Wednesday, March 10, 1999

The Wedding Feast and the Banquet


Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24

This story is told twice, and while Matthew and Luke tell it differently, there is a common theme: the important people of a community have been invited to a banquet, and when they refuse to come, others become the “invited” guests. In both cases, the original invitees are members of the privileged class. In Matthew it is a king who invites people to a wedding banquet for his son. In Luke a wealthy person sends out invitations. Excuses for not attending range from the general (Matthew) to the specific (Luke). In Matthew not only were the invitations rejected, but the messengers of the king are murdered and both “good” and “bad” citizens of the community receive invitations. In Luke the messengers invite the poor, crippled, blind, and the lame. In addition, people found traveling in the roads and lanes are compelled to attend. Luke also includes an account of a man coming to the king's banquet without a wedding garment.

The invitation to become citizens of Jesus’ kingdom is compared to inviting people to a banquet. The original invitees are the privileged elite. After they refuse the invitation, outcasts and commoners are invited. While invitations to God’s kingdom are freely given to all, the reason the rich and privileged are not better represented is because they are more likely to have rejected the invitation.

It is fitting that participation in the kingdom is likened to a feast. When we accept God’s invitation, a “feast” of good things follows. In John 10:10, Christ announced that he came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. In addition to the sure knowledge that we are accepted and loved unconditionally by God, we can enjoy life to the fullest—socially, emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually. Not only do we enjoy God's “banquet” of good things here and now, but a future Messianic banquet also awaits us. We can look forward to a heavenly banquet with our Lord in the company of those men and women who have also accepted God’s invitation.

It is highly unusual that the guests invited to the feasts described in the parables, find excuses not to attend. Presumably the initial invitation had been accepted. According to Bailey, 1 the prevailing custom in the Middle East was to offer an initial invitation. Preparation was made according to the number of acceptances received. One or two chickens was slaughtered if two to four guests were expected, a duck for five to eight, a kid for ten to fifteen, a sheep for fifteen to thirty-five, and a calf for thirty-five to seventy-five. Since the meat could not be refrigerated, it was important for those who accepted the invitation to come to avoid insulting the host and creating waste and unnecessary expense. (Obviously emergencies could arise that could occasionally keep a guest from keeping his appointment, but these would be rare.) After all was in readiness and the animal prepared, a second and final invitation was sent to the guests, "Come, for everything is ready now."

In Luke, when the king’s servant presents the first guest with an invitation, he replies, "I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets." Imagining the context allows us to sense the enormity of the insult! The one who invited him was the king. The banquet was in honor of his son, the prince.

Bailey Gillespie is a very busy professor at La Sierra University. He is a frequently invited special speaker for various important occasions. He is also a prolific author. Besides his regular teaching duties, he is involved with students and is actively involved in the daily affairs of his university. One day he was surprised by an invitation to have breakfast with the President of the United States. He didn't consult his calendar before accepting. "Of course, we accepted, at once!" 2

A person in the Middle East, says Bailey, does not purchase a piece of land without thoroughly examining every inch of it. The guest’s excuse was obviously an insult and a lie, and both the servant and the king knew it.

The response of the second person presented with the invitation was also a lie and equally insulting. "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets." No one would buy oxen without trying them out.

Teams of oxen were tied in a small field if they were being sold in the marketplace or at the farm of the seller. This location enabled the buyer or his servant to yoke the oxen and determine first-hand whether or not the “team” would pull together. No one bought a team of oxen without “trying” them first. The present day analogy would be to decline the President’s invitation because you had to “check out” two second-hand cars that you had bought before you had seen them, driven them, or had them appraised.

The third person excused himself because he has just gotten married. If he had accepted an earlier invitation and gotten married just before the banquet, this reply would have been an obvious insult because either the man had accepted the invitation knowing in advance he would not attend, or he considered the king’s banquet to be an event of little consequence. Additionally, in a culture in which women had very little status, to place a wife’s welfare above a presidential invitation would be like saying to the President, "I cannot attend your dinner, Mister President, because I have to take my hat to the cleaners or my dog to the vet for her shots.”

These excuses have the sin of materialism in common and highlight the enormity of the insult to the King. Additionally, Jesus reminds us to, "Seek first the kingdom of God" because our inclination is to seek first the material things of this world. We, like the rich young ruler who chose wealth over discipleship, are not immune from the magnetism of materialism. When we value our survival, our comforts, our clothes, our food, our cars, and our houses before salvation and membership in God’s kingdom, materialism becomes idolatry.

Gehazi was the servant of the prophet Elisha. He had seen Elisha part the water of the Jordan, seen Elisha make bad water wholesome, watched as Elisha miraculously provided oil for a poor widow, cured a Shunammite woman of her infertility, and raised the dead. Yet even this intimate association with the prophet did not immunize him from the allure of wealth.

When Elisha healed Naaman leprosy and then refused the Aramaean’s generous offer of gifts, Gehazi ran after Naaman and fabricated a story about a company of prophets that needed money and clothing. Naaman complied with Gehazi’s request and gave him more than he asked for. Gehazi thought to keep all of these things for himself, but when Elisha discovered what he had done, the price of Gehazi’s deception was expensive indeed.

