Summary: We need to ask ourselves a question: Who am I, who are you in this parable of Jesus? The answer has an important bearing on what we do about it ...
During the summer some friends from Hampshire (Bethany and David) asked Moira and I to keep free Thursday 29 August 2013 for their wedding. The date is firmly in the diary and I’m looking forward to conducting the ceremony. They’ve also asked lots of other friends and family to keep the date free. It’s a Thursday so some people will need to take a day off work, but we’ve been given plenty of notice and we know the day is coming. However, the invitations have not yet been issued. They will be sent out in about April or May, 3 or 4 months before the wedding, with a map, timings, directions and a request to formally reply: RSVP. When the invitation comes we will of course reply to say, “Yes. We’re coming.” We already know there is going to be a wedding.
Imagine how Beth and David would feel if the invites go out and we just don’t turn up to their wedding. Or imagine if I write back in July, “I’m ever so sorry. We’ll be on holiday in Scotland. Have a nice day!”
Beth and David and their parents would not be amused! Especially since I have a rather important role on the day itself! They would need to find another Minister at short notice.
Let’s remember for a moment that Jesus used parables to paint a picture, with a punchy, poignant, pertinent point. A parable was a wake-up call to somebody, or to a group of people. Jesus had a seriously important message that he wanted heard, and parables were a way of teaching, challenging and perhaps rebuking in a memorable way. People remember a good story far more than they remember even a well-crafted sermon. By 5 p.m. this afternoon you may only remember my story about the invitations to Beth and David’s wedding, the year’s notice they gave us; and how they would feel if I didn’t go.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a King who prepared a banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who’d been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come” (22:1-3).
Religious leaders were already sick of the ministry of Jesus. They felt challenged, threatened and convicted and they wanted Jesus to shut up. They were being compared to people invited to the King’s banquet. They knew from the Bible that God prepares a table – a heavenly banquet for believers (Psalm 23:5); but by refusing to act upon the teaching of Jesus they were effectively refusing the invitation.
In the parable the King sent out yet more servants on the day of the banquet imploring the previously invited guests, those who had known the banquet was coming, ‘but they paid no attention and went off – one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, ill-treated them and killed them. The King was enraged’ (22:5-7a).
It’s highly likely these additional servants represent the prophets in the Old Testament, or indeed any messenger of God the King who comes and calls the invited guests – the Jewish religious leaders – to the banquet; but so often they ignored the prophets.
And so we have to ask ourselves a question. It’s all very well trying to understand who represents who in a parable, or what represents what in a parable, or what was Jesus saying to the crowd; but ultimately we have to put ourselves in the picture. So the question is – who am I in the parable? And who are you in the parable? The invited guests had known for some time that a banquet day was coming for the King’s son; but when the official invitation was issued in person the invited guests first of all refused to come, and then when given a further chance to come they went off and did something else, or abused the King’s messengers; and so ultimately ‘the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests’ (22:10). Now some Bible commentators say that traditionally, as guests arrived at a wedding, they were given special wedding clothes to wear. One of these new guests is not wearing required robes. He is dishonouring the King.
God’s invitation to the world has been extended since the dawn of time, but his specific invitation to all people everywhere was issued in the person of his son Jesus. If we know that God has invited us to share in the future heavenly banquet of Jesus then we can be compared to invited guests. Are our lives responding gladly to his invitation? Are we living and thinking and behaving with a heart being prepared for heaven? Or are we putting our time and energies into something else? Are we in any way guilty of abusing the King’s servants – the prophets, and messengers that God sends to each one of us? Or am I anything like the man invited late to the banquet? Have I responded gladly to God’s invitation, only to dishonour him by the clothes that I wear? By this I’m sure you realise it has nothing to do with wearing hats or shorts or jeans in Church. The question is whether my life now honours or dishonours God. He offers us clean clothes – a new and clean way of living. Are we wearing the clothes – the lifestyle – that honours him?