You probably have seen bracelets, shirts, etc. that have the sign “WWJD” written on them. This acronym usually means “What would Jesus do”. It is an old motto from the late 19th century reminding American Christians that an important part of the Christian life is the imitation of Christ (John 13:34-35). The sign “WWJD” has now become a merchandise logo.
Although “What would Jesus do” is a good question to reflect upon as we think about imitating Christ, it has some shortcomings.
There was another, less popular, meaning for the acronym “WWJD” around Christian circles. The acronym could also mean “Walking with Jesus daily.” I think that statement is a better guide to help us understand what it means to imitate Jesus.
How do we walk with Jesus? To walk with somebody means to walk in the same direction as they are going. To walk with Jesus means then to walk in the same direction as he is going. What direction is Jesus going?
Some of you may think that the “Parable of the Wedding banquet” is a strange choice to talk about walking with Jesus. However parables are a good way to know where Jesus is going, his mission. To know Jesus’ mission is to understand what it means to walk with him.
To understand the significance of this particular parable, we have to reflect on the ministry of Jesus. Jesus’ first public proclamation was the announcement that the kingdom of heaven (God) has come near (Matthew 4:17). His subsequent actions (teaching, healing, welcoming sinners) are an unpacking of his announcement that “the Kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Jesus saw himself as the agent of the kingdom. What does it mean that Jesus is the agent of the kingdom? It means that Jesus went about his ministry in such a way that shows people that he is the one bringing about the kingdom of God. Jesus did not just teach about the Kingdom of God, he did what he said God is doing as God establishes his reign. The invitation in this parable is a description of what God and Jesus are doing. In his ministry, Jesus was calling the sick and sinners to follow him as God is calling the sick and sinners to himself.
As Jesus gained popularity, the religious leaders in Israel were rejecting him. They were trying to undermine him- trying to stump him, actively telling people that he is not from God. However, people who are sinners and who are sick came to him, listening to him and following him. The response to Jesus is the background to the responses described in the Parable of the Wedding banquet.
Let us now look at the three groups that received the invitation from the king
Jesus was alluding to the religious leaders who knew about the prophecies concerning the kingdom of God, one aspect of which is the restoration of sinners to God (Isaiah 9:1-2). However, when Jesus came bringing the good news of God’s kingdom, which is illustrated by his bringing the sick and sinners to repentance and discipleship, they chose to reject him.
During the time of Jesus, people were invited to events without knowing when it was going to happen. That means that they have to be prepared for the event and be ready to drop everything to go to the event.
Why did those invited suddenly reject the invitation?
The equivalent today of those who were pre-invited are those who grew up in the church, who were given God’s promises in baptism, heard the invitation to faith in Christ, and participated in communion. There are those who are active in church but do not have a worshipful heart towards Jesus.
Examine your heart? Is your picture of Jesus complete? Who is Jesus to you? Is he a moral teacher who teaches people how to live a good life? Is he a community organizer who leads a movement to improve communities? Is he the Jesus whom we confess and sing about but don’t have any affection for? We reject Jesus by not believing that he is the agent of the kingdom, the one who is lord of heaven and earth, and also of our hearts and minds.
Or is he the Jesus whom we celebrate and lift up above everything else, who fills our hearts with joy, and our only comfort in life and in death? Is he the Jesus whom we love above everything?
Jesus was alluding to the sick and the sinners whom he encountered in his ministry. In Jesus’ ministry, the sick and sinners are invited to be his followers. Whereas the sick and sinners were treated as outcasts by the religious leaders of the day, Jesus calls them to follow him and thereby find peace with God.
The sick and the sinners of today are those who feel that they are far from God. This may be because they were treated as outcasts by the church. Or this may be because they have chosen to separate themselves for their own reasons.
For those who are outcasts, God invites you to come and celebrate Jesus with him. He invites you to put your faith in Jesus and experience a banquet of forgiveness and grace. Why should you? Because the God who made you and who gives you life is the one who is inviting you. The invitation comes from the one who is most worthy of our love and devotion.
