- Bible Readings: Matthew 22:1-14
- Free Resource: Agape Feast (Kids PK-2nd)
- Unit Theme (March 6–April 7): The Ways of the Kingdom
We are reaching the halfway point of Lent this year, and over halfway through our Lenten theme of the Ways of the Kingdom. We have reflected on what makes one great in the kingdom of heaven and the importance of forgiveness in the kingdom (Ash Wednesday and Lent 1). Last week we looked at the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Lent 2) and what that tells us about the kingdom of heaven. This week, we skip over Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (to be revisited on Palm Sunday) to the parable of the Wedding Banquet.
Frankly speaking, a lot in the Bible can be hard to understand and/or be hard to accept. For me, this parable is one of them. The parable just doesn’t make sense to me. The king is throwing a huge wedding feast, like a weeklong party. The invited guests refuse to come. Who refuses a seven-day feast, with all that free, delicious food? What’s more, it’s the king who is doing the inviting. Turning down the “invitation” from the king who has all power over your life and livelihood seems unwise at best. Then, they literally kill the messengers, the representatives of the king. Treason, anyone?
The king responds to this disrespect/treason/revolt in a harsh way, sending out an order to kill and destroy. Then, not wanting the food to go to waste, the king sends his servants to gather anyone and everyone to fill the seats (I’m still not certain that this is an “invitation” as we see it with “No” being an acceptable response). After everyone is gathered, the king then sees fault in what one of these commoners is wearing. And, instead of just being kicked out—which still seems an unfair response—the man is bound hand and foot and thrown in the outer darkness.
A Kingdom Feast
The only way this story makes sense to me is that it is basically an allegory whose meaning is somewhat uncomfortably stuffed into a story. This is not original thinking on my part.
- The king represents God, the feast being the overflowing bounty of the kingdom.
- The original invitees are the religious authorities, to whom Jesus is speaking (Matthew 21:45), and their ancestors.
- The servants are God’s messengers, the prophets, mistreated for their unpopular message.
- The commoners are all of us, called to be a part of this kingdom. The “both good and bad” could relate to the tax collectors and sinners Jesus so enjoyed hanging out with. Or, it could refer to the mixed company in the church, wheat and weeds, which will be separated at the end.
- I am still not sure of (or perhaps don’t want to accept) the meaning of the man missing the wedding robe who is cast out.
Many Are Called
The last verse here is reminiscent of the saying at the end of last week’s parable: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). One thing that is not clear in the NRSV is that the words translated “invited” (v. 3, etc.) and “call” (v. 3) are the same Greek word, and that word is used in v. 14 here. “Many are invited…” relates more clearly to the parable. The king (God) invited the old guard and then everyone else. That’s definitely “many invited.” The interpretation of “few are chosen” will really depend on your theological leanings. My Calvinist upbringing points to predestination, though my current thinking questions that. It is difficult, however, to disagree with the idea that there are more people living outside of God’s kingdom than living within God’s will.
Teaching Difficult Passages
How do you present a biblical passage that you do not understand, or that you might be uncomfortable with? The exact details will be specific to the ages of the participants and the setting; however, I believe that the first step is to admit it. One of the worst things we can do as faith formation leaders is to pretend that we understand everything in the Bible. This creates an impossible, if imaginary, standard that participants think they need to (and can) reach. That is a goal too big for any of us and can reduce both hope and engagement. Admitting that there are things that you don’t understand gives others permission to admit that they don’t understand either. Admitting that there are parts that you feel uncomfortable with gives others permission to admit that they also feel uncomfortable. That gives you the opportunity to dig into the passage together.
The second step, especially appropriate with younger children, is to focus on what you do understand. There is the principle that “Scripture interprets Scripture,” meaning that the parts of the Bible we do understand can help us with parts that we don’t. The message of grace, God’s eternal and unconditional love for us is quite clear from Scripture. So, it makes a good starting point. Then, in this case, have a party!
We can celebrate and teach this parable within the context of our own feast. Everyone likes food, right? A party, feast, or similar activity (like our free resource “Agape Feast” from our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd) product) can be adapted to many settings and any singular or mixed-aged setting. We might be in the middle of Lent, but the Sundays don’t actually count! Sundays are when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus every week of the year. What better way to celebrate than with a feast where all are invited!
May God continue to bless you this Lenten season.
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
Lent is here! That means it’s time to order Spring Living the Word faith formation resources (covering Lent through Pentecost Sunday)! As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the materials and start using them!
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our complete Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!