It seems difficult to believe that it’s been over 30 years since the famed storybook wedding of Prince Charles to Diana Spencer. For its time, the wedding was a massive global television event; some estimates put the viewership at 750 million worldwide.
Not surprisingly, the wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton last year at Westminster Abbey invited natural comparisons. ABC News estimated the viewership at 2 billion; The New York Times, not to be outdone, put the number at 3 billion. Some are understandably skeptical about such figures: after all, the entire world population is 7 billion. But suffice it to say that between televised viewings and online streaming (which Charles and Di did not have), William and Kate’s wedding still racked up impressive numbers.
And that’s to say nothing of the revelers at Buckingham Palace for the all-night bash that followed.
Mere media popularity, however, is a poor index of admiration or devotion. While many women have adopted the new Duchess of Cambridge as a role model, there are dissenters. As Catherine Mayer, Time magazine’s Europe editor has recently written:
Snobbery is one luxury all classes feel able to afford. The man and woman in the U.K. street are swift to mock the upwardly mobile. As Prince William whispered sweet nothings to his girlfriend, the press muttered nasty somethings about her supposed ambition to wed above her station. They dubbed her Waitie Katie and bracketed her with Pippa as “the wisteria sisters,” determined to climb. (Read the full article here.)
All this may shed some light on a curious passage of Scripture. In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus tells the third of three parables condemning the unbelief of the leaders of the Jewish establishment. This story illustrating the kingdom of heaven centers on a royal wedding banquet. The invitees have all received their “save the date” notices, and when the banquet preparations are finished, the king sends out his servants to let the people know that the time for celebration has come.
Inexplicably, the people refuse.
Graciously, the king persists, sending the message again, highlighting the wonderful menu of which the guests are invited to partake. And again, the response is incomprehensible and inexcusable. Some act as if they’re too busy to be bothered even to RSVP. Others actually grab the messengers and mistreat or kill them–a fine way to treat someone whose only crime is to invite you to a party.
At that point, the king’s righteous outrage is ignited; a detachment of soldiers is sent to exact retribution. The invitation is then sent out anew–but this time to the street corners where the poor are generally found. The reception hall is now filled, with “the bad as well as the good” (Matt 22:10, NIV), meaning both those you would expect to find at a royal wedding and those you would not: the poor, the blind, the lame, the tax-gatherers, the prostitutes (e.g., Matt 21:14, 31). In other words, those in attendance are not the usual religious suspects, but the riff-raff who didn’t expect an invitation and accepted it gratefully when it came.
At first, it’s hard to imagine the refusal of the wedding guests. Who in their right mind would turn down an invitation from the king, especially to what is likely to be the biggest social event of the year? That, of course, is part of Jesus’ point–the wild illogic and tragic irony of those who say they’re looking forward to the party and then dismiss the invitation, even when it’s delivered in person.
It’s easy to read a parable like this and shake our heads with pity or even superiority at the cluelessness of Jesus’ opponents. Didn’t we ourselves accept the invitation? Isn’t our place at the banquet secure?
Yes and yes. But the temptation is to begin taking these facts for granted, as if the invitation was ours by right. For all the popularity of royal weddings, the truth is that there is something about our hearts that is not ready to be ruled by grace.
Push Jesus’ parable one step further: we’re not only invited to the wedding banquet, we’re invited to be adopted into the royal family (e.g., Rom 8, 15, 23). We’re not of royal blood; to a person, we are commoners, with neither rank nor title, adopted by grace to a role that is far beyond our station.
When we recognize this, gratitude and humility should be our constant companions. And without them, I suspect, we may look askance at any other gracious invitation that the King might send.