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Be My Guest
October 13, 2002
by Tony Grant
Let us talk about weddings today. The biggest challenge for today's bride comes down to a single word: money. According to Bride's Magazine, it takes close to $19,000 to turn wedding dreams into reality. The itemized bill might go something like this
Stationery (invitations, advertisement announcement, thank-you notes, etc.): $374
Bouquets and other flowers: $775
Photography, videography: $1,253
Wedding favors: $240
Clergy, church, chapel, synagogue fee: $248
Limo rental: $427
Attendants' gifts: $299
Wedding rings: $1,060
Engagement ring: $2,982
Rehearsal dinner: $762
Bride's wedding dress: $790
Bride's headpiece/veil: $150
Bridal attendants' apparel (average of five): $720
Mother of the bride's apparel: $198
Groom's formalwear (rented): $100
Formalwear for ushers (average of 5), best man (rented): $400
Reception (average of 186 guests): $7,246
[Charity Curley, "High rollin' romance: How much a wedding really costs," The Wedding Center, iVillage.com: The Women's Network. Retrieved April 17, 2002.]
The American public is fascinated with weddings, especially the wedding rites of the rich and famous. Witness the excitement last March when Liza Minnelli, 56, tied the knot with David Gest, 48. It was a bizarre ceremony in New York, that revived a career that had not sizzled since her performance in Arthur. More than 1,500 entertainment personalities were invited to be their guests.
We tuned in a few years ago to see who, if anyone, would want to marry a millionaire. We were curious about the sketchy details of Madonna's marriage to Guy Ritchie. We sent helicopters to buzz over Elizabeth Taylor's estate whenever she decided to remarry. Americans love weddings. A beautiful, romantic wedding is the dream of most American girls, and if you are the parents of a daughter or daughters, you know that the day of reckoning is coming.
Take Holly, for example. Holly wanted a wedding at the seaside resort of Spruce Point Inn on the coast of Maine. The wedding, she thought, would feature rock-bound seaside, white chop, August nights, cooling breeze, lobster boats steaming by, warm days, blue sky, bluer waters, navy blazers, linen pants, silk-draped bridesmaids' shoulders, beauty and elegance - all collectively creating an understated and highly cultured splendor.
So, her dad rented the entire resort for a three-day weekend of magical, memorable, matrimonial moments for a mere $45,000. In the newly renovated and century-old inn, there were rooms provided for her 200 guests. Her guests strolled along the breathtaking shore in the evenings seeing stunning sunsets behind Burnt Island Lighthouse. They watched sailing yachts, with colorful spinnakers flying, racing home before the breezes. In the bright days, guests lolled about in the seaside warm-water saltwater pool, or fished off their exclusive dock. At each meal, dressed casually smart, naturally, they dined on award-winning fare while sipping exceptional wines. There was, of course, the traditional outdoor lobster bake, the boat rides around the bay and the islands, tennis on the private courts, 18 holes at the country club for the groomsmen, all in a quaint, quiet Maine town.
This wedding was the stuff brides dream of when they are little girls. There went heavenly Holly, strolling to the stings of a quartet as she swept stylishly barefoot down the long, green lawn in her windblown gown toward the shimmering afternoon sea. Her guests were dazzled. Her handsome groom and good-looking groomsmen were nattily dressed in linen suits and silk ties. Her bridesmaids, beauties each and all, all tanned and toned, smiled sweetly. It was an affair to remember. Like something out of F. Scott Fitzgeralds novel The Great Gatsby.
Now it is not surprising, with weddings averaging $20,000 a pop, that you can get wedding insurance. R.V. Nuccio & Associates in Fawnskin, California, is an insurance broker that specializes in coverage for weddings and other private events such as bar mitzvahs and birthday parties. Robert Nuccio says. You will pay a minimum premium of $195, with a $250 deductible. The coverage is for what is called "acts of God." There is one important exclusion. If the bride or groom change their minds, that is not covered.
Wedding policies serve as protection in case bad weather prevents the majority of guests or someone essential to the wedding ceremony from arriving. The policies can also be invaluable should something happen to the wedding or reception facility. "We paid off when hurricane Floyd hit [North Carolina] because the facility they were going to use was no longer in existence," Nuccio says. "I mean the reception hall was gone. We got three or four claims from that hurricane." [Daniel Jimenez, "The world's wackiest insurance policies," Bankrate.com, April 15, 2002.]
