Atheist Parables: The Wedding Banquet

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells a story about a bunch of ungrateful people who refuse to come at the summons of their king to celebrate a wedding banquet. Eventually the rich, the noble, and the ‘worthy’ prove themselves to be unworthy, and instead the poor and the unworthy are given the fruits of the kingdom. Why would those worthy people so callously refuse an invitation from their king?

 It was not a very important town, and its ruler was not a very important lord. They were not fabulously rich, although they had plenty to get by on. They knew there was a king ruling over the kingdom, or at least they assumed there was. Most of them had never seen the king; in fact most of them didn’t know his name or in what city he lived. He ignored the town and its nobles, and they got along fine without him.

So they were surprised one day to receive messengers from the king. The messengers said that the king wanted to speak with the lord and his court. His Majesty was holding a state banquet, and invited them to come, along with any of the more wealthy members of the town.

The recipients of this strange news were a little unsure of what to expect, but nevertheless they were thrilled to be called away to meet such an important person. They put on their finest clothes, gathered up riches for tribute to the king, and journeyed with the messengers off to the city of the king, which they were told was four days away.

On the second night, however, brigands descended on the caravan as they were lying down to sleep.

The messengers sprang up, suddenly armed, and slit the lord’s throat. They killed any who resisted, and beat quite a few others for good measure. They stripped the travelers of their fine clothes and gathered up all the riches; then they rode off on the villagers’ horses, carrying everything of value.

The people of the town were shocked. They had no idea that ruffians like this would pretend to come from the king. In spite of all they had lost, in lives as well as treasure, they pulled together and struggled through the hard times. The nobles chose a new lord from among themselves, and the town kept going.

Messengers from the King came again to this tiny, unimportant town, again carrying incredible stories of banquets and rewards. The people of course were skeptical. Many still wanted to believe the messengers; after all, their message was so great, so full of hope! The messengers professed horror at what had happened to the town, and promised that the king would be swift to help them recover from this terrible tragedy. The nobles still doubted, but these messengers seemed much better dressed than the last ones, and they spoke more like people who had lived their lives in the court of a king. And they were so nice, and so sympathetic!

Finally, the nobles set out again to see the king. This time, they left their riches at home, and travelled with some of the town’s finest fighters, swords always at the ready. They travelled for six days to a city by the sea, where they saw a fine fortress that looked regal enough to be a royal castle. But when the messengers sent them inside, the soldiers of the fort eyed them with suspicion, and eventually threw them out. The king was nowhere to be seen, and neither were the messengers. The nobles and their bodyguards rushed home, to find that while they had been away, their town was attacked, and most of their crops had been carried off. The robbers took livestock, food, any supplies they could easily carry, and without their lord and their best fighters, the town was unable to defend itself.

After this, the nobles were very angry. Again they tried to rebuild the town, but messengers from the king kept coming. The nobles wanted to attack them outright, but time and time again they were convinced to be more gentle in their response. Some they turned away with invented stories—saying they had to attend to their new field, or to their new wife—but some were more persistent and could only be sent away through excessive persuasion.

Then messengers came, claiming that the king’s son wanted to meet the lord’s daughter and discuss marriage. This of course seemed much too good to be true. Even without such an outlandish story, the nobles would not have trusted them, so they threw the messengers in the dungeons. But these messengers had letters bearing the official seal of the King. The nobles examined the documents, but they weren’t sure what to think.   No one was sure what exactly the seal of the king looked like; they had only imperfect copies and memories to go by. It certainly seemed official and expensive enough. What if these messengers finally were the real thing, and they had been treated so badly? The nobles let them out of prison, apologizing, but explaining them the problems the town had had. They put the messengers under house arrest, trying to make them as comfortable as possible, while the elders of the town met to try to determine once and for all if they were true or not.

That night, bandits came and attacked the town. While everyone was rushing to fight the bandits outside the wall, the messengers killed or disabled their guards, and set the town on fire. In the chaos, the messengers were able to capture many of the young women of the town, including the lord’s daughter. They escaped with their allies out into the hills, avoiding the soldiers and search parties sent after them, and sold the women as slaves to merchants from a far-off land.

After this, messengers still came. Most were dispatched quite swiftly. Those who persisted were severely punished, some even executed. No one in town thought anything of it when one more group of messengers made their way into town in spite of all the warnings. The messengers were well-dressed and well-educated, just like all the other messengers had been. They bore letters of certification sealed with the king’s royal ring, just like many of the other messengers had. They seemed incredulous that the people of the town would be so distrustful, like all the others had, and hinted that the king’s army would have some words with them if they were not treated better, just like all the others.

Against his better judgment, the lord went to interrogate these messengers in person. He demanded to know why they were here, why they were claiming to bring news from the king. He stood in silent rage as they told him the same things the other messengers had, over and over. Finally he asked them what great message the king had sent them to deliver.

“We are here to invite you to the royal wedding of the king’s son,” they said.

“What,” said the lord in a quiet voice. “The prince is getting married again, is he? And is he going to marry my daughter again?”

“What are you talking about?” the messengers asked.

“No, let me guess—my 17-year-old daughter has become too old and used-up for your customers, so now you are going to take my 11-year-old??”

“What? No, please!”

“Maybe you hope to kill me and take my wife for another trophy for your slave drivers! How dare you even speak to me! How dare you set foot in my town again!”

“We know nothing of this!” exclaimed one of the messengers. “If you will let us carry your tale to the king…”

“GUARDS!!!” bellowed the lord. In a rage, with tears streaming down his, he had this latest batch of messengers dragged to the city square, where he led the crowd in stoning them to death.

The lord and the rest of the town thought nothing more of these messengers, until nearly a month later when the king’s army showed up outside the gate. They quickly moved into the town, capturing all the important men, putting most of the nobles to the sword.

After the lord’s manor had been captured, and the lord himself subdued by the soldiers, the king burst into the room.

“What have you done?” the king demanded. “I meant for this to be a happy time! My son is getting married; this is the greatest day in my life! Everything was to be perfect for him! And yet you would not come and share in my son’s happiness! What excuse do you have?”

“Oh, my liege!” cried the lord of the town. “If only I had known the messengers were truly from you! I meant no disrespect.”

“And why wouldn’t they be from me?” bellowed the king. “Who else do you think sends out royal messengers, moron?”

“If only you knew the trouble we have had in my poor little town! Time after time, cruel robbers have come to us pretending to be your servants, and each time they have left us a little more broken. I have been hard at work here, repairing the damage after each time they hit; that’s why I have so little time to think of parties and happiness! And sir, if I may, please have mercy on me. My daughter has just been kidnapped by slave traders, and there is nothing I can do to help her.”

“Fah!” the king snorted. “What kind of a fool can’t tell the difference between a royal messenger and a bandit? I mean, it should be completely obvious! I can sure tell the difference! It’s probably your own fault your daughter got grabbed, since you clearly have no sense. Guards!” he cried, turning away from the lord. “Take this insufferable fool to the gallows and have him hanged for his extreme and utter disregard for his master’s happiness!”

“I mean, can you believe this man?” the king went on to his troops, as the lord was led off to his execution. “Here this is supposed to be the happiest day in the country! My son’s getting married; who wouldn’t be happy about that? And now here I am, forced to kill a bunch of people all over the country! How am I supposed to enjoy the party now, huh?”

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