It could be that we who live in this modern century, need to understand that God still has wrath—anger—and it will be poured out on the rebellious and the wicked.  We will never receive it but God’s anger still burns against wickedness.

The Pharisees might have been trying hard to figure out this last part, but what came next in the parable was a little more to the point.  The King sent his invitation out to everyone else.  The very banquet at which the Hebrew people—especially their religious leaders—expected to be an exclusive affair just for them was now open to many, some of whom would have been regarded as pagans and heathens, even the Samaritans.

The light should have been coming on once again for the Pharisees.  Remember that in the previous parable, Jesus told these self-righteous yahoos that the Kingdom of God would be taken away from them and given to those who will produce fruit.  In the parable before that Jesus told them that the tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of them.

Now they hear that the banquet set for them has been opened up to peoples whom should have no standing there.  It’s a good thing that this was just a three-parable series because the Pharisees couldn’t handle any more.  Matthew’s gospel notes next that the Pharisees went to their club house, licked their wounds, and starting making plans to trap Jesus.

They had not yet reached the point where they—along with the chief priest and others in the Sanhedrin—would just decide to hold a kangaroo court and sentence him to death.  

These religious leaders were so blind to the truth that they still thought their intelligence would be enough.  Read the remainder of chapter 22 and continue into chapter 23 to see the rest of this interaction with the religious hierarchy unfold.

If you continue reading, you will see blind leaders trying to defy the truth.  You will see almost comical attempts to try and trick Jesus.  Hopefully, you won’t see yourself in there anywhere.

Here is a simple model and mantra that I think works well.  For this we venture into the grammatical world momentarily.  You do not want to be the appositive or the direct object in a sentence that Jesus begins, “Woe unto you…”

Let’s get back to events in the parable.  The wedding hall is filled with guests.  They came from all over.  They responded to this fantastic invitation and they surely were all thankful.  Well almost all.

You know how stories go.  Everything was going just great, and then there was this one guy.  One guy that didn’t get the memo.  Get you suit out of the cleaners, throw on a tie, polish your boots, put on clean underwear, and wear matching socks.  How hard can it be?  There is always that one guy who thinks he is in a Garth Brooks song.

For parable purposes—for allegorical purposes—this is the person who hears the call and tries to manipulate the invitation.  This is the person who wants the prize but won’t go via repentance.  This is the person who won’t profess Jesus is Lord because he doesn’t want to give up his gods in this world.  This is the guy who thinks he can work a little Jesus stuff in somewhere to hedge his eternity bet.  Yeah, that’s the ticket, throw in some Jesus for seasoning just in case.

The one who professes Jesus as Lord will be clothed in the clothes of the new person—the new creation.  You can’t sneak into heaven in your old clothes.  You can’t have new clothes unless you are a new creation.  You can’t be a new creation unless you are born again—born of the Spirit.

I am going to give this man who showed up out of uniform a name.  I am going to call him Nicodemus.  The Nicodemus who came to Jesus at night was wearing old clothes.  His mind would not comprehend being born again, this time of God’s Spirit.  He was clothed in his own righteousness and not prepared to hear a message of grace.  He was the epitome of the Pharisee, knowledgeable in the word of the law but totally lacking its spirit, and surely in need of God’s Holy Spirit.

He did not come to see Jesus looking for a message of grace.  But he got one.  I share the version found in The Message.

“No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.

 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. 

Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

I return to the point where I began.

For many are called but few are chosen.

It might interest you that the words called and chosen have a variety of different meanings throughout the Bible.  

Language is like that.  The word faith is another example where a single word has multiple facets and complexities.  In the context of this month’s memory verse, called according to his purpose is the same as chosen for his purpose. 

When we come across some of these scriptures that seem difficult, and this one seems a little difficult for our group where we believe that whosover will may come, view them in the lens of the gospel.

Understand also that God desires a fantastic relationship with us. He made us in his image. He loves us and will never stop loving us.  He chose us to be the recipients of his love, to be joint heir with his one and only Son, Christ Jesus, and he gave us the will to choose him in response to his love.

He not only gave us this freewill so that we could choose him or reject him, he gave us the measure of faith by which we might choose him.

Never, ever read God’s word in the context of him stacking the deck against us.  That is not the biblical witness that we know.

God chose you before you even knew you were you.  You are his and now because of your belief, he is yours.  The love that binds you in Christ Jesus is inseparable.  God chose you!  Somewhere in all of this there ought to be an amen or hallelujah!

God’s call has gone out to and continues to go out to the world.  His heart is that all will come to know him as we know him.

His invitation is the invitation that we know so well.  Repent and believe the good news.  You are invited to the best wedding banquet ever and to the eternity with God that brought us into being in the first place.

I am thankful that we have accepted this invitation and I am blessed and privileged to carry this invitation with me wherever I go. 

God has chosen many for very special works and ministries.  He has chosen some—a few—to do greater things than he did.  He has called for all to come and know him.

He has commissioned all of us to take his gospel across the street and across the planet.

The parable sounds like bad news for the Hebrew people, but Paul—a Pharisee himself—wrote that the time would come when the number of Gentiles would be complete and this original branch—or in parable context, those who ignored the invitation—would be grafted back in. 

The Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ will one day celebrate a wedding together and for eternity but we have confirmed our invitation now.  We are going to be there.

Remember that this parable aimed squarely at the Pharisees is about the Kingdom of Heaven.  This is a kingdom in which we can live in the here and now.  This is a kingdom in which we live because we have accepted our invitation and are putting on our wedding clothes.

We have been given eyes to see and ears to ear and have taken the measure of faith given to us and responded to this invitation.  We live in God’s Kingdom now and we would not miss this banquet for anything.


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