Over the last months you have heard sermons preached on the parables of Matthew. But as we’ve gone through them they seem to be getting darker. That’s mainly because we are approaching the Passion of Christ in Matthew and so naturally the gospel is taking a darker mood. We have this week Jesus recalling his ministry in terms of a metaphor, a very rich metaphor that resonates with so much biblical material. He describes his earthly ministry in terms of the king’s banquet, the wedding banquet. Jesus uses a biblical metaphor that beautifully describes what is present in him: the marriage of divinity and humanity in one person, the marriage of heaven and earth. Meals are so significant in the bible, full of meaning. Jesus, who Paul describes as the new Adam, gathers people together in table fellowship: he is constantly eating and drinking with people who were outsiders. He brings them back to the fold. He’s the new Adam. The old Adam is where in the Bible the rift began, and it too began with a meal – eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So the Bible material is framed by these two events like bookends, the first Adam creates a rift with God through a bad meal, the second Adam, the Christ, gathers us all together in a sacred meal where all are welcome to the banquet.
What Jesus does is fulfil the prophet Isaiah’s hope, his longing for a reunion between heaven and earth.
We heard the words of that longing hope this morning: a reunion that is like a banquet with rich foods, choice wines, where the veil of sadness is lifted from the nations and the enmity between peoples is no longer there. Christ came to the world to reconcile the nations, to bring us all to the table. We are a Eucharistic people: here we are, gathered at Jesus’ table and all are welcome. We are gathered by Christ, we commune with him. We fulfil Isaiah’s banquet here in this feast with the Lord.
Let’s go back to the parable.
The king wants to give a wedding banquet for his son. In other words, the father wants to gather church around the son. But what happens? It says, they refuse to come. So the king sends out servants to invite others to the banquet. Who are the servants? The servants are people like you and me – not just priests. And as his servants, are we doing what we can to bring others to the banquet, the banquet of the Eucharist? We cannot entrust this ministry solely to priests. We are all called to be the servants of the King.
Are you invited to this wedding banquet of the Lord? Yes. Every minute, every moment. God calls you by name in many different ways: through the words we’ve heard from the Bible, through the ministry of a priest, through fellowship with others in this community and through the Christian example of the Saints. God even calls us to the banquet through the beauty of the earth itself – through a beautiful sunset perhaps. But still, many refuse to respond to God’s call.
I think one of the saddest lines in the NT is from this parable: but they refuse to come.
Ever invite someone to a party and you don’t get a response from them?
You wait to hear if they can come or cannot come, but they don’t bother to respond? It hurts, doesn’t it? It’s rude. What this parable is trying to illustrate is how God feels when people do not respond to that invitation of his banquet.
And people have all sorts of excuses. They may say, I’d like to come, but I’m just too busy for Church. This happens in the parable too: Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. Others are simply indifferent to the call. But whatever the reason there is a lack of it being a priority: I know that many people in society today are interested in spiritual things, but I think at the same time many have lost a way to build up their spiritual life – they are spiritually starved. We, who are the body of Christ, must regain a confidence in our faith to say to others that God has laid a rich table for us – a banquet of rich food and fine wine and that spiritual banquet is Jesus himself who gives us life in abundance a life that is full of vitality and strength.
This parable is all about that tragedy that we find so often in human life – that God gives us an invitation to a better life, but sadly we turn our back on that invitation.
God freely gives us his grace, how often we refuse to freely receive it.
But, the parable I’m afraid, as it comes to an end grows even darker.
It says, go out into the streets, invite whomever you can find in the highways and hedges. The servants do this, and they gathered all they found both good and bad alike and the hall was filled with guests.
So the first guests did not respond: Ok, but God doesn’t give up easy, he is relentless in his call, relentless in his grace to gather all the peoples together. What I’m about to say may sound like blasphemy but it is true: we do not come crawling to God in our religion – God comes crawling to us. The mighty God comes down to us from his heavenly spendour to wash the feet of fishermen. There is a grace flowing from God that is overwhelming when we open our hearts to him.
So, the king fills the banquet hall with the help of his servants. But then we have this very odd ending to the parable, as if things haven’t been shocking enough already. The king comes among his guests. And he notices someone who is not properly dressed. He does not have the wedding garment on. And he says, friend, how is it you came in here without a wedding garment on? When the man has nothing to say, the king throws him out.
The first thing that goes wrong in the spiritual life is that we refuse the invitation: that’s the first part of the parable isn’t it. The first basic problem is that we hear God’s call but we don’t respond to it, we don’t prioritise, we have so many other things to do that seem more important. Now, what’s the second great tragedy for those in the spiritual life? What’s the second thing that can go wrong? It is that I do respond to the invitation, I say yes, Lord, I do want intimacy with you.
But then I don’t change. The wedding garment here stands for the transformation of our lives. God gives his grace, yes, we respond to his call, yes, but then we must change and transform our lives so that we can, in Paul’s language, put on the garment of love, put on the garment of justice, put on the forgiveness of enemies, put on the form of Jesus Christ. The point is, you can’t just come to the banquet, expecting to remain unchanged. No, conversion stands at the heart of this feast, a conversion that makes us examine our hearts and lives and be willing to change. The wedding garment stands for discipleship. It is so easy to come along to a gathering like this and to remain unimpressed, Meh. Nothing happened. My spiritual batteries weren’t charged. Charging your spiritual batteries is a far cry from a desire to become a disciple of Jesus, which is costly and requires us to change, change into the wedding garment of a new life with God.
This week, ask yourself two questions: have I responded to God’s call? And Secondly, have I begun to change, to be converted into the likeness of Christ? Meditate on these two questions, revisit this parable through the week. And may God bless you in doing so. Amen.