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When my kids were little I worked at the hotel in Vegas and our shops were open from 8am to 1am every day of the year.
I had to be disciplined and guard my time at home very carefully. One evening I was at home mowing my lawn. Lona comes out to get me and says, “David Copperfield is on the phone.”
Do you remember David Copperfield; the world-famous illusionist?
So, I take the phone and say, “hello?”
“hey, Steve. This is David Copperfield. My friend, Arthure Kohn just was best picture at the Cannes Film festival in France and I would like to have a caricature drawn of me and my wife, Claudia Shiffer, with Arthur so we can fax it to him in the morning. Would you be able to come over to my house tonight and draw it”
I say, “hold on, I need to ask my wife.”
“Honey, can I go to David Copperfield’s house?”
I dropped everything and spent the evening at his house, hanging out with David and Claudia.
Had that been some average Joe, I would have told him to call me back tomorrow. What made the difference? The fact that it was a celebrity changed how I responded to the invitation.
Now, let’s turn the tables. How do you think David would have felt if I had said “No! I’m mowing my lawn. You’ll have to wait?”
Have you ever had an invitation rejected? How did it make you feel about the person who rejected you? How did it make you feel about yourself?
The lesson today is really about invitations, how we respond to them, and how we respond when we are rejected.
Now, I have to be right up front with you.
This is a very difficult parable to understand. So, here’s what I want to do. First, I’m going to give you some context for where it falls in the bigger story of Matthew’s Gospel. Second, I’m going to make sure we have the pieces of the parable clear. And then, I’m going to give you two possible ways to interpret the parable and see which one makes the most sense.
The scene really starts back at the beginning of chapter 21.
Jesus enters into the city of Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey. We call this the Triumphal entry. The people all shout, “Hosanna, Hosanna! And treat him like a king.” This makes the city leaders very angry.
Then Jesus goes to the temple courts and throws over the money-changers tables, and drives them all out with a whip. Jesus is on a mission.
The leaders are outraged and they confront Jesus. Look in verse 23. They say,
“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
Jesus tells them three stories to explain it.
Our passage today is the third story..
Here’s the parable.
There is a king who is having a wedding banquet. He sends his servants to announce to the invited guests that the banquet is ready. The invited guests respond in two ways. Some ignore the invitation and keep going about their business. They would rather mow their lawns than attend the royal banquet. Others respond with violence and they abuse the King’s servants, and even kill them.
The King becomes enraged. He kills them and burns the city. Yikes!
Then he tells the slaves to invite people from the main streets and gather them into the banquet hall. The hall is filled and all seems well, until one guy catches the King’s attention.
This guy is not dressed for the banquet. “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless.
The king had the man bound, hand and foot, and thrown out into utter darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Wow! Isn’t that an uplifting parable. Thank you, Jesus, for that.
So, what do we do with this parable? How does it fit in our theme of living upside down?
I want to present to you two possible ways to interpret this parable.
Option A goes like this.
The parable is an allegory. The King represents God and the banquet represents the Kingdom of Heaven, the way God has always intended the kingdom to be. It is like we’ve been talking all year long about how Israel was the vineyard that was supposed to bear the fruit of God’s blessing for the nations.
The invitation was God’s blessing to Israel to be the blessing to the world. Israel rejected the invitation. Some ignored it, some became violent against it.
So, God wiped them out. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70.
The new invitation is the Gospel presented by Jesus that is for all people, good and bad. There is room for everyone at the banquet, Jew and Greek alike.
There is room for everyone, except for the one who is not properly dressed.
The wedding clothes represent the fruit of the Spirit. It is like the apostle Paul said in Colossians 3:12-14,
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
The man who was not dressed properly was like the person who takes God’s kingdom for granted. They are missing the point. God wants us to party in God’s love. Why would you not want to be part of that.
The take home lesson from this interpretation is this. You’re invited, so show up!
It emphasizes the tension between the radical grace of God on one side, and the responsibility and accountability of participating in the banquet feast, producing fruit, on the other.
That interpretation works, but it leaves me with one observation. God is murdering and destroying people who don’t do it his way. That seems like the opposite of what Jesus has been preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven.
Here’s option B.
What if Jesus were actually referring to an historical event that happened in the city of Jerusalem that everyone would have know about when he was telling this parable. The way he opens the story is slightly different than his other parables where he says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Here he says, “the Kingdom of Heaven has been compared to a man king…”
This interpretation says that the king does not represent God, but represents Herod the Great, back when Herod took over the city of Jerusalem. At that time, the Hasmonean family was the royal family of Israel and were the rightful heirs to the throne. There was a man named Antigonus who was from this family and was the king in Jerusalem for three years, before Herod.
We have to remember that all of this is taking place under the oppression of the Roman Empire. Herod was made the King of Israel by the Roman Emperor, but the people of Jersualem did not want to accept that.
Herod came to the city of Jerusalem with an invitation. He was going to marry one of the Hasmonean women. This was the big wedding feast. He invited the people of Jerusalem to accept his marriage, and to accept him as their king, peacefully.
Antigonus advised the people to ignore Herod. Others responded violently against him and murdered his messengers. This enraged Herod. He went off, married the woman, then returned with the Roman army and burned down the city of Jerusalem.
He took it over by force and demanded that the people accept him as the king. The were coerced into coming to the banquet. Herod then took over the temple, and started rebuilding the city under his rule.
Only one man stood up against him. Antigonus. He would not “put on the wedding clothes.”
Herod had him bound, hand and foot, humiliated in front of the city, and executed.
According to this interpretation, Jesus is identifying himself with Antigonus. And, more importantly, he is identifying himself as the suffering servant from Isaiah
…He was despised and we held him of no account; Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted; But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities/ upon him was the punishment that made us whole….we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (53: 3-6)
Just as there were many that were astonished at him….so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him… (52: 14, 15)
The leaders asked Jesus, “By what authority do you do these things?”
Jesus points out that the way people usually run kingdoms is through power plays, violence, and fear. Jesus takes that system and turns it upside down. He takes all the violence of the system; all the sin, and fear, and hatred; and he takes it upon himself.
He allows himself to be crushed. He is thrown out into utter darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
So, which interpretation aligns most with the Good News that Jesus has been preaching all along? The bottom line of both interpretations is actually the same.
You are invited to the Kingdom of Heaven.
No matter how you slice it, the way to the kingdom is to follow the way of Jesus. His way led him to the cross, where he laid down his life for us. When we realize that the world is upside down, and we have to die to the power, the violence, and the hatred, then we can be ready to live the new life that Jesus gives.