Just look what you are being invited to! A banquet, a celebration, a party, a once in the lifetime — no — a once in an eternal lifetime event: The wedding feast of the Son of the King. Preparations have been made. Food is ready, the venue is prepared beyond what can be achieved by those invited or even imagined by them.
And now it is ready and you are invited. A round of invitations go out and the discussions whether to go begin. RSVPs are required of all soon after. But, as soon as the invites are received there is grumbling. God heavens, why? Earthly, daily life type reasons are given: “We are busy.” Deeper reasons are added: They made light of the invitation as if it was unserious, unimportant or, or just plain funny — in the sense that it is ridiculous to have the affair at all. One does that if one has only limited respect for the hosts who awaits ones answer. One does not do that if one loves the one inviting. One ought not do that if one was to be answerable to the host, not even in jest, probably not even in the private places of ones house or neighborhood. But, as is the case, they give themselves away by how they treat the invitations and as they do they expose what they think of the king. They have given the throne but hollow honor. Their adoration, their statements of devotion are shown empty. Now that the King knows, there will be repercussions, severe ones at that.
And now it is ready for you and you are invited. You are invited in the stead of those thought to be the right and proper guest for the affair who proved empty. Quick: What is your first thought, what is your first worry?
This parable is the last in a set of three that seems to have the purpose of condemning those who run the temple, their cohorts, their convenient allies, and perhaps the very institution that symbolizes all of the faith: The Temple itself. First, their lips said “yes,” to the Lord’s request to work the vineyard but they did not do but instead disrespected those who had said “no,” by their living who none the less had repented and believed or at least longed to be reconciled with God. The second parable paints them as hostile. They are the ones who killed the prophets — a lament over Jerusalem, the place where prophets go to be murdered will be spoken by Jesus before day’s end (Matt 23:37) They are the ones who will kill the son but they will do so to their own destruction. This parable is about their apparent submission and service to the God assumed to be present in the Temple that is laid bare as hypocrisy by their unwillingness to see Jesus as the Son of God.
The masses seem to see John as prophet and Jesus as the Messiah. They acclaimed him that at his entry to Jerusalem. The authorities at the Temple see Jesus and the acclamation of the people as a threat, and they are right to see him that way. After all, the first thing he does on entry to Jerusalem is to curse a fig tree that is not bearing fruit (note that the first two parables that follow are also vineyard and fruit related) and then he proceeds to clear out one of the blatant, public corruptions — the money changers —out of the Temple. More needs to be done and will be done. As a matter of fact, Matthew poses, the system is so corrupt it needs to go. Not a stone will be left on another. (Matt 24:2)
Clear and open condemnations of the Sadducees and Pharisees will follow, (Matt 23) as will the telling of a scene of utter desolation in the final destructions. (Matt 24)
But here is the parable of the feast. It is a lovely thing to be invited. Yet, someone else was invited first and ended up destroyed for their arrogance and hypocrisy. I cannot get quite over the scene. Where the pharisees and their Jerusalem co conspirators really openly and knowingly against Jesus because they did not want to deal with God whom they knew to be in Jesus, preferring to cook their own stews in their own pots?
It is more comforting for us to think that, just maybe, they merely were blind and misguided. Yes, that is it. Even Jesus uses that description after all. (Matt 23:17) An easy out that would be. Who can blame the blind man for running into the street sign? It is easy to forgive the blind and move the offending stop sign. Never mind the terrible sound of colliding metal and glass from behind as we walk away self satisfied that we have been graceful to the blind who know no better, because, after all, who knows who sees and who is blind? Would it not be arrogant and hypocritical to claim to see? We are all blind and now someone ought to remove the stop signs.
This is an easy out. The end of the parable tries to speak to us about exactly this easy out mentality. There was found one who wandered in and was not “attired in wedding clothes.” “How did you get in here,” asks the host. If you go to a wedding, you dress as if you are going to a wedding. O.K., it is the casual age and people show up in all sorts of sloppy dress to weddings can you then blame their guests for dressing less? But seriously: Most people have retained a sense of propriety. We can argue with their taste or definition, but most people know that occasions, places, celebrations, and the encounter with important things and people requires of them a change in attitude and decorum.
By this time in the story of Jesus at the Temple we know that authorities are the bad guys. They are the enemies of the Kingdom of God. They will not let anyone enter and neither will they enter themselves. (Matt 23:13) The violent have taken the Kingdom by force (Matt 11:12) If you prefer the Lukan: “People enter it violently” so be it. Either it was shut by violence or in order to enter it one had to force ones way past the Temple authorities.
But now, it is ready for you and you are invited. You are invited in the stead of those thought to be the right and proper guest for the affair who proved empty. Quick: What is your first thought, what is your first worry?
Before you answer: Tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes and the lowlifes believed John the Baptist gathered at the Jordan River and were baptized for repentance, confessing their sins. (Matt 3:2,7) It is a joy to know that you are invited to the wedding feast of the King’s Son. Yes, celebrate it. But, also ask yourself: What do I bring? What do I wear? I am not fit, how do I go? Ask yourself all the questions befitting repentance. Is not this the fruit that John demanded from the authorities from Jerusalem at the river: Fruit worthy of repentance? (Matt 3:8)
You say: “But what have I to repent of?” Well . . . Is that not the problem that the pharisees and sadducees need to wrestle with? And you? Can any of us ever actually say that we know of nothing to repent from?
To be at the banquet is to meet its host, the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Prophets were wise enough to fall on their faces and confess their sin and fear their destruction because as an unclean one they had seen God. (Is 6) Prophets saw and were awestruck for three weeks before they could even speak again. (Ez 3) And you, will you skip down the lane into the presence of God?