It’s the day before the wedding of two great friends of mine. Two people who have been best friends for a long time and have been great friends to so many people. Both of their families are the same way, always bringing happiness to everyone around them. Friends and family have been traveling in for days for the event. And what an event it will be. A celebration of Biblical proportions. The families, out of town friends, and wedding party are all celebrating this afternoon. A party tent in the yard houses tables for 100 people. The sprawling lawn has yard games that just begin to kick-off festivities for a weekend long celebration. And I am home.
The in-laws we invited for the weekend are napping peacefully in the other room. The house is quiet, except for my dog who is growling as he chases a rabbit in his sleep. Some of my dearest and best friends are at the festivities for the afternoon and evening. Some have called and asked “Where are you? Why aren’t you here?”. “I wasn’t invited”, is the simple response. There’s no hard feelings or malice with the statement. It’s a simple fact. It’s a family affair, and many of my friends there are either part of the family or involved in the wedding. Yet knowing so many people I love to be with are together without me leaves me feeling a bit hollow. You tell yourself it’s okay, but you still have flashes of your friends laughing and enjoying the time together without you.
As I thought about it the story of the Wedding Feast came to mind. Jesus tells the story in Matthew 24. The story he tells revolves around those who are invited, those who come, those who chose not to come, and those who come unprepared. The story has all new meaning today, as I sit outside the gates listening to the music and celebration. It’s as if the bridegroom has come and I was unprepared, my lamp missing oil to go in and celebrate. The groom looks at me and says “I don’t know you”. And while Jesus’ story is about those who were unprepared, what about those who are prepared, longing for the invitation yet never receive it?
Christian’s envision a banquet table in heaven with all who are saved. And we talk about sitting there asking Noah questions about how he built the ark or Daniel questions about the lions den. But we rarely think about those who won’t be sitting next to us. What would it be like if you got to heaven and on either side of you was an empty seat with a name tag?
Today I look at that story from the other side, from one outside the wedding feast. I empathize with the 10 foolish virgins who are told “I don’t know who you are”. How bitter must that moment be? Jesus talks about those who are cast out and sit “Weeping and gnashing their teeth”. And people want to paint this medieval picture of hell as the cause. The devil stands outside with his pitchfork ready to torture. But what worse punishment is there than being forgotten? Couldn’t the weeping and gnashing be a result of the sorrow and loneliness felt from being cast out? The realization that all those whom you love are out of your reach? They are enjoying the celebration while you sit outside wishing you were inside doing the chicken dance.
The multiple parables Jesus uses of the wedding and banquet are as much about those who come as those who are left out. The question at the end isn’t “Do you want to come”, but rather “Do you want to be left out”. People take the invitation so lightly. Weddings are often troublesome. You have to get dressed up, buy a gift, sit through a service, and it kills your day. But if you were to miss it you regret it. I never gave one thought to all the people who would be here this weekend for the wedding. Where they would be and what they would be doing together. It was all about the couple getting married. Now I realize how much I could possibly miss by taking the invitation lightly. And the real wedding party hasn’t even begun.
The wedding is about the Bride and Groom, but the wedding feast is about all of those who have come to celebrate. It’s a moment to live life to the fullest. No one wants to be left out.