Chapter 22 opens not long after the Triumphal Entry with Jesus telling another parable. Likely one of Jesus’ more biting and divisive messages, this is a parable that often confuses modern readers because we miss some of the crucial context.
In the story, a king is throwing a wedding feast for his son. He sends his servants to invite the guests - presumably well-to-do people from the kingdom - but all of them refuse the offer. He sends another group of servants, but they are met with a variety of excuses from the invited guests. Furious at the insult, the King sends his army to burn the disrespectful city to the ground.
On the day of the feast, the king sends out his servants once more - this time is instructions to go out into the streets and invite anyone who wishes to attend - regardless of privilege or station. And so the people pour in - wealth and poor, sick and healthy, scoundrels and saints all eating together.
The true meaning of this parable would hardly have been lost on Jesus’ original audience. They too often compared the Kingdom of God to a great feast, modeled on King David’s words in Psalm 23: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies / You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” (v. 5) In their minds, the Kingdom of God would be an exclusive party where the faithful (the Jews) would be treated like royalty and the heathens (the Greeks, Romans, etc) would be made to serve them.
Jesus’ version scandalously flips their expectation on its head. The people of Jerusalem, Jesus says, were repeatedly invited by the King (God) through His servants (the prophets), but they refused to come. Rather than join the feast, their city was scheduled for destruction (an event that happens about 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection). Instead, the King will invite their enemies - those Gentile heathens who should have been kneeling at their feet - to attend the feast.
Jesus’ parable was more than shocking - it was downright treasonous. The Jews’ religion was deeply tied into their national identity - their nation was their religion, their religion was their form of patriotism. After all, they were the chosen people, living in the Promised Land. And yet Jesus tells them that their city was not crucial to God’s plan - Jerusalem had refused to join the Kingdom, and the Kingdom would go on without them.
As Americans, we are often tempted to think the same way. We like to imagine that our country is the one, essential nation and thus must be central to God’s plan for the universe. Surely America - the greatest country in the history of the world - must play a starring role in God’s ultimate design!
Jesus’ parable is a reminder that our nations - and our churches, denominations, political parties and other earthly allegiances - are temporary. They were born, they will decay and will one day cease to be. One day the flags, the trophies, bank accounts, the grand monuments will all be dust.
The only things of real permanence that you in your life are the Lord’s Kingdom and the souls of the people you meet each day. Christ urges you to devote your time and energy to those things that last - that will, in fact, outlive the stars in the heavens - and not to waste your life in the pursuit of things that will perish.
It was not a popular message then. It isn’t now either.