In the name of Jesus. Amen.
When was the last time you were invited somewhere for dinner? Perhaps it was last weekend when you went to friends’ or relatives for Thanksgiving. What was your table like? Was there a big, carved turkey? Were mashed potatoes and stuffing on the menu? Maybe some cranberry-sauce and some wine? Pumpkin pie for dessert? Perhaps you have been recently invited to a dinner at wedding? Maybe you went to a simple dinner at a friend’s house. Maybe you did the inviting! It seems like every special occasion or any important event involves a good meal. It’s also very much part of how we socialize. We invite people over for dinner, and we get invited over for dinner. Well today’s readings involve a great feast! The greatest feast you’ll ever be invited to!
Isaiah’s Great Feast
In our Gospel today, Jesus tells the parable of the Wedding Feast. Before we get into the parable
we have to know exactly who is Jesus talking to? Well, we found that out last week. “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, the perceived that he was speaking to them.” “Again Jesus spoke TO THEM in parables…” It’s the same group. Jesus’ has modified this common idea of a great End Times Feast to make a point to the Jewish Religious Leaders. What was Jesus trying to teach the Pharisees and religious leaders? More importantly, what is that to us?
By the time of Jesus, the idea of the great end times feast, was well-known. Going all the way back into the Old Testament, the reign of the Messiah during the End Times was thought to include a great banquet! We see the same idea in our Psalm: “You prepare table before me in the presence of mine enemies, my cup runneth over.” We see this idea of a Messianic Feast in our Old Testament Lesson from Isaiah. When Jesus starts telling the parable, this passage from Isaiah would be on the Pharisees’ minds. Isaiah looks into the future, and sees the end times. He sees all peoples, Jews and Gentiles, streaming to the mountain of the Lord. They are all enjoying a great feast. Isaiah’s menu is particularly interesting. The main course is a feast of the richest meats, and the best aged wines. And dessert? No more death. No more tears or sadness. Just two scoops of the joy of God’s salvation. How’d you like to be invited to that dinner? The Pharisees new that coming of the Messiah at the end times will be like a great banquet!
Jesus tells them the parable, but his version is slightly different than Isaiah’s isn’t it? It has different details. It has some surprising plot twists that they would have noticed. The story goes like this: Once upon a time, a king threw a wedding party for his son. The kingdom’s VIP list has received their invitations, but as the RSVPs come in, it becomes painfully clear that they have other plans. The king even sends his servants out to go door to door and say, “The steaks are on, the prime rib is smoking, the wine is poured, the feast is ready, come to the feast.” And you would think that the combination of an invitation and a personal reminder, not to mention lots of free food and drink would cause people to drop whatever they were doing and come running to the feast. But you would be wrong.
They paid no attention, either to the invitation or to the servants. The just didn’t care. One guy went off to his farm to work, another guy to his business. Some actually seized the servants and beat them up and even killed them. And these were the invited guests! Remember now, they had a place the feast. The king had invited them; he was expecting them, he had prepared for them. And they would not come to the feast. It’s not that the king would not have them or didn’t want them or never invited them. They wouldn’t go. They didn’t care. The king’s generosity towards them was met with violence.
The king was furious. Can you blame him? Turns out you don’t want to get on the bad side of the king. He’s nice and generous when it comes to wedding feasts, but not so kind when you blow him off and lynch his servants. So, the king sends out his troops and destroys them and their city.
Let’s pause the story for a moment and look at the cast. God the Father is the King. His Son, the one who the banquet is being thrown for, is Jesus. The VIP invited guests are Israel and its religious leaders who had rejected the prophets and were actively rejecting Jesus. And by rejecting Jesus, they were forfeiting their seat at the feast. “He came to His own, but His own people did not receive Him.” “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus, the rejected Messiah of Israel. You see, this parable is all about Jesus. He’s the Son of the King. God is not just generous for generosity’s sake. He’s generous for the sake of his Son, the King of Kings. God’s gracious and lavish generosity is tied up with Jesus. God has been gracious to us in Jesus.
Saying “no” when the Lord offers to shower his grace and gifts upon you is never a good idea. If we reject Christ, we reject God’s generosity to us. And we reject God’s generosity in Christ to our great peril. This is what the religious leaders failed to understand. This is where they failed. God is the great and generous king. He wants to bestow his mercy and grace richly upon them. Yet they rejected God’s generosity. But, more than that, they rejected the Son. And their city was burned wasn’t it? It was utterly destroyed and burned to the ground in 70 A.D. by the Roman armies under General Titus.
