Matthew’s Party: Banquets and the Kingdom of God

 on October 12, 2023

I had known Matt since high school, and we were still pretty good buddies. In fact, these days, we had a kind of partnership in our work. I have a kind of— what shall I call it?—an import/ export business, and Matt worked for Revenue Canada. And there were times when Revenue Canada was sending me rather large bills, and I would give Matt a call, and let’s just say the bill would go down. Then, one day Matt would find a nice new BMW standing in his driveway. You know what I’m saying?

Well, not long ago I got a phone call from Matt. I thought it might be trouble, but he says, “No, no, nothing like that. It’s just that I’m having a party tonight and you absolutely have to come.”

“Matt,” I say, “what’s all this about?”

“Well, OK,” he says, “There is something up—and I could hear the excitement creeping into his voice—there’s someone I want you to meet at this party.”

“Great, great,” I say, “a business contact?” (Matt’s sometimes given me great contacts.)

“No, not this time. Well, I don’t want to say too much, but you know this Jesus character, the prophet carpenter from up north, the one whose been all over the front pages the past couple of weeks?

“Yeah yeah.” (Should I be feeling worried? Had Matt got religion?) “Is he your secret guest?”

“You got it.”

“But Matt, what does this mean? Why Jesus? Trust me, you don’t want your picture all over the papers.”

“Simon, he says, “I’m not even sure what it means. So don’t ask any more questions, OK? Just be there. ”

“OK,” I replied.

That evening, I showed up around 9 o’clock. It was a nice spring evening, and the house looked as if it was pretty full. I squeezed through the crowds, helped myself to a plateful of chicken and potato salad and a cold beer, and began to look for Matt.

He wasn’t difficult to spot. He was working the crowd with his usual enthusiasm. “Simon,” he shouted across the room. “How ya doing?”

“Matt, what is all this about”, I asked again. He gave what I can only call a giggle, and Matt was not the giggling type. (I told you he worked for Revenue Canada, right?)

“You know, I’m not sure I know myself. All I know is that this morning, I was working at my desk, when there was a knock at the door, and this Jesus guy walked in. Of course, I knew who he was from the photos. Before I could think what to say (after all, what do you say when a prophet barges into your office?), he said, “Matt, I want you to come with me. Right now. Come on!” And there was just something about him—his manner, his self-confidence, his winsomeness—that I just thought, I don’t have to stay here a minute longer. I’m going to go. Why not? So I went.

We walked outside, he introduced me to his friends— John and Peter and the rest— they’re around somewhere— and I’ve been hanging out with them all day, just discussing God and stuff. He’s an amazing teacher, you know, Simon. But I don’t want to tell you any more. Just come with me.

He grabbed my elbow and steered me through onto the deck at the back of the house. Even that was pretty crowded. Then he whispered in my ear, “That’s him,” and pointed. There in the corner was a youngish kind of guy, maybe 30, long hair in a ponytail, a glass of wine in one hand and gesturing with a chicken leg in the other, deep in conversation with a small group.

“Come on”, said Matt, “I want to introduce you.” And before I could protest, he did.

“Jesus, this is Simon, a very old friend of mine; Simon, this is Jesus from Nazareth.” Jesus gave a big grin, and shook my hand. “So how’s business, Simon?” Now that was not a question I wanted to answer in detail, specially to a religious guy, so I just said, “Fine, fine. Er, how’s your business?”

Fortunately, before we could get any further, Matt tried to get everyone’s attention.

“Folks, folks, can you listen up for a moment?” Gradually silence fell.

“First, I want to thank you all for coming tonight. I know it was short notice, and I thank you for making the effort. The reason we’re doing this, I think you all know, is to honour Jesus from Nazareth. Since you’ve all heard about him, but probably never met him, I’ve asked Jesus to say a few words to us.”

There was a silence that was part curiosity, part embarrassment. A preacher at a party? Like a skunk at a wedding, I thought to myself. What on earth would he say? We all got ourselves prepared for a sermon. Jesus began.

“Well, first of all I think we should thank Matt for this great party, specially at such short notice. It’s been great, and, Matt, thank you for going to all this trouble.”

We clapped politely.

Jesus went on. “You know, parties like this always make me think of the kingdom of God.” (Here it comes, I thought.)“ There’s a kind of life and laughter and good friendship that a party like this brings out that makes me think of heaven.” (Well, that’s a new angle, I thought.)

I don’t know how you think of heaven,” he went on. “Maybe for you it’s a boring place with everyone dressed in white and looking solemn and playing harps to Victorian hymns all day every day.”

“But it’s not like that: our Creator wants us to find joy in his world in loving him and in loving each other, in seeking justice and mercy and compassion.” (People murmured politely and shuffled their feet.)

“The trouble is,” he went on, “not everybody accepts God’s invitation to the party. And sometimes those God thought were his best friends are the ones who make the stupidest excuses.”

“In fact, God got so ticked off that people just ignored his invitations that he said to his servants, Listen up: just go out into the streets, and grab anyone you can find, and get these seats filled up. I’m not going to waste my banquet. The party is open to anybody, whoever they are. They’re all welcome.”

“And so, friends, the fact that you’re here tonight is a good sign: you are not far from the kingdom of God.” And he stopped and looked around. Well, we didn’t know whether to laugh or ask a question or applaud or do something religious like take up an offering. “Oh,” he added, with that grin again: “One more thing: If you have ears to hear, you”d better listen carefully!”

Well, that seemed to be it. People began to drift off to get more food and drink, some began discussing what he’d said. I got myself another beer, and as I took the top off, I found Matt at my shoulder:

“Wasn’t that great?” he asked. “What?” I said. “Matt, I don’t get it. What was it all about?”

“Isn’t obvious?” Matt asked. “Jesus is inviting us all to be part of God’s kingdom, a kind of new family God is creating in this world. It’s like a party. The ones who said no to the invitation are the religious folk—you know, the church leaders who’ve been criticizing him on TV. And the ones who said yes to the invitation were the rest of us—you and me—who always thought church was a waste of time. So he’s saying, come to the party, come to the party, God welcomes you to his table. To be honest, I don’t get it all, of course, but I think that’s what he’s saying. It’s fantastic.”

I guess I’m a bit slow where religion is concerned, but I guess the way Matt put it made some sense. I think of myself as a spiritual kind of guy, though I don’t have much time for religion. But if Jesus is saying God is doing something new, something more like a family party where everyone learns to love one another, well, maybe I could get interested after all.

In fact, this Saturday, I think I’m going to go to Gage Park for the day. I hear Jesus is going to be there all day teaching and telling stories, and maybe doing a miracle or two. I can see what Jesus has done for Matt, and I think I should check him out for myself.

  • John Bowen

    John Bowen is Professor Emeritus of Evangelism at Wycliffe College in Toronto, where he was also the Director of the Institute of Evangelism. Before that, he worked a campus evangelist for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. For over thirty years, John has been a popular speaker, teacher, and preacher, on university campuses, in churches and in classrooms, and at conferences, across Canada and the USA. His most recent book is The Unfolding Gospel: How the Good News Makes Sense of Discipleship, Church, Mission, and Everything Else (Fortress 2021).

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