by Katy Lines
Come to the wedding! Save the date! The king’s son is getting married! Although to be honest, from a 21st-century American context, this king seems pretty petty. I mean, burning the city of guests who send regrets? Come on. And binding and tossing out on the street a guy you pulled off the street to be a seat-warmer, just because he’s still wearing his construction gear? You’ve got to be kidding me. Who wants to be part of a kingdom like that, honoring a king like that?
The danger with reading the text solely with our cultural eyes is that we miss the context and intention of the text. God doesn’t behave like an ancient classical potentate, and a purely allegorical reading (often the “traditional” reading) lends itself to triumphalism and anti-Semitism. Context matters: Jesus is pushing hard against the powerful elite— this third parable follows two similar parables in Matt 21 (the parable of the two sons and parable of wicked tenants). With each one, an invitation is offered, and not just declined but vehemently rejected.
In a patronage culture, a patron’s banquet invitation was compulsory— if the king was having a ball, you were expected to attend, even if you were Cinderella. Refusal to attend was a deliberate insult to the one who had prepared for your presence. This was not merely a lavish party, but a formal state dinner, where guests would demonstrate allegiance to their host and his heir. So when every single invited guest unanimously declined to appear, it seemed like a methodical act of rebellion! Tie that in with invited guests slaughtering messengers of their patron in an explicit revolutionary act, and you’ve set up those to whom the parables are directed in a tough place. Religious elites, political elites, you who have been centered in power and privilege (maybe… us??)… you’re the ones who have refused to receive the invitation to the banquet, Jesus cautions. And we wonder why they pressed for his arrest and conviction.
This over-the-top political cartoon gets even better though. Come in, everyone, everyone, everyone! Come to the banquet! Come fill the seats left empty by those who’ve rejected the invitation! We love this part. It harkens back to the invitation in Isaiah 55: All of you who are thirsty, come to the water. Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat!….Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. We love hearing that everyone is invited to the banquet—all whom they found were gathered, both good and bad. Nothing disqualifies us from being invited into the nourishment and life and celebration of the banquet, of the kingdom of heaven.
But here's where it gets all weird again…
That one guy wearing his construction gear instead of tails, loading up on the shrimp cocktail and little meatballs. Totally out of place! Joining the household of God is meant to be transformative— all are invited and desired and welcomed, but no one is meant to remain the way we entered. We accept the invitation, enter the household, and are expected to put on wedding clothes. Like the first invited guests, this person has insulted the host— refusing to be transformed.
Paul understood this— welcome to the banquet, you who had it in for my followers, who presided over the cloaks of those who murdered my witnesses. Welcome… and be transformed. Paul understood this insistence on transformation… into clothing that honored the ways of God’s household:
You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator…. As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience….Above all, clothe yourselves with love… (Colossians 3)
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:27)
Come, celebrate the invitation for all and be abundantly nourished in God’s good kingdom. But be prepared to resist the temptation to maintain our own power and privilege. And be prepared to re-dress, be transformed, made (re)new into Christlikeness.