top of page
  • Writer's pictureFather Nicholas Lang

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Have you ever been invited to a wedding and really didn’t want to go? Maybe the bride or groom was the relative of a friend and you had not even met them. Maybe it was a family wedding but there would be people there that you just didn’t want to see—and you could be stuck sitting at their table.

Maybe you just couldn’t stand the thought of getting pulled on the dance floor to do the chicken dance. In any case, we’ve probably all been in a situation like that at one time or another. We struggle with filling out and returning that RSVP card until the very last minute.

Jesus told this parable of the wedding banquet in the Temple precinct in Jerusalem, their version of the upper East Side in Manhattan or Beverly Hills in LA. The area was a bastion of wealth, influence, and religious connections. We might be sympathetic to those in this story who opted out of the wedding which in the first century lasted several days. Some invitees could not take that much time from their livelihood to attend.

It is an ugly and violent story. Killing the messengers who came to remind the invited guests about their presence is way over the top. Luke’s Gospel tells a similar story and scholars believe that the original parable ended with the master’s gracious invitation being ignored. Clearly, something was eating Matthew to carry it further than Jesus did.

Does Matthew shape this parable for his own agenda? Matthew has written some lovely texts but this is dark, violent, and full of judgment and has been a source of anti-Jewish sentiment from the beginning of Christianity. Maybe this will explain his cruel version. A certain seminary professor of church history would say the most outrageous things to his students. He was funny. He was sarcastic. He was sometimes offensive, and he was challenging. One never knew what to expect or what he might say next to irritate them.

After a particularly outrageous comment he would look at the class and say, “You know I’m given to exaggeration, and if you quote me outside of the class, I’ll call you a liar.” This was his way of telling his students not to take what he said literally but to take it seriously. That was his way of challenging them to see something new rather than just hold on to their preconceived ideas.

The parable of the wedding banquet is so outrageous that it begs us to take it seriously, not literally. It is a story that holds some truth but is not necessarily historical fact. Is God like the angry king who, when he is slighted or doesn’t get his way, destroys lives and demolishes cities? That certainly doesn’t fit with the God Jesus revealed to us.

Popular author John Dominic Crossan cites the Parable of the Feast as containing the “essential” elements of Jesus’ Kingdom teaching and social program. It is radical to the max. No one gets elected to the banquet nor does anyone earn an invitation because of class or status or gender or age or looks.

God’s Kingdom is one of “radical egalitarianism,” says Crossan. This is a kingdom that contains no hierarchies, is not fueled by competition and has not even a hint of oppression. The Kingdom of God is open to all—at any time, any place, any circumstance. It is how the world would be run, Crossan contends, if God, not Caesar, were sitting on the throne.

This story seems particularly relevant for the church today. It is no secret that there has been a serious decline in church attendance. This is especially true for the younger generations. I’ve read several articles on why people have stopped going to church and think that it is not worth their time. Other things have replaced it, become their religion. There are some valid reasons why this has happened, not the least of which is how some clergy have treated them or the rigid, antiquated belief system that some denominations embrace leaving no room for questioning—just check your brain at the door.

The decline in church membership is probably more concerning to us than it is to God. We can easily get drawn into the unproductive exercise of handwringing and sulk in the pessimistic projection for the future. But the truth is that we can’t predict the future. What if there is a religious renaissance, a time when people are longing to be included at God’s Table. What if they feel so lost in our very broken world that as Thomas asked Jesus, they ask “to whom can we go? Where can we fill the emptiness in our souls?”

Still, God waits. God invites. God loves. Just look at what happened at that wedding banquet. Jesus tells us that every assortment of person was there: the buttoned-up business executive, the tattooed motorcycle rider, the chiseled athlete, the low-income single mother, the counter cultural teenager, the stay-at-home suburban mom, the brilliant academic. What if one day, here comes everybody?

There is a rub at the end of this story. Why was the king so mean if in desperation to fill the banquet hall he corralled guests on the street corner? How can you expect that they will come in their best wedding finery? Wedding garments were costly. Could the wedding garment be a metaphor for our amazement that God not only invites us to the banquet, but loves us as we are? Maybe that poor guest just couldn’t believe it?

Episcopal priest and author, Barbara Brown Taylor tells us: “God is not looking for warm bodies but for wedding guests who will rise to the occasion of honoring the son. We can do that in shorts and sneakers as well as in suits and high heels, because our wedding robes are not made of denim or silk. They are made of the whole fabric of our lives, using patterns God has given us—patterns of justice, forgiveness, loving-kindness, and peace. When we stitch them up and put them on, we are gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous.”

I’m going out on a limb here but maybe Matthew got it wrong. Maybe, just maybe

All are called and all are chosen.

5 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page