Proper 23, Year A, St. Bede’s Church, Manchester

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son” (Matt. 22:1).

One of the plans that got sidelined by the Pandemic was the wedding of my nephew, which was scheduled for last month in Montana. My nephew is the first of the grandchildren to get married, so you can imagine it was supposed to be a great family event. The upshot of the Coronavirus was that he still got married, but without any fanfare, and without any family or many friends able to be present. They took plenty of pictures on the day, and all that, but I’m not exactly sure what kind of party they were able to scrape together afterward.

Jesus’ parable today is about another wedding, or at least a wedding party, gone awry. Jesus begins by telling us that the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet: in this case, like a particular kind of banquet. It’s a grand affair, thrown by a king for his son, but things don’t go according to plan. Lots of guests are invited, but nobody shows up. Things are going to waste, so the king sends his slaves to follow up. Those who’ve been invited mostly just ignore the invitation, and go about their business; but some mistreat and kill the messengers: these folks really don’t want to come! Maybe the party will be cancelled. By the end of it all, the king sends his slaves to round up people on the street, anybody at all, to join the wedding banquet.

Of course, this isn’t just a story about a wedding that goes unbelievably bad. Jesus is telling a story about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. This is not the only place where Jesus tells a story to explain what the kingdom is like; and it’s not the only place where Jesus likens the kingdom to a wedding banquet. He does it again, in the Gospel of Matthew, in the parable of the bridesmaids, where five are foolish and five are wise; five are prepared for the groom to arrive, and ready to go into the feast, while the foolish five are not. We’ll hear that story in just a few weeks.

The picture of the wedding banquet is also part of the vision of the kingdom given to John the Elder in the Book of Revelation. The angel in the vision says to John, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9). This vision is in the same ballpark as Jesus’ stories from the Gospel of Matthew. In Revelation, the kingdom is like a wedding banquet, held to honor the union of Jesus and his bride, the church. We, the members of the church, are blessed to be invited to share in the celebration, which includes folk of “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us that the kingdom is like a wedding banquet, God’s ultimate party. The Eucharist we celebrate today foreshadows that banquet, the union of Christ and humanity. A party is a celebration, the bringing together of free time, abundant resources, and a spirit of generosity. In a world that is limited, constrained, and cramped in spirit, God invites us today to something else. We’re invited to sit down at the party that’s been prepared for us from the beginning of creation. We’re the honored guests.

The parable makes it clear that the invitation to this party is broadcast widely: good and bad alike are invited, so the story goes. But the story also makes it clear that a lot of people are not interested at all in taking up this invitation. They’ve got stuff to do that’s more important, crucial business to attend to: at least, that’s what they think. Of course, they’re going to miss the party.

The parable also points out that some people are downright hostile to the invitation. They don’t want the kingdom of heaven! They’d like to cancel it out, shut it down, postpone it indefinitely. Like the people in the parable, they’d like a world without parties: that is, without the freedom, abundance, and generosity that characterize the kingdom of heaven.

There are moments in our lives when each of us is tempted to be like these people in the parable. We have urgent business to attend to; we’re surrounded by distractions; good heavens, we’re in the middle of a pandemic! It’s a big target, but it’s all too easy to miss the kingdom of heaven. Sometimes we even fall into the trap of becoming adversaries of God’s invitation, of declaring war on freedom, abundance, and generosity. Sometimes we even think we’re doing it in a good cause. But when we do this, we’re really declaring war on ourselves.

God is inviting us, however, to the wedding banquet: a celebration prepared specifically for us. God is a generous host, and we need to pay attention and respond in the affirmative. Now is the time to answer the call. The banquet is prepared; the wedding feast is ready!

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee