When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

Pharisees and Sadducees and Wedding Guests

On one of these three days our Lord told the Pharisees and Sadducees that they were like the guests whom a king invited to a wedding.

Once, he said, there was a king whose son was to be married. The king had planned to celebrate this glad event by giving a splendid dinner, and had sent out many invitations. All the chief people of the land had been bidden to the wedding. So the day came, and the king sent forth his servants to say to them that were bidden, "Come; for all things are now ready." But they would not come. The servants came back, and there was no one with them.

This was so strange a thing,—for most persons will think twice before they decline an invitation to a royal wedding,—that the king said to himself, "There is some misunderstanding. The servants must have made a mistake. Perhaps they did not make it plain that this is the day." So he sent other servants, saying, "Tell them which are bidden, 'Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come unto the marriage.' " It must have been a great banquet; they had roasted several oxen, and fatlings besides. But again the servants came back without the guests, bringing only their excuses. One of the invited guests said, "I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it. I pray thee have me excused." And off he went down the right-hand road into the country to his farm. Another said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them; I pray thee have me excused." And off he went down the left-hand road into the country to his farm. Another said, "I am very busy to-day, buying and selling; I cannot leave the store." Another said, "I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." None of these excuses were good ones. The new acres and the new oxen would keep until the morrow; the day of the marriage of the prince was a holiday, and no time for shop-keeping; as for the man who was just married, he might have brought his wife along. It was plain that in truth the invited guests did not wish to sit at the king's table. That was what was the matter.

Indeed, a few of the servants did not come back from their errand, because some of the guests had not only declined the invitation which they brought, but had set the dogs upon them, and beaten them; some they had killed. The servants showed their torn coats and their bruised shoulders, and told the sad fate of their companions, and the king was very angry. He sent out soldiers to punish the murderers as they deserved.

Meanwhile, there was nobody to sit down to dinner with the king and queen, or to do honor to the prince and the new princess. So the king said to the servants, "The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go out now into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in all who will come,—the poor, the maimed, and the lame, and the blind." Then the servants went as they were told into the streets and lanes and invited to the king's dinner those who had never had a good meal in their lives. "The king," they cried, "holds a great feast to-night in his royal palace. Even now the table is spread, with an ox at each end and any number of fatlings in between; and you are invited, and you, and you," pointing now to one and now to another. "Come you all into the king's banquet-hall and sit at the feast which the king gives in honor of his son."

So there came all manner of people, poor folks in rags, and men on crutches, and blind men led by their little boys or dogs. But even then the tables were not filled. For so generous and universal was the invitation that a good many people did not believe that the king had sent it. "Who are we?" they said one to another, "that the king should send for us? What cares he for the like of us?" They thought it was all too good to be true. So yet there was room. And the king sent the servants out again, saying, "Go out into the highways and hedges, into the country, and along the roads, where strangers pass, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled." And the wedding at last was furnished with guests.

That is what our Lord said, and the Pharisees and Sadducees listened, knowing that he meant them. They were the court people, whom God the king had set in office and esteem in his kingdom. And God's servants, like John the Baptist, had gone bidding them to sit at the royal table and to enter into the joy of their Lord. John the Baptist had been killed, and the apostles had been turned away, as in old times the prophets had been stoned. So God would take them at their word, and would open the palace—his church—to all sorts of people, to Gentiles and Samaritans and publicans and sinners.

But there was another chapter in the story. This he spoke to such as were accepting the divine invitation. By and by, he said, after the tables were filled and the dinner was in progress, the king came in to see the guests. Now, one thing had been required of all who came: each was to put on a wedding garment. But the people who lived in the lanes had no such fine attire, neither had the guests who had been found in the shade of the hedges, and the strangers who had been brought in from the highways had no such apparel in their bags. So the king provided wedding garments for them all. "This," said the servants at the door, "you must put on,—this robe of white, or that of purple, and then you may enter." But one man strode in, paying no attention. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw this man sitting in his dusty coat. And the king called the man, and spoke to him in kind but reproving words. "Friend," he said, "how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment?" And the man was speechless. He had no excuse. He had thought that it did not matter. He had not taken the trouble to heed the king's one requirement. So the king told the servants to take him and turn him out; and out he went from the shining hall into the dark night.

Our Lord meant that God invites us all into the joy of his presence, into his favor here and into heaven hereafter. No matter who we are, though we be poor and blind and lame, he asks us all. But he wishes us to put on the wedding garment of a good life; he wishes us to clothe ourselves with modesty, and honesty, and truth, with the mantle of charity and prayer. He who fails to do so, though he be but one among a multitude, God will discover him and send him into outer darkness.

Again, on one of those days when he taught in the Temple, he told about another wedding.

One time, he said, there were ten virgins who were waiting. There they sat, watching for a procession. The ten were bridesmaids, and that evening, the bridegroom was to come to meet his bride, and they were all to go together to the wedding. And since it was dark, the ten had brought their lamps with them. The lamps were round bowls to hold oil, each with a wick to float in it; and each bowl had a sharp point at the bottom to stick into the end of a pole. Thus they were not unlike the torches which are used nowadays in torchlight parades. But the wedding people were late in coming,—as is frequently the case,—and the watching was long, and the hours went on to ten and then to eleven, in a country where all people were accustomed to go to bed early, and finally the bridesmaids fell asleep. The torches stood, ten in a row, against the wall, and the bridesmaids slumbered and slept.

And at midnight there was a cry made, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him." And one looked, and there, far down the long street, were lights and people. The procession was approaching. So the ten maidens, in great haste, began to prepare their lamps. But now a discovery was made: five of the lamps were empty. Five of the bridesmaids had brought their lamps, but had neglected to put any oil into them. Were they thinking of their beautiful dresses, so that they forgot? Or did they say, "Oh, well, we shall manage somehow: we shall get some oil somewhere?" They were like the men and women who never say their prayers, nor go to church, nor think much about pleasing God, saying to themselves, "It will come out all right somehow."

But all the time the procession was advancing, and they had no oil; at least, they had only enough to make a little sputtering flicker in the wick. And the foolish maidens said unto the wise, "Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out." They thought that there would be enough oil to go around. There are some who think that if they do but belong to the church, or are members of a religious family, it will not matter much about their own lives when the time comes, they will go into heaven with the others. But the foolish five were much mistaken. The wise five had just enough for themselves, and not a drop to spare. So the wise said, "You must go and buy some oil. Our lamps will go out, too, if we take any of our oil out, and there will be no lights to greet the bridegroom."

Then the foolish bridesmaids hurried away in great distress to find some oil. But it was now the middle of the night; the grocers had long ago shut up their shops. Here they ran and there they ran, knocking at this door and at that, trying to buy or borrow oil; but all in vain.

And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came. The wedding procession, with music and laughter, and lights and singing, passed, and the wise virgins took their places in it, with their lamps shining like great stars. So they went to the house of the wedding. And when they were all in, do you know what they did? they shut the door. They that were ready went in with the bridegroom to the marriage, and the door was shut.

And by and by, there was a sound outside as of hurrying feet, and of hard breathing after long running, and there were the foolish virgins. They had no oil in their lamps, but they stood in the dark and knocked. They knocked and knocked, but the music drowned the sound. Then they called; "Lord, Lord," they cried, "open to us." But the bridegroom answered and said, "Verily, I say unto you, I know you not. Here are my friends, beside me in the house. Who are you who come so late?"

"Watch, therefore," said the Master, "for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh." And when he comes, a lamp is of no use unless it has oil in it. And the Master looked at the Pharisees and Sadducees; for the lamp of a good profession will light no one into the approval of God without the oil of a good life.