Too relaxed at home
Family dinners are a time-honored tradition in just about every part of the world. For our family, like most others, dinners usually ended up being around holidays or birthdays or anniversaries or just weekends when we could get together. On my father’s side of the family it wasn’t unusual to have dinners at Ethel and JW’s house, may father’s aunt and uncle. It was large enough for everyone in the family and had enough of a yard that the children could be easily dispatched outdoors for most of the year.
More importantly, at least for JW, it had a comfortable chair. I cannot remember what color the chair was or for that matter if there was more than one. I can remember that after dinner, while the kids were running around outside and the adults were catching up on everyone’s lives and all the other important issues of the day, JW missed it. He would eat his dinner, find a comfortable place to sit and within a few minutes, JW was asleep. Call it a constitutional, a digestive, or just a after dinner nap but don’t bother calling JW because he wasn’t awake and wasn’t going to be.
And apparently this must be a common enough thing, being able to sleep on command. My family has commented lately on the fact that I have developed a habit of falling asleep like that, especially when they decide to watch television in the evening. No matter the chair or the position—sometimes even sitting straight up—I can fall asleep under most any circumstance. All I need is be still with my eyes closed and I’m off.
Relaxing among the followers
Apparently, Jesus at one point or another must have seen some of this laxity among his followers and told this parable. Over the past few weeks, we have read about the two sons, the tenant farmers, and now the party guests. What’s the common thread? Each story has people in it who have become complacent, lazy, even violent about it.
The writer of Matthew places this parable here to continue illustrating Jesus’ point about with a bit of salvation history in parable form as a reminder. The early followers of Jesus found themselves in competition and conflict with fellow Jews who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah and refused his message. The story of the wedding party gives us a chance to look at this conflict. On one hand you have those who follow Jesus and on the other those who have rejected the invitation and, in the process, either maligned or in some cases persecuted Jesus followers. Notice the parable: the wedding feast is prepared, and the invitations sent. Jesus said in other places that he came first to the Jew and then to the Gentile, meaning the feast/gospel message was intended for the Jewish people first. Those invited—the Jewish leaders and their followers of Jesus day— refused it and went about their business. The servants being abused are those who would come after Jesus (remember this is written decades later and after the fall of Jerusalem) and the people who did come were the disciples that heard and responded. I think the city set on fire is a reference to the Jerusalem during the Jewish-Roman War around 70 CE.
Then there is the guy who comes to the feast but not in wedding attire. The text says, “‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’” The guy is then bound hand and feet and thrown in the farthest darkness. I don’t know about you, but it seems a little harsh to me that this guy is being punished for not wearing the right clothes to a party he had only been invited to a few hours, maybe minutes before. I think the guy without wedding clothes may be a way of signaling us that there are those among the followers who are not really there to follow in the Way of Jesus but are there for other reasons.
Lance Pape writes about this in a commentary and says,
Within the world of the story as told, the problem with this guy is not that he is not taking things seriously enough. No, his problem is a failure to party. The kingdom of heaven (verse 2) is a banquet, after all, and you’ve got to put on your party dress and get with the program. The kingdom music is playing, and it’s time to get up on the dance floor. Or, as the slightly more sober, but no less theologically astute Barth put the matter: “In the last resort, it all boils down to the fact that the invitation is to a feast, and that he who does not obey and come accordingly, and therefore festively, declines and spurns the invitation no less than those who are unwilling to obey and appear at all.”
I think you could see it that way or you could just see the entire parable, as I do, as a way of saying some people will hear the good news of Jesus’ Way and refuse it. Some will hear it and follow. Some will be ambivalent about it and kind of follow and kind of not. The gospel seems to be saying follow or don’t follow there is no maybe. We can choose the Kingdom way of life, the feast of good news if you will, or we can choose to go our own way into other ways that lead to pain, disappointment, and misery. We can accept our invitation to be part of the Kingdom fully and whole heartedly or we can turn it down, but we can’t go to the party half dressed or live it halfway.
And that becomes the issue for us: are we all in for the Kingdom party or not. Just showing up is only going halfway. We have to be all in with the Kingdom or we are really not in at all.