The most expensive wedding in Britain's history cost nearly $8 million. Multimillionaire Peter Shalson, 44, spent $2 million just to secure the musical services of Sir Elton John, who serenaded his bride Pauline with four songs. Shalson also had the wedding site transformed into a tropical paradise featuring a pool, fake palm trees and live parrots. Three hundred invited guests sipped vintage Krug champagne and enjoyed the finest caviar. Kool and the Gang and half the cast of West End hit The Lion King also provided entertainment. Craftsmen devoted two weeks to populate the Roundhouse with trees sculpted from polystyrene and painted individually. Live parrots, brought in with their own professional keepers flitted from branch to branch as the guests ate and drank. ["Tycoon splurges $8 million on exotic wedding," SIFY News, Headlines.sify.com/222news5.html. Retrieved April 15, 2002.]
What If No one Came?
But here is the question for today: What if after making all these arrangements for a stupendous wedding, no one shown up? That is what happened in the parable.
Jesus' parable about a wedding banquet, Matthew 22:1-14, is one of three (or four) allegorical parables in this section of Matthew's gospel (21:28-22:14) that all deal, in one way or another, with the rejection of the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus' time and their supplanting by the members of the new community of faith centered on the kingdom of God. The parables--about two sons (21:28-32), about wicked tenants (21:33-46), and about wedding guests (22:1-14)--revolve around those in privileged positions who forfeit their privileges because of their carelessness.
God has not only provided food, but a royal feast, for us. There is enough and to spare, of everything that can add to our present comfort and everlasting happiness. The guests first invited were the Jews. But when they rejected the prophets of the Old Testament, and John the Baptist and even Christ himself, then apostles and missionaries were sent out to the whole world to persuade them to accept God's offer.
So one point would be that the reason why sinners come not to Christ and salvation, is, not because they cannot, but because they will not. They were careless. They are not hostile to religion, they are just indifferent. they have so many other things they are interested in. they are not interested in Christ. The lesson is that whatever we have of the world in our hands, we must keep it out of our hearts--lest it come between us and Christ.
In the parable, the mistreatment and murder of the king's slaves represents the martyrdom of Israel's prophets and the earliest Christian apostles (v. 6). Many scholars say that the graphic punishment depicted (v. 7) may be a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman general Titus in the year 70--which occurred some dozen or more years before the gospel of Matthew was committed to writing.
Next, the king sends his servants into the streets to invite everyone in. This represents the offer of Christ to the Gentiles. It was an expected thing for God to do. It was as much of a surprise as if someone today walked out of a wedding reception and grabbed the arm of the first person they saw and said come on in here, I want you to take part in the festivities. God's point is that he has people everywhere and he is going to gather them in. The design of the gospel is to gather souls to the kingdom.
Matthew consistently and uniquely uses the phrase "the kingdom of heaven," where the other gospels frequently employ "the kingdom of God." Mark, Luke, and John do not use the expression "the kingdom of heaven" at all. Matthew also uses other "kingdom"-expressions, such as simply "the kingdom," when the meaning is clear (e.g., 4:23; 9:35; 13:19), "his kingdom" (referring to God's kingdom, 6:33, or the kingdom of the Son of Man, 13:41; 16:28), and "kingdom of the Father" (6:10; 13:43; 26:29).
In only four instances (12:28; 19:24; 21:31; 21:43) does Matthew use the phrase "the kingdom of God," and this distinction has been carefully analyzed by scholars for generations. It seems that, in general, the distinction Matthew makes between the "kingdom of heaven" and the "kingdom of God" is that the kingdom of heaven refers to the church, whereas "kingdom of God" refers to heaven.
Both of these kingdoms--heaven and the church--have some things in common. Both are concerned with ultimate questions of existence, meaning, and purpose. Both are concerned with the nature, identity and purpose of Jesus Christ, and there is some overlap in membership. Some in the church, that is to use Matthew's terminology, some in the kingdom of heaven, are also members of the Kingdom of God, but not all, not nearly all. The notation (v. 10) that those brought into the banquet from the streets included "both good and bad" signals Matthew's understanding of the mixed character of the church. It is this mixture of good and bad in the kingdom of heaven, the church, that makes necessary a final judgment and final separation into the elect and the damned.
Now in a way this is a confusing parable. First God is inviting everyone, then he abruptly tells us that not everyone is going to be saved. Let us think about this a little bit more in depth.
