October 11, 2020 “Sometimes a King Is Just a King”

“Sometimes a King Is Just a King”

Philippians 4

Matthew 22:1-14

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven

suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” ~ Matthew 11:12

(Phil 4:8)  And now, brothers, as I close this letter, let me say this one more thing: Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about. 

I wanted to open this message with these final words of Paul to the Philippians to help keep my head above water. I mean, let’s face it, the Parable of the Wedding Feast is difficult at best. It begins like so many of the parables of Christ: “The Kingdom of heaven is like…” and in this case, “is like a king who prepared a wedding party for his son.” So far, so good. We remember that this same parable is also told in the gospel of Luke. (Lk 14:15-24) But for today, we are dealing with The Parable of the Wedding Feast as it was told by Matthew and for the life of me, I don’t know what to do with it. So when all else fails, so they say, tell a story. I do beg your forgiveness if I have told this one before, but it is too good to pass up when it comes to our understanding of this scripture:

It is the story of the pastor giving a children’s sermon, where every week the children expect him to make a new point about Jesus. No matter what the lesson is or the drawing or illustration, the answer is always the same – Jesus. This particular week he begins by holding up a stuffed squirrel and asking, “Boys and girls, do you know what this is?” Silence. The pastor asks again. Silence again. Finally, one little boy is bold enough to slowly raise his hand and say, “Gee, I know I’m supposed to say Jesus, but it sure looks like a squirrel to me.” The moral of the story is that sometimes a squirrel is just a squirrel.

My point is that as we read this passage we can’t help but be like the children in our story. When verse 2 begins, The kingdom of heaven is like a king we immediately hear this king as God. Paul Nuechterlein goes on to say, “But Jesus goes on and describes hideous behavior on the part of this king. Some folks don’t come when he throws a wedding banquet for his son, so he blows them all away. He sends soldiers who kill them all and destroy their city to boot…. Well, when the folks who are left in his kingdom hear what this king does to people who turn him down, is it any wonder that the king’s servants have success in filling his banquet hall the second time around? Knowing what he did to the last people invited, would you turn him down?”

“But that’s not all. The parable goes on with one more horror. The king comes in inspecting his guests and notices one who didn’t fear the king enough at this point to dress in his best clothes possible, in his wedding garment.”

“This crazy king goes off again and throws the man out into the darkness, bound hand and foot, vulnerable to any creature that comes upon him.” Then Nuechterlein concludes by saying, “The part about weeping and gnashing of teeth adds a good effect to the character of this king, don’t you think?”

Now, whether you’re inclined to agree with Nuechtelein or not, I’m hoping we can agree on this one thing: the king in this parable is just that and nothing more – a king. And like most kings of his time he ruled through violence and fear. He demanded loyalty, he demanded obedience, and he demanded the adoration of his people. And there was no end to the violence he would rain down to meet those demands. The kids in the Children’s sermon were expecting to see Jesus, but only saw a squirrel. Likewise, we come to this passage expecting to see God when we hear the word “king” but Jesus instead gives us something different. This is the only way I can take seriously all the terrible ways that this king behaved. Bottom line: sometimes a king is just a king.

“So you still haven’t answered our question;” you might say, “what does this have to do with what the kingdom of God is like?” We who strive to live by our faith – who struggle to be the Christ in this world – we get invited to the king’s wedding feast all the time. It might be the excitement of political campaigns. Or it might be the call of military aggression either at home or overseas. Any number of things can tug at us –“Look, you’re invited. Look, the meal is all prepared. Everything is ready; come to the party!” Some might choose to ignore the invitation. Some might even beat up the messenger, but make no mistake, we are required to show up. But the question remains: if Jesus is telling a parable about the way that our earthly authority behaves, then where do we see the kingdom of heaven? What’s that look like? It seems to me that it looks like what this king does do the man who stood silently before him at the end of the parable. “In short, it looks like what happened to Jesus when he stood silently in the face of his accusers.” (P Nuechterlein)

Like I said, this is a difficult passage. But I’d like to leave you with two things before I go. First, even though we can’t escape the violence and the greed and the just plain nastiness of this world, we don’t have to fall into the trap of those behaviors. For kingdom people, “Go along to get along” is not the path to righteousness. And second, there is a Christ figure in this story. It is, after all, a story of what happens when the earthly kingdom clashes with the heavenly kingdom. That’s going to happen and when it does, be mindful of our Lord who more than once stood silent in protest before his accusers. Be mindful that this is our king and there is no other. For as Paul writes in Phil 2: 5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming human. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Here is our king; accept no substitutes and don’t settle for second best. Sure, there is going to be times when the world will mock you or chastise you or even bring violence to your door. But ours is a kingdom of the heavens and not of this earth. Sometimes a squirrel is just a squirrel; sometimes a king is just a king, but our king reigns forever and ever in righteousness and glory. That is a feast – that is a party – that we don’t want to miss.

Amen & Shalom

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