Prepare your heart for your showing up. World Quaker day 2022

The Story of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22 – The Message)

22 1-3 Jesus responded by telling still more stories. “God’s kingdom,” he said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn’t come!

“He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’

5-7 “They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. The rest, with nothing better to do, beat up on the messengers and then killed them. The king was outraged and sent his soldiers to destroy those thugs and level their city.

8-10 “Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled.

11-13 “When the king entered and looked over the scene, he spotted a man who wasn’t properly dressed. He said to him, ‘Friend, how dare you come in here looking like that!’ The man was speechless. Then the king told his servants, ‘Get him out of here—fast. Tie him up and ship him to hell. And make sure he doesn’t get back in.’

14 “That’s what I mean when I say, ‘Many get invited; only a few make it.’”


I heard this story a few weeks ago.  It stuck with me at first, as one of those stories in the bible that didn’t make much sense – and in fact, as someone who is always thinking “everyone is welcome at Jesus’ table” I was taken aback that anyone would have been asked to leave simply for what they were wearing.  As I further held the story though, another reading spoke to me.

We hear at first of a king who invites the “typical” guests.  He is probably surprised at their lack of enthusiasm.  They simply go back to whatever they are doing, even when sent more messengers and urged to attend.  Some of these invited folks even harm the servants doing the inviting.  The opposite of hospitality in that time, and ours!

And yet, the table is still set.  The meal is prepared and ready to be eaten.  The king needs some guests.  His servants invite whomever wants to attend this wonderful wedding feast without concern for their social status.  Sounds pretty great, yes?  This is a gospel story, so of course I’d expect a tale about a big table, open to all, the feast and blessings of God.

But then it turns unexpectedly for me.  The king notices a guest not dressed properly.  A wedding of this time and scope – it would have been expected that all would dress in the nicest clothing they owned.  When asked about his lack of formal dress, the guest does not have a ready answer.  Perhaps he didn’t have nicer clothes. Perhaps he was in a rush.  The fact that we are told that he doesn’t have any sort of explanation seems important to me in this story.  He’s kicked out!  No dinner for you!  If this story is about being God’s kingdom – why the heck does that happen?

To me, this story is not really about clothing, or who’s in and out, or what kind of dinner kings serve at weddings.  I’m thinking it might teach a lesson about personal preparation, and how our hearts are opened and able to be seen.

There are two groups of folks I notice in this story. The first are those specially invited guests who just don’t even bother to attend.  We don’t hear much about why they stay home – maybe they have more important things to do?  It’s hard to believe a king’s wedding banquet would not appeal to them.  The invitation is clear.  The message is for them.  But, they seem to decide to stay home quite quickly and without argument.  Maybe they are working in the fields, or caring for children – but we hear none of their other reasons.  The story seems to just say they weren’t interested.  I wonder if they had a clear sense of what they were being invited to, how fabulous the food would be, the good wine, all of that.  We don’t hear much of them after this first invite and refusal.

This second group – who are they?  The king sounds desperate to get anyone to attend the feast.  He sends out servants to gather whomever they can find to attend.  I’m sure they were busy, regular folks.  Maybe they don’t get to attend many fancy parties.  Maybe they were wondering where they would find any dinner at all, never mind find a fancy one. And yet, suddenly a magical way forward appears.  It’s time to get some clean clothes and show up!  I can’t imagine they had proper wedding attire for a king’s feast.  Maybe they all chose their best clothing – clean, but still worn and threadbare.  Maybe their shoes were shined and cleaned, but had worn soles or a few little holes.  Maybe they had to use flowers from the backyard in their hair, instead of fancy jewels.  I can picture them scrubbing off weeks of dirt and grime from the fields, excited and wondering about what new things they will see at the king’s table!

The king surveys his wedding guests.  He notes one guy who sticks out as unprepared.  He’s described as “improperly dressed”.  Maybe he just stumbled in at the last moment.  Maybe he didn’t clean up and still smelled of the animals he cared for at home.  Maybe he didn’t try to wear his one worn pair of shoes. We don’t hear much about his actual appearance.  I think that’s on purpose.  In a room full of folks that are probably poor or not the most desirable of society, he still sticks out. He has no answer when confronted about his clothing. He doesn’t say “well I tried my best but I’m poor, or my family is too large, or I wanted to bring a gift but I couldn’t.”  He seems kinda speechless and surprised he’s been confronted.   The king tells him to leave, and not come back.  There’s no defense or excuse offered.  No asking for mercy, or ability to stay.

It’s a pretty quick little parable.  We are told it’s God’s table – and yet this guy clearly does not get to sit and eat where we’d expect all would be welcome.

I keep thinking this is a story about his own preparation, not his capacity to hold his own with the rich and the powerful of the kingdom.  Others were able to attend.  I’m sure they didn’t all own the proper clothing.  What really prompted the king to expel this one person so forcefully?

It seems to me that the attender’s attitude of preparation is an important piece of this.  He did not bother to choose the right clothing.  He didn’t have a clear reason for not trying.  Maybe he just went along with all the others, kinda trickled in, figured he’d stick around if the food was good, maybe leave if it wasn’t quite for him.

Today is a day we are told is “World Quaker Day”.  It’s asking us a question with its theme – “Being the Quakers the world needs”.  I’m not clear in our complicated world what is needed.  We’ve been shown God’s kingdom here on earth can be found and created, in love.  We are told int his parable that kingdom is like that big banquet table that a large number of folks didn’t want to sit at.  Some did though.  They dressed and prepared, and were filled with wonder and I imagine enjoyed a good meal.  They decided they would be open to whatever happens, and their physical state simply represented their inner willingness to show up.

That guy who was asked to leave?  It sounds to me like maybe he wasn’t clear to attend in his own heart.  Maybe he wasn’t ready to see, or to be a part of the festivities.  He wasn’t able to stay, and certainly couldn’t be of use to others at that table.

As often happens, I ask myself where I am in this story.  Am I really willing to be prepared, to make that effort scrubbing and cleaning and wearing my best clothing, showing up for that special feast?  I don’t even know what the place looks like, I’m not a fancy person of great means.  I suspect I would not be on that first special guest list.  But if I am invited – if I hear that still small voice saying “come to the banquet” it would be best if I was willing to be fully prepared.  That starts in my heart, in my perspective, not in any particular clothing.  I can’t be sure of what’s at the table, who I’m sitting next to, how it all works.  The only thing I can carry is myself, clothed in the best preparation I am able, and walking with a clear decision to move in a certain direction. The rest will happen around me, and I trust I will be able to participate based on the attitude of my heart, which will then be reflected in my clothing, my awareness, my interest in others and what is required of me.

That question we are asking today – “Being the Quakers the world needs” has little to do with the world at any particular moment.  It has to do with my being the Quaker in the world, and finding myself in the right place to be well used as needs arise.  That’s the place that my quiet listening and prayer alway leads me to.  In this parable the king reminds us his original guests didn’t attend because they were “not up to it”.  Where do I find myself when faced with an important invitation to be of help in the world?  I hope I will say to myself and others “Yes, I am up to it!”

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