Generous Despite Rejection
Back in our Story, the king remains generous, despite being rejected by those he invited. The feast is still ready. But there are no guests, because they’re all quite dead. His generosity compels him to send even more servants, this time out onto the roads out of town, and he has them invite anyone and everyone, the good, the bad, the ugly, reputable and the disreputable. The least, the lost, the lowly, the good as dead. Two-bit hookers, tax collectors, zealots, you name it. Even Gentiles. People like you and me. And the wedding hall is full of guests pulled off the streets. This crowd represents the church, the spiritual Israel, you and me, a gathering of all sorts of the good, the bad, the ugly; every type of sinner. Even Gentiles.
What is more, we get a foretaste of that feast each week. Last week at the end of the Service we prayed, “Gracious God, our heavenly Father, You have given us a foretaste of the feast to Come in the Holy Supper.” “… that we may all celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb in his Kingdom.” The divine service is a feast, prepared by the king. Each Sunday the feast is ready. The richest fare is provided. The lamb is slain. The wine is poured. Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. You have the invitation, “Come to the feast.”
How do people reject God today? It’s our own stubborn will. Sometimes there is just something on our agenda which is more important than partaking of God’s generous feast of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Sometimes us invited guests have more important things to do: we need to go to brunch; we need to watch the football game, change the light bulbs, mow the lawn, wash the car. We reject the invitation to the feast because it would inconvenience us. But, what could be more important than feasting at the Messiah’s Banquet? Remember how generous the king was? The king sends his servants out to track down the invited guests who already indicated that they were too busy and distracted to come. God still sends his servants to invite you, to remind you. “Everything is ready. Come to the feast.”
Without a Wedding Garment
Back to the story: The king looks out over the crowd, and what a crowd it is! They’re eating. They’re drinking. They’re having a great time. And then he sees a man off in the corner who’s not wearing a wedding suit. Remember that these people were just rounded up off the streets. They had no time to change. Some likely didn’t even have anything to change into. We have to assume that the king is handing out Armani suits at the door. He’s incredibly generous and gracious like that. But for some reason, this man isn’t wearing the wedding suit. He must have taken it off. Just like the VIP List, he has rejected the king’s generosity. The king confronts him. “Hey, buddy. How’d you get in here without a suit?” The guy doesn’t know what to say for himself. He’s rejected the king’s gift of a wedding garment. He thinks his own, old, stinky, ragged street clothing is acceptable enough. He’s speechless that the king doesn’t agree. He winds up bound and unceremoniously tossed into outer darkness where he can spend an eternity weeping and gnashing his teeth.
In Holy Baptism we receive the wedding garment. We’re taken off the streets. We have no right to be invited to this feast, except by the King’s lavish generosity. And in Holy Baptism we have put on Christ like a robe, as St. Paul puts it. God’s invitation is lavishly generous, but it is not an invitation to a come as you are party. It does not pretend that “you are just fine the way you are.” You are not—you are a poor, miserable, sinner. The Gospel is not the announcement that any of us is just fine the way we are. Rather, God loves so much that he will not leave us unchanged. He clothes us with Christ’s own righteousness. Like the man without a wedding garment, we can’t stand before God with our own works. Our righteousness is given to us! It’s grace, gift, Gospel. Unearned, unmerited. The worthy are found unworthy, the unworthy are declared worthy.
He feeds us with his precious Body and Blood. He has given you his Spirit and continues to work in you, to change you, to conform you to the image of his Son. To produce good works and good fruit. This is not the case of: “Oh. I have my ticket punched and I’m going to heaven when I die so now I can live like the devil.” No. God produces faith through his Holy Word, he clothes you with Christ in Holy Baptism, not so that you can live in Sin, but so that you may produce fruit.
Jesus adds the punch line: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” The called many are all who have heard the great good news: Christ has died, Christ has risen. The Feast is ready. The chosen few are those who in faith are gathered at that feast, the marriage Supper of the Lamb in His kingdom, who are clothed with the wedding garment of His righteousness in Holy Baptism.
Israel’s rejection of Christ means you get to be included. To be included is by God’s grace, His gift to you. To be excluded from the feast is entirely your doing, your refusal, your turning away. He will compel you, lavish His gifts upon you, put the wedding suit on you, seat you at His table and feed you. But he won’t force you to stay. The guests at this table are free, they are not imprisoned. Luther once quipped that the doors of the church swing in both directions so that those who wish to come to feast may come, and those who wish to leave can leave. But be careful. The alternative to the wedding feast is outer darkness, and weeping, and gnashing of teeth. And it’s so entirely unnecessary. It’s grace, gift, Gospel. Unearned, unmerited. The worthy are found unworthy, the unworthy are declared worthy. God has richly lavished his Grace upon you through the death and resurrection of his Son. Now you have the invitation, “Come to the feast.”
And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.