Jim grew up in a small town, Muskegon, Michigan. His father was a machinist in a piston-ring plant. Though he was raised in a working class family, he always claimed that he grew up in poverty and lived in ramshackle surroundings. He described his childhood as deprived, Christmas presents were not memorable, and his clothes were hand-me downs. The Assembly of God church he attended was very strict, and the community as a whole did not accept Pentecostals. Dancing and movies were not allowed. The church was the center of his life--prayer meetings on Wednesday, junior choir, Sunday school, camp meeting, and Bible studies took up his time. Guilt and fear dominated his life. When he went to some place forbidden by his church, he would hear a voice asking, "Jim, what are you doing here?"

A traumatic experience was a turning point in his life. Jim and his girlfriend went for a ride during an altar call. In his hurry to return to the church unnoticed, he hit three-year-old Jimmy Summerfield in the parking lot. The child survived, but the event led Jim to consider ministry as his life’s work.

In 1959 he left Muskegon to enroll at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis. North Central was a training school for Assembly of God preachers. It had strict rules. First year students could have one date every two weeks, juniors one per week, and seniors two per week. Every date had to be okayed by the dean of women. He fell in with a very religious group called the Holy Joes that sang, prayed, and spoke in tongues. That year Jim didn't have time for studies, dates, or girls.

In his second year he met Tamara Faye La Valley who swept him off his feet. They met, he proposed a month later, and two months later they were married. Students were not allowed to marry while in school so they were expelled.

Tammy came from a poor family of eight children. They had no bathtub or shower and their toilet was an outhouse. She was brought up according to the strict standards of the Assembly of God church, which forbid jewelry, lipstick, powder, fingernail polish, rings, mixed swimming, dancing, movies, tobacco, liquor, gambling, and life insurance. Divorce was taboo. Because her mother was a divorced woman, she was stigmatized by the members of her church.

Since a college education and ordination were not requirements for ministers in the Assembly of God church, Jim began his preaching ministry in North Carolina. As he and Tammy traveled from church to church, they stayed with parishioners or other ministers. People took good care of them. He discovered that if he asked for help, people did more than supply hot meals. He and Tammy found themselves in possession of new clothes, diamond rings, a travel trailer, and an accordion.

According to his bodyguard, Don Hardister, the "material world began to look more useful than sinful." Hardister "noted how Bakker began to practice ‘blab it and grab it’, the ministry of prosperity." "He had a thing about coats in particular. He bought every kind of coat that you could imagine 'cause he didn't have any when he was young. He said he was getting part of his heaven right here on earth."

In time Jim and Tammy owned a fifty-foot houseboat, two Rolls Royces, two 560SEL Mercedes, a Mazda RX7 (for their daughter), fourteen mink coats, and closets full of clothes with the price tags attached. Jim bought $3000 suits and six shirts at a time, each a different color. Jim and Tammy employed a $45,000 a year housekeeper and a $160,000 secretary. Tammy's Saint Bernard inhabited an air-conditioned condo. In 1986 Jim and Tammy’s “needs were supplied” to the tune of $1,900,000. This was quite a change for a couple that had no wedding pictures because a camera broke and no honeymoon pictures because they couldn't afford a honeymoon. (The Bakkers turned down their invitation to the King’s banquet because they had a television empire to run and money to raise for Heritage, USA.)

Jim developed a talent for raising money. After working with Pat Robertson, he launched out on his own and set up his own TV network, PTL, and raised hundreds of millions of dollars. Jim had his face lifted, and Tammy had her breasts enlarged. A struggle for power ensued when members of his work force became jealous. Marriage problems developed. Tammy charged that she was neglected and accused Jim of being a "workaholic”. She began to flirt with a gospel singer who regularly appeared on their television program.

Divorce was unthinkable, so they both acted as though nothing was wrong. "In the thick of their separation the couple flew to Hawaii to conduct a marriage seminar. Then Jim dashed back to Clearwater, Florida, for his legendary ten minutes with Jessica Hahn." A friend accused Bakker of making homosexual advances. 3 Greed and unhappiness eventually destroyed the Bakkers’ financial empire, and Jim ended up in jail.

Because the wealthy guests refused to attend the banquet, the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame were invited to take their places. As Bailey says, "the poor are not invited to banquets, the maimed do not get married, the blind do not go out to examine fields, and the lame do not test oxen." 4 Some ordinary people had to be compelled because ordinarily Orientals would not have accepted an unexpected invitation. (Some scholars believe that this group represented the Gentiles who along with the poor of Israel became guests at God's banquet of salvation.) Jesus makes it clear that God's banquet hall will be filled with guests regardless of how the intellectuals, the nobility, and the wealthy respond to his invitation.

In Matthew, those invited not only refused the invitation but they mistreated and killed the messengers of the king. The king then sent troops to destroy the murderers and burn their city, a clear reference to the destruction of Jerusalem.

In these two parables, Jesus warns us that behavior motivated by materialism and arrogance is in fact a rejection of the invitation to become citizens of Jesus’ kingdom. These parables also make clear that the consequences of rejecting this invitation are catastrophic for both individuals and society.

1 Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes, p. 94.

2 V. Bailey Gillespsie, "Breakfast with the President," Pacific Union Recorder, September 21, l992, p. 12.

3 Joe E. Barnhart with Steven Winzenburg, Jim and Tammy: Charismatic Intrigue inside PTL (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1988). Material from the paragraphs above comes from this book.

4 Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes, p. 100.

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