The Guest List
Wedding reception guest lists can be tricky. There are always those who can’t come and a few who don’t RSVP, but attend anyway. One expert suggests approximately two-thirds will respond and an additional ten percent of non-responders will come, but there is no perfect ratio.
How do you suppose a bride and groom’s family would feel if no one responded? In Matthew 22:1-14 we find out, at least from a first century perspective. Jesus told a parable about a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son. At the appointed time he sent some servants to his invited guests to tell them everything was ready, but they refused to come. The king graciously gave his guests another opportunity. He sent more servants to tell them the feast was “really, really ready”, since he had already butchered his oxen and fattened cattle. Still, his invitation was rejected. Some of his invitees went about their business and the rest seized his servants to mistreat and murder them. This last treacherous act put the enraged king over the edge and he sent his army to destroy the murderers and burn down their city.
But the king still wasn’t finished. After all, his steaks were getting cold and his son and his bride were probably very hurt and embarrassed. As a last resort, the king sent more servants into the streets and told them to invite everyone they saw, good and bad. Before long, the feast was hopping. What an eclectic group of guests it must have been with the very best and the very worst members of the community in attendance. Some, no doubt, had never been to a king’s feast and one guest in particular decided there was no need to dress up. Either he was capable of more, or merely refused to wear some special wedding clothes the king has provided for those less fortunate. We can only trust the king, having already shown considerable patience, had reason to be offended. He confronted the speechless guest and had him tossed out into the darkness where there was “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Talk about getting bounced!
As with all of Jesus’ parables, He had a listener or listeners in mind. In this case He was thinking of those who had rejected His Father’s messengers throughout the ages. In the Old Testament evil kings had persecuted and killed the prophets, and during Jesus’ earthly ministry the Pharisees had hatched a plan to murder Him. Why would people do such things? Perhaps it was because the Father’s plans were not their plans. God wanted to establish a spiritual kingdom where citizens pursued Him with all their hearts, minds, souls and strength. But leaders like the Pharisees were more concerned with institutional status quo where they had the power to make the rules and proclaim themselves righteous.
How sad! In the fullness of time the Father sent His Son to the world, and the very people who should have been excited to see Him rejected Him. The Father begged them to come to His party, but they stayed home. He had no choice but to consign them to darkness. It must have hurt Him to think of what might have been, but what else is a Father to do when the people you love want nothing to do with you?
Most of us can understand why the father in Jesus’ parable was unhappy with those who rejected His son. But what about the man who was cast into darkness for failing to wear the right clothes? He accepted the invitation, but while he was chowing down on his filet mignon, some big guys with gold rings and oversized biceps threw him to the ground, tied him up and tossed him out. Ok, so we don’t know what the bouncers looked like, but it wasn’t pretty. Why?
A lot of people believe the problem with the guest who was dismissed was his sin of presumption. He didn’t recognize or acknowledge that his invitation was undeserved, and the king interpreted his careless attitude as a sign of disrespect. In spiritual terms, he was equivalent to one who believes he has earned God’s favor with his own righteous acts. While it is true God is pleased by righteousness, the core message of the gospel is that no one can attain salvation on his own. It is an undeserved gift from a gracious Father. Just like the father in the parable God understands we don’t belong at His table, but He still expects us to be grateful.
I must be honest and tell you I have been slow to admit I am a part of this parable. I have focused mostly on those who refused to come to the party and forgotten about the one who came with the wrong attitude. I am pretty certain I am not like the former, and I have relegated the latter to one of those anomalies of scripture I may never understand.
Now I’m not so sure. When I think of the feast, what do I see? Well, for the most part, I view myself in party mode, with angels swooping, confetti spewing, saints singing and the Lord Jesus speaking words of comfort and joy. I still expect to find this spirit of celebration in heaven, but it’s time to make a confession. I have not thought much about the incredible sense of gratitude I must have when I stand before my Savior and consider where I would be without Him. Technically, I should not say “I made it!” It would be much more accurate to proclaim, “He has brought me here, praise be to Jesus!”
The more I think about it, I would expect nothing less of a bride who has been chosen by her groom to be his helper for the rest of his life. The same is true of the groom who can’t imagine why his beautiful bride would agree to be with him. My father used to tell me, “Son, you know we married up.” He was right. Why my wife said “yes” when I asked her to marry me is a mystery. Why I asked her is not. Married couples who love and respect one another have an abiding sense of gratitude for the decision their mate made to journey with them through life.
God didn’t have to create us, and when we sinned against Him and went our own way He wasn’t obligated to take us back. Every breathe we take is a gift from our Father, and His grace is nearly inconceivable and completely undeserved.
Yes, I will celebrate at the feast, but I hope I also have the good sense to be better than the guest who presumed he was good enough to be there. With tears in my eyes and my face on the ground I want to be able to say, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” This is the nature of the guest list: sinners saved by grace consumed by the thought of the blood-stained cross.