A stewardship reflection based on the parable of the wedding feast as told in Matthew 22:1-14.
When I was planning ahead, I saw that the story of the wedding feast was in the lectionary and thought, “O good, the wedding feast. I can work with that.” I reread this story last week and thought, “O, it’s that story of the wedding feast.”
In Luke’s version, people are invited, they don’t come and so others are invited off the street to the banquet. This version of the story from Matthew is violent and disturbing.
This is a parable. It is a story that Jesus told to make a point and, as with many parables, the intended meaning is not always clear and there are several different ideas about the point of this parable.
In this version, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who is giving a wedding feast for his son, the prince. The king sent out the first batch of invitations and got a whole bunch of RSVP’s from people saying they couldn’t come. Doesn’t it seem strange to you that an invitation from the king is such a low priority? I think, for most of us, an invitation from someone as important as the king would trump just about everything else in our lives.
So the king sent the invitations again to the same people. This wasn’t just a mark the date invitation but an invitation describing the extravagance and fuss that was being made for this wedding. And again, the response was negative. The guests went off to farm, to run their businesses. They just weren’t interested in attending. But another group of guests got really upset and were actually violent in their negative response. They beat and killed some of the king’s slaves.
What is it about these invitations that caused such a negative response? Sometimes when we receive an invitation we just can’t be bothered. It doesn’t interest us for some reason and so we might just ignore it. Sometimes we receive an invitation and there are real reasons why we don’t think we can participate: work or family commitments, the cost, the time. Sometimes an invitation might even feel like an intrusion, one more obligation that we don’t feel we can afford from our time, our energy, our money. These violent guests may have been feeling something along these lines: “I already pay the king my taxes. I work hard. My servants and slaves work hard to pay the king and then the king uses my money to throw this extravagant feast. Now the king expects me to take time away from my business concerns, (a wedding went on for seven days) spend money so I have appropriate clothing to wear to a royal wedding and arrive at the wedding the finest gift. I’ve already given enough to the king and I’m not going to do anymore.” The invitees feel that the king is demanding too much of them and so the invitees kill the slaves that issue the invitation.
The king responds in kind with violence and sends the army into the city, the city that he rules, and kills the invitees who chose not to attend the banquet. This whole thing seems to be getting out of hand. Violence over an invitation to a wedding? Perhaps the king looks around and realizes that he can’t trust and can’t depend on these people and so he has them killed. He feels betrayed by the people he thought were loyal to him.
If the king can’t depend on this group of people he might as well get rid of them and gather a different group of people who will want to participate in celebrating with him and his family and that maybe are more reliable. It is interesting that this group was all the business people, the wealthy and well connected. They got the first invitation, chose to respond in the negative and their lives ended violently in death.
Then the king says to the slaves, “Go out into the city and bring back everyone you can find.” The slaves weren’t looking for the most worthy, the ones with the biggest bank account, the ones with the most skills, the ones with the most connections. The slaves were looking for—and inviting—everyone to the banquet. The king’s banquet has always been a prestigious event and only the crème de la crème get to attend but they turned up their noses at the king. Now the people who would never even dream of attending the banquet are receiving invitations.
And not only that—the people who were above them in the city have been killed. Their bosses, the people who took their money, took advantage of them have all been killed. This wedding feast might be even more of a celebration. There are no distinctions and the playing field has just been levelled.
So everyone dresses up and goes to this feast. There is lots of food. The alcohol is flowing freely. There is dancing and music. It’s quite a party and then the king arrives. And in amongst all the finery of the wedding feast is one person still dressed in rags. The king sees this person and has them tossed out into the street.
I imagine there’s an awkward silence for a few minutes while everyone tries to figure out what just happened before the king commands that the party continue.
And finally, Jesus closes the story by saying, “Many are called but few are chosen.”
So when we think about this story in terms of our faith and our lives as a church community, where do you see yourself?
Are you the king, wanting to offer something amazing to friends and family only to have them reject the invitation? For those of us who gather regularly, this community is important, the time nurtures ours relationship with God and we want others to have the experience of God in their lives.
Maybe you feel like one of the people who are invited to the feast but turn down the invitation? God already demands too much time, too much energy, too much of our money so an excuse not to show up: I’m tired, I want to travel, enjoy the lake, my family, my work (insert your own reason here) prevents us from coming to the feast that is being offered.
Maybe you feel like the slaves, going out and inviting people: we need someone to help with…we need someone to donate to….There’s lots to be done here, come and help, come and participate, share your time, energy and resources. Not only will you help us but you will be part of God’s family and part of this community. And often in this role, people respond by saying “no”. Sometimes the “no” is simply disheartening. Sometimes the “no” can be threatening or hurtful and feel like rejection.
Then there are the soldiers being sent out to purge the city of all the people who seem to be worthy but can’t be bothered to show up. Perhaps you see your role as getting rid of all the excess. Perhaps you want to remove the people who don’t show up from the house groups and mailing lists. They’ve been invited, they can’t be bothered so let’s just get rid of them and carry on.
Then there are the other people of the city. Maybe you would love to go to the banquet. Maybe you would love to offer your gifts and skills to the church community but we don’t seem to need your particular skills, no one has ever invited you or maybe it just seems like there isn’t space because the “worthy ones” already have everything covered. Here’s an invitation: come to the banquet. You are invited to be part of a community that celebrates Jesus’ life on earth. The invitation is always there but you have to decide whether or not to accept.
And finally, you can turn up at the feast and still not really participate. You can come to the feast just say you’ve been but if you don’t embrace the experience of the feast, you’ve missed the point and you miss out on the best aspects. So, like the person without the proper clothes, if you just turn up but don’t embrace the community, don’t get into the spirit of what the Holy Spirit is doing here at St. Andrew’s then you don’t get the full benefit of the feast that is being offered. While no one is going to throw you out, like in the story, you miss out on the abundance of what is being offered.
God offers us a feast and we have an opportunity to make some choices about how we respond to that invitation. We all have a bit of each of these characters in us. And how we respond to God’s invitation changes throughout of lives, and, sometimes even from day to day.
The next 5 weeks we are focussing on Celebrating Stewardship. Stewardship is about everything that we are and everything that we do. Stewardship includes choices about how we use our time, our energy, our money, our relationships. As we focus on stewardship we need to ask ourselves how we are going to respond to the invitation. We also need to reflect on where we see ourselves in this story. The story gets at the heart of our attitudes about ourselves, how we see ourselves in relation to our congregation and give us opportunities to reflect on what attitude or behavior we might need to change in ourselves so that God’s spirit can work more fully through us as we enjoy the feast that God is preparing for us in community.
I invite you to reflect on your commitments of time, talents, energy, gifts, skills and finances to see where God is calling you to participate in the life and work of the church. Come to the banquet.