You may say that you do not see yourself as a sinner so you do not need forgiveness. Sin is not only about the things we do, but how we think and feel.
The scriptures are clear that all are sinners (Rom 3:23). Followers of Christ are growing in recognizing themselves as sinners. They are growing in repentance, increasingly aware that they have so offended God by their actions and thoughts that they do not deserve any good from him. Therefore, the forgiveness found in Christ is their source of freedom and joy. They can face their sins because through faith in Christ, they are forgiven. I invite you to experience that forgiveness. Repent of your sins and believe in Jesus.
Some commentators interpret having a wedding garment as a representation of a person being covered with the righteousness of Christ. Others see the wedding garment as the good works which adorn the life of the believer. However we interpret the wedding garment, I believe that Jesus is alluding to the reality that some who follow him do not really belong to him.
Among the twelve apostles were Matthew and Judas Iscariot. They were both personally called by Jesus to be his closest disciples. They both healed the sick and drove out demons. They both stood by Jesus when he faced rejection from the religious leaders and also when his teachings became harder to grasp. From the outside, both men were devoted followers of Jesus.
Matthew and Judas Iscariot were also sinners. Both men probably struggled with greed. Matthew was a tax collector. Tax collecting is a lucrative job and provides opportunities to gain wealth, usually by deception. He probably took on that profession because it was lucrative. Judas Iscariot was said to have been keeping some of the money that the disciples collect for himself. Both men did leave Jesus when he was captured by his enemies. Matthew and Judas Iscariot were both sinners whom Jesus invited to walk with him in his ministry.
However, the destinies of these two men diverged. Judas Iscariot became a traitor who betrayed Jesus for money and as far as we know, he never turned back to Jesus. Matthew gave his all for Jesus. He was martyred for calling people to faith in Jesus. Some accounts say that he was burned at the stake. Matthew persevered in faith, believing in Jesus to the end. Judas did not persevere in faith, rejecting Jesus in the end. Scriptures are clear that those who persevere in faith are the ones who will experience God’s forgiveness and grace (Rev. 2:7).
What is the explanation for why the destinies of these two men diverged? The parable ends with the statement “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” Jesus is saying that even though many people are invited to experience God’s forgiveness and grace, only few are chosen to receive it.
Is it God then who determines who will persevere in faith? Yes, those who are God’s elect will persevere in faith. If we are to persevere, it will have to be by God’s power. If we are persevering now, it is because of God’s power. He will have to bring us back when we fall away. We are totally dependent on God for perseverance in faith.
This doctrine could be troubling. However, we need to remember that we are all sinners and unable to persevere through our own efforts. Left to ourselves, we could not continue to walk with Jesus. We will reject his ways when following his ways (e.g. loving our enemies, not seeking our glory) becomes tough.
God chooses sinners like us to persevere in faith. May that give us a sense of peace and comfort, knowing that God is able to preserve us in faith to the end.
How does this parable relate to walking with Jesus daily? I said earlier that Jesus is the agent of the kingdom. He is the agent of God’s invitation for sinners to experience God’s grace and forgiveness. The work of inviting sinners to become disciples and experience God’s grace and forgiveness is entrusted to the church as it is empowered by God’s Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:16-20). To walk with Jesus would mean to continue his mission to invite sinners into God’s kingdom.
All of us, because of our experiences and what we were taught, have distorted perceptions about many things. Sometimes those distortions involve God. Some may believe that God only wants to be with people whom we judge as “good”, however we define “good”. This may be because we tend to want to be with people who are “good” and we believe God is the same way.
Scriptures functions as a corrective lens to our distorted perceptions, including our distorted perceptions about God. God does not just invite the “good”. God invites people whom we judge as “bad”, however we define “bad”, into his presence.
If God invites sinners to his banquet, and everyone is a sinner, what difference will that make in our lives?
May our hearts as believers reflect the open heart of the king so that our churches may become places were people, whatever their background and whatever they have done, feel invited into the celebration of the son.