The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
22 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to summon those who had been invited to the banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Look! The feast I have prepared for you is ready. My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.”’ 5 But they were indifferent and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his slaves, insolently mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was furious! He sent his soldiers, and they put those murderers to death and set their city on fire. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but the ones who had been invited were not worthy. 9 So go into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 And those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all they found, both bad and good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 But when the king came in to see the wedding guests, he saw a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ But he had nothing to say. 13 Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.
In all time and all places God rules by inviting people to the wedding of his son. God’s son is the true ruler and the people are his bride. God’s invitation is to rejoice together in the arrival of just rule. But for most people just rule is an alien concept, they just want to continue doing business and making money. Anyone who bothers them with messages about justice risks being abused or killed. Such people, like the Apartheid Governments of South Africa and their world-wide lackeys, are under the judgement of God, and may be destroyed. We should remember that it was the armed struggle which defeated Apartheid, and that the regime and its supporters came close to bloody death, if Mandela had not been magnanimous. Their cities might indeed have been “set on fire.”
OK but what follows? God re-sends his invitation this time to all and sundry. Many arrive for the wedding meal. But then a man is ejected because he’s not wearing a wedding suit! The implication is that many people will respond to anyone who seems to offer a good time; but only those who come to honour the bringer of justice will be welcomed. Matthew is thinking of Jesus as the true bridegroom of the people, who brings goodness and justice. Those who reject him are condemned, while those who accept him for trivial reasons are also rejected.
And Jesus the son-of-God /bringer of justice is happy to be represented by other sons-of-God /bringers of justice, like Nelson Mandela.
As today the world joins in a great celebration of Mandela, let’s be sure that only those who come dressed to honour the man of justice, have a right to be present. The leaders of racist organisations, like David Cameron, the liberal fence-sitters who deprecated his armed struggle, the pious thugs who besmirched his name by claiming it for sectarian murders, like Gerry Adams, the cautious media corporations who waited until he’d won to tell the truth about South Africa like the BBC, none of these have any right to speak about Mandela. It is the poor of South Africa, the oppressed of the world to whom he gave courage, the quiet supporters who engaged in boycotts, marches, and fund-raising, together with his companions in the struggle and former opponents who admitted their error, it is they who are wearing the right clothes.
Matthew knew that the wedding of the Messiah and his people could only happen because the Messiah had come to share the humiliation and hurt of the people. Only those who, in the words of the Book of the Revelation, had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, were properly clothed for the wedding banquet.