Telling pointed parables about your opponents is a guaranteed way of offending them and of stirring up a hornets’ nest of retaliation. Yet Jesus did not shrink from causing offence where the truth was concerned. The chapter today is similar to Mark 12, but with a couple of differences in content. The ‘pointed parable’ in Mark is about vineyard tenants who refused to produce any fruit for the owner. In Matthew, it is one about a Wedding Banquet. In both, the Jewish religious authorities are the villains of the peace – the ones refusing to submit to the Lord and actually obey him.
Wedding invitations are a nightmare! Having hosted or co-hosted these for both my children, I am keenly aware of the diplomatic pitfalls of whom you invite, want to invite, want not to invite, would like to invite (but can’t) and have to invite! And then you receive their replies (or not!) and you have to go around the loop again! I have enormous sympathy for brides and grooms and their respective parents; you can end up less popular than politicians or bankers these days.
This wedding (Matthew 22) was different: despite great effort by the King to plan a fabulous, glamorous wedding feast for his son, the majority of his guests turned down the personal invitation and even refused the more desperate follow-up one. The excuses were individually quite reasonable, it appears, but the fact of the matter was that every invitee put themselves, their families and their business or social calendar ahead of the generous invitation. Many were selfish! They probably told themselves that their attendance at the feast was a benefit only to themselves – and that they were therefore justified in declining. They deliberately overlooked the fact that their presence would have honoured the King and his bridegroom son – and that by taking part they were giving as well as receiving. Many Christians take the same narrow view of their presence at church gatherings!
In the parable, some even resorted to violence towards the messengers. Thankfully that the weddings I helped host never did sink quite that low! But the serious point that Jesus was making was aimed at the Jews who were rejecting God’s purpose by rejecting his son, the Messiah. They had received the first invitations and had simply ignored them. So – like the king in the story – God issues a fresh set of invitations to a different group of people, the Gentiles. He is not bothered that they are less than ‘squeaky clean’ and just wants his feast to be full of happy guests.
The serious message to us today is about invitation and privilege: we – in the UK, at least – have had ample opportunity to serve the Lord faithfully, and to enjoy his close company. If the current generation of believers will not engage wholeheartedly with Him, then he will find a different group to invite. We have a daily choice of accepting or rejecting him; this is not so much a reference to salvation, but to closeness and fruitfulness.
And we must also remember that we are not only harming ourselves and our families by rejecting this invitation – we are harming others. “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but rather encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25). Christian life is more than ‘meetings’ per se, but it must involve individuals engaging with one another and churches gathering together for encouragement and mutual support. If we refuse the invitation, we harm others too! It is discouraging to all.
The hornets’ nest having been well and truly ‘stirred’, they took revenge and tried to trick him: First the Pharisees and Herodians attempted to snare him with a conundrum about paying taxes (unpatriotic) or not (rebellious). Jesus had a word of wisdom that was essentially ‘Yes’ and ‘Yes’. As we too inhabit two kingdoms: this world and heaven, we must learn to live faithfully to God in both, and to be good earthly citizens whenever possible.
More tricks: the Sadducees were a politico-religious group who accepted only the first five books of the Bible and did not believe in any kind of afterlife. As proof of this, they formulated all kinds of arguments from the Law’s regulations that would not have worked in a resurrection life. Jesus opposed their false doctrine by teaching from the Pentateuch that the Age to Come will be completely different in the way it operates, and that God says that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. If these patriarchs had completely ceased to exist, then he would have had to say ‘was’. The crowd was astonished by such heavenly logic!
The greatest commandment is actually in two parts: love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. One without the other is a contradiction. See the Book of 1 John. These things are exactly what the Spirit of God in us is working to produce.
Finally, Jesus decided to ask a tricky question of his own: if the Messiah (Jesus) was the son (descendant) of King David, what need did David have to call him ‘Lord’ (since it should have been the other way around in human terms)? There was no answer to that one!