The Kingdom of Heaven is like
We're ark builders, we. What we're doing here is as foolish as building a big boat miles from water with no rain in sight. While the gods of this world speak of visible financial meltdowns and economic collapse, we're speaking of invisible, invincible things. While there is panic in time, we're speaking of eternity. While the kingdom of mammon wrings its hands telling us it's going to be like hell if it collapses, we gather to hear from our Lord what the kingdom of heaven is like.
Jesus begins by saying the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet for a king's Son. Is that what most people think the kingdom of heaven is like? Hardly. They picture a group of dower faced men and women dressed in drab colors having to do this and not being allowed to do that. They don't picture a time of joy, a time of feasting and celebrating. God's kingdom is one of laws, of "have tos" and "musts." God is the ultimate party pooper. Jesus says different. He's the ultimate party giver.
"Give" is the operative word here. The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet that God gives for His Son. You don't go to a wedding reception to serve, do you, but to be served? You go hungry to be filled. You don't go because you're good enough but because you're invited. Sure you bring a gift, but what guests bring doesn't compensate for the host's expense.
Let's drop the figure for a moment. The Father is the King; Jesus is the Son. Who's the Bride? This is where the parable breaks down. We're not only the guests, we're the Bride because the Church is the Bride. You go to a wedding celebration to celebrate the Bride and Groom. You toast them. You praise them. You share their joy. At long last, two people have found each other.
Of course, in the eternal reality there's more to be celebrated than that. What kept the Groom from His Bride was not time or distance, but sin, death and the Devil. And using Old Testament figures, she wasn't some pristine, virgin saving herself for her groom. She was a loose woman. The prophets say she was worse than a prostitute because at least a prostitute gets paid for her sins while the would-be Bride of Christ got nothing.
The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet in one of those love stories where the groom has every reason to reject his bride yet goes and gets here anyway. Jesus came to us where God's Law had chained us to certain and deserved death, and He broke those chains by keeping all10 of the Commandments. But the Devil still held us in degrading prostitution because we had racked up a whole lifetime of sins that had to be paid for. The Groom paid that debt. You know you're sins. You know how shameful, degrading, debased they really are. Imagine what sorrow, what suffering, what sighing and dying they rightly deserve. Now see the Groom bringing you back as His Bride having dressed you in a pure, white spotless gown.
That's what God's kingdom is like: A wedding banquet for a king's son where you're invited to celebrate, feast, and enjoy forgiveness, life, and salvation. But the parable darkens. The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet that is inexplicably spurned by those invited. Three groups do the spurning. Are you among them?
The first that spurn the invitation are the materialist. The insert translates that they "paid no attention" to the invitation to God's party. No, actually they "made light of" it. What good is going to church? I need physical sleep more than spiritual rest. I don't need my sins forgiven; I know they are. I need to have my business grown. What earthly good is a group dedicated to heavenly things when earthly things are shaking so? So off they go. The insert says one goes to his field and another to his business. That doesn't say enough. The Greek says one is engaged in having possessions and one is engaged in pursuing them. One is full of the things of this earth and one is busy trying to get full. Elsewhere Jesus says this is how it will be when He returns. Men will be immersing themselves in the business of this world ignoring the world without end.
Materialists see nothing useful in going to the wedding feast of the King's Son. They want to be taught how to manage their money, how to invest, how to live well. Now if the church offers that sort of thing in the name of Bible class or in the name of Christian living, they're there. The church that does that, however, is inviting people to something other than the marriage feast of the King's Son, and they serve something other than forgiveness , life, and salvation. They serve the same thing the world does. The church has become the world; the ark has become part of the ocean. Now what?
The parable shows us not only polite refusals of grace but haters of grace. Not everyone who spurns the marriage feast of the King's Son is nice about it. Preachers of the gospel (not preachers of health, wealth, and worldly workshops) actually face haters of grace mad enough to seize them, insult them, or even kill them. Does this surprise you? It shouldn't.
What happened to most of the prophets and all the apostles, except one, who went out bearing the gracious invitation to God's banquet? They died for it. Go home and read 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians 4. Then think of how mad a proud child gets when you tell him he can't do something himself. Now multiply that by an adult and by hell itself. The haters of grace say, "How dare you tell me I need something more than my best efforts to go to heaven!" "How dare you tell me all my good works are nothing but filthy rags before God?" "Don't you tell me I need saving!" Contrary to the Pat Green song: We're not all searching for redemption.
The materialists who spurn the grace of the wedding banquet are easy to spot. They have a 101 other things that need doing. The haters are easy to spot because of how they treat those who invite them to the banquet. The last group, the hypocrites, are only spotted by God. And God is giving you a chance to be spotted today. Don't be offended. I don't know that any of you are hypocrites. I can't see into your heart. I can only go by what I see. You're here with all the saints not making lame excuses for why you can't be here. You're gathered around the same Word and Sacraments. You've been baptized. Christ has been put on you. You're clothed in the same holiness of Jesus that the rest are. Hypocrites don't look any different than the guests to other guests of heaven, but they look different to the Host.
God easily spots people who are only going through the motions; people who think they are in here because they're good enough or better than others. Some try to give the guy in the text excuses. He didn't have the money for the proper clothes; his error is very trivial; even fancy restaurants offer you a coat. But notice: "The man was speechless." He offers no excuses as other damned people elsewhere do. They say things like, "You ate and drank with us Jesus. You taught in our streets. We did ministry in your name." The hypocrite says nothing because what excuse is there for pretending to be something you're not? He is invited to wedding feast where all things are ready, prepared, done, and pretends to receive them, to relish them, to use them, but he doesn't. Such a one can get by you and me, but not God.
The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet for a king's son that is inexplicably spurned by those invited, but it still goes on. Do you get that? The rejection by the material world of our foolish little ark here; the shaking in the material world going on right outside these doors doesn't stop or even slow down the feasting among God's people. Though everyday this week we were told to be worried, though our leaders looked haggard and care worn, Jesus says, "You can't make the friends of the Bridegroom, much less the Bride, fast, mourn, or despair while the Bridegroom is with them."
And with us He is. Within the wedding feast we remind each other: "Our help is in the name of the Lord. Who made heaven and earth." "The Lord is a great God and a great King above all gods." "There is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared." We tell each other: Man has never lived by bread alone, much less by world financial markets, but always by every Word that proceeds from God's mouth: Words like I baptize you; I forgive you; Take eat and drink.
Those who distain the wedding party don't stop it, and neither to the haters of grace. Jesus promised us that since the world hated Him it would hate us. Peter says don't be alarmed or surprised when you suffer in the world. Because people react hatefully to the teaching that a person is saved not by being good or trying hard but only for Jesus' sake, doesn't mean it's wrong, not to be celebrated, or worse yet, needs to be modified.
Neither the disdainers, the haters nor even the presence of hypocrites spoil Jesus' party. Just because a person can be in our wedding banquet, celebrating, and feasting alongside of us without really believing or using the forgiveness of Jesus doesn't mean the party stops. Did you see that in the text? The King throws the hypocrite out of His party without the celebration being paused or marred. The Groom kept on dancing with His Bride while the people applauded.
The wedding banquet of the King's Son is still going on, and the invites are still going out. "Come unto Me all you who are laden with sins, with debt, with fear and I will give you rest, peace, forgiveness." Don't be like the elder son in the Prodigal Son who stayed outside the party. Come on in, be the Bride that Jesus has made you, and celebrate. Celebrate to the tunes of Redemption, Salvation, and Victory in Jesus' name because the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet, and at a wedding banquet you celebrate. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XXI (20081005); Matthew 22: 1-14