Jesus’ story of the great feast (Matthew 22:1-14) is confusing, and I have not heard many pastors or bible study leaders attempt to dissect its meaning. In it, God boots someone from the banquet without any apparent reason. But is this act all God’s fault? Or is this just another story that proves to spiritual skeptics that the Christian God is a bully? A paraphrase of this passage might help.
Jesus was a man of many words and many stories. In one of them He said, “Heaven, where God is, is like a wedding banquet the Father prepared to honor His Son. When everything was ready, He sent His servants to give the invited guests the O.K. sign that they could finally come. But each of them declined.
“But because persistence often pays off, the King sent more servants: ‘The best of the best has been prepared for you, and it is ready to be eaten. All that is needed is your presence.’ But the King’s perseverance didn’t work as each of them turned their attention to their own busy-ness. Others didn’t just ignore the messengers, but killed them instead.
“The King was furious and mobilized his army to destroy their town. Then to His servants He said, ‘Everything is ready, but those I had invited weren’t worthy to receive this honor, so go to the street corners, the back allies and find people who are. Get the dumpster divers, the hookers hooked on Heroine and the crack-addicts. Get the prostitutes, pan-handlers and pot puffers and bring them in. Whomever you find is welcome, but each seat must be filled.’
“But after the hall was full and the King arrived to address them, He noticed that one of them wasn’t prepared to be there. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘why aren’t you ready to receive this honor.’ The man was speechless because a servant had just invited him a few minutes before and he was hungry. To these servants, the King demanded: ‘Get him out of my sight! Throw him as far from here as you can, then still further where he will be sorry for what he has done. For many are invited, but few are actually prepared for it.’”
The obvious question here is what did the man do? or what didn’t the man do? In the paraphrase it says that he wasn’t prepared. How do you get prepared for a banquet? Yes, there are external things that we may hope to do to be ready for surprises like this. But surprises are hard to prepare for. The NIV says that he wasn’t wearing the right “wedding clothes”. But I can’t imagine that if a street person was invited to a banquet, he would come wearing the right clothes. However, he must come with the right spirit, one of thankfulness and gratitude.
In a couple of weeks, my church (CapChurch) will be sending its 6th team to Bufukhula Uganda. Over the past months they have been preparing themselves physically by getting their shots, raising money and packing their bags. They have also been meeting regularly with each other and alone with their King to talk about getting their hearts ready for what they are about to do. They are ready!
But I would argue that though the man in the parable had a stomach that was more than ready to receive whatever came his way, something in his heart wasn’t. Years of eating scraps and begging had hardened his heart to the point that though the King knew that he needed what He had to offer, he was not able to receive what the King so desperately wanted to give.
One person who proved his preparedness was the American pastor A.W. Tozer. In his book “Pursuit of God” he prays:
‘Oh God, be exalted over my possessions. Nothing on earth will be dear to me if you are not glorified in my life. Be exalted over my friendships. I am determined that you will be above all, even if I must stand all alone in the middle of the earth. Be exalted above my comforts, though it may mean the loss of bodily comforts and the carrying of heavy loads. I will keep my vow made today before you. Be exalted over my reputation. Make me ambitious to please you, even if as a result I must be ignored and my name is forgotten as a dream. Instead, arise oh Lord into your proper place of honor, above my ambitions, above my likes and dislikes, above my family, my health and even my life itself. Let me sink so that you may rise above. Ride on me just as you rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, and let me hear the children cry to you; ‘Hosanna in the highest!’ Amen!’