The kingdom of heaven is like…a king, part 2

Irish-Wedding-FeastThis time, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepares a feast and invites people via his slaves.  They brush off the invitation so the king sent different slaves, but the invitees either had better things to do and/or killed the king’s slaves even after being told that an enormous feast had been prepared for them.  The king was outraged and sent his troops to destroy the murderers and their city; afterwards, he sent his slaves to the streets to invite anyone to the wedding banquet he had prepared.  The slaves gathered all they could find – good and bad – and invited them to the great feast but when the king saw a man without a wedding robe on, he ordered him thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:1-14).   

This is a difficult passage.  The kingdom of heaven is compared to a seemingly capricious king who does a head fake towards inclusivity but only to his second-choice guests after he’s rejected by those who “weren’t worthy’ (Matthew 22:8).  Then, of all the people gathered, he throws out only one, but it’s only because he isn’t dressed correctly.  The outer darkness seems harsh enough; the king first had him bound hand and foot before he was tossed out.  Not a very endearing picture of the kingdom of heaven.

We’ve seen before that the kingdom of heaven is an eschatological, or end-times reality.  Even as such ordinary things like seeds and yeast can provide apt word pictures, the kingdom of heaven is ultimately about culmination and, if Jesus is the kingdom of heaven, the inbreaking of the new age upon this current (the “old”) one.  So this parable is about judgment.  The first people to be invited to the great wedding feast, which is, in a word, the reunification of people with God, Christ and His Bride, etc. were Israel.  Israel, though, was not merely indifferent to the message, but hostile to it, effectively killing the messenger (i.e., murdering the king’s slaves sent to invite them to a lavish and extravagant feast).  The man without the proper attire is a “bad fish,” or a “bad seed.”  But how did he get to be such?  Did he refuse the attire the king offered?  Did he just miss the wardrobe memo altogether?  Did he not think it was important to come properly dressed for a wedding?

I think the outcome of the parable is its point.  The man gets thrown out into the outer darkness for not being properly prepared for the wedding feast.  The wedding feast is the ultimate reuniting of heaven and earth, people and God, Christ and bride.  This is a kingdom that has no end and where death is no more, tears are wiped forever; we will see God face to face and be in loving communion with Him and others forever.  It seems that such a life takes some some preparation – following and listening to the call of Jesus who, like yeast mixed in with dough, or a tiny seed planted in a ground, or a merchant looking for valuables, is moving in the most insignificant ways, which are growing to be the most important and powerful of all.

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