A king gives a wedding banquet for his son. Since he is a king, naturally it is a great affair. Cooks cook for days. Jars and jars of wine are opened to breathe. The palace is cleaned, scrubbed and decorated. And not one guest makes even an appearance. "Be my guest," the king pleaded. No one showed. The food is spoiling. The wine cannot be resealed. The king is no longer in a good mood. He wipes those people out.
Then he sends his slaves into the streets to gather a bunch of ordinary folks, plain Janes and regular Joes, and so the wedding hall is filled. The beggars, the merchants, the widows, the orphans, the abused, the abusers, the sickly, the strong, the good and the bad--all come and all have a merry time of it.
It is like heaven in there. Treats and sweets, fruit and meats, golden goblets and marble floors. There's fine, fine food aplenty, with brilliant and overflowing wine to wash it down. There is a dance band, a stunning view out the palace windows, and a cool evening breeze. It is like heaven! What a joyous, grand wedding for the prince! Even the king is pleased.
Except, suddenly, the king sees this one disrespectful dunce who came without his proper wedding robe. The king approaches him, and still in a merry mood, calls him "friend." "Friend, how did you get in here without proper clothes?" he asks.
If only the man had replied. If only he had apologized, asked forgiveness, then maybe he might have stayed. Instead he was speechless. He had nothing to say. So he was bound, hand and foot, and bounced into the alley.
This poor bloke is like someone showing up at that Spruce Point wedding banquet dressed in faded, torn and stinky jeans, covered with fish bait, just off the boat, wearing an old AC/DC tee shirt one size too small, a backward baseball cap jammed upon his head. It just is not done. That is more than ignorance; that is rudeness to the bride and groom; impolite to the father and mother, and loutish behavior in front of the other invited guests. So out he goes.
There are three basic lessons to be learned from this parable: First, all people have been invited to the God's kingdom. God, the true king of heaven, invites us--the good and the bad and the in-between. We are all called, all invited and all urged to ready ourselves for the heavenly banquet. God intends no one to be excluded on the final Day of Reckoning, at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, when Jesus comes again. We are all invited, by the grace of God, to experience the blessings of salvation now, and to share in God's eternal glory later.
Second, there is a dress code at this banquet, and we better not forget it. The ticket is free, but we better know what to wear. This means donning the garments of salvation and the righteousness of Christ, because if we expect to attend this affair with the rags of self-importance, self-righteousness, self-conceit, we will get bounced out of the event on our cans. God's invitation, as extravagant and as open as it is, carries responsibility. No matter what Woody Allen says, showing up is not enough. The Prodigal Son was welcome when he returned home and his dad threw a party for him, but he was not allowed, nor did he expect, to bring his pigs with him.
Thirdly, and finally, the church is not a club with closed membership. Too often, we take our model of what a church is from the culture around us. We think of the church as we would the YMCA. We join, pay our dues, and in return we expect a fresh towel, clean bathrooms, and scented soaps to be at our disposal. Such a self-centered view leads to a closed church, not at all the kingdom model Jesus talks about. The kingdom model is outward, inclusive, welcoming, beckoning, inviting and open. It is also about service, not about being served.
In the movie, Meet the Parents, the future bridegroom has his difficult moments trying to gain the trust of his bride-to-be's parents. He loses the cat. He burns down the gazebo, among other things . Someday, we, too, will Meet the Parent. We are not saying that God is anything like Robert de Niro, who played the father in the movie, but just in case, it might be a good idea to brush up on our spiritual skills, learn to serve and check out our spiritual wardrobe as we make ready for the big event. God is calling us to be his guest. We had better show up and show up in the right way.
Now you might say, "I do not want to be thrown out of God's wedding banquet--what should I do? Not to worry. Trust in God, have faith in Christ, and God will take care of it. Even when you feel, like the groom in Meet the Parent, that you can do nothing right, just keep on in the faith.
Picture a child, paintbrush in hand, gleaming with excitement. Enveloping her hand is the gentle hand of the world's greatest artist. "And what shall we put in this corner?" asks the man, as his skill and the girl's imagination merge into one. See the artist's smile and the child's delight as together they create stunning beauty. Under God's guiding hand, your possibilities are mind-boggling.
No matter how you feel, you are the focus of God's attention; doted on doted on by a loving father who wants to shower you with love. When you go from the church to God's own heaven, God has at least an eight million dollar reception planned for you. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 10/25/02