Text: Matthew 22:1-14
Gospel Reading for the 20th Sunday after Trinity
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
When was the last time you were invited somewhere for dinner? Perhaps it was last weekend when you gathered with relatives for Thanksgiving. Perhaps 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 very much part of how we socialize. We invite people over for dinner, and we get invited over for dinner. How might you feel if you were to invite someone close to you to attend a special dinner like thanksgiving, and they rudely reject your invitation and instead, they insult and demean you? Well today’s Gospel lesson involves an invitation to a great feast! The greatest feast you’ll ever be invited to!
Jesus tells the chief priests and the Pharisees the parable of the Wedding Feast and the story goes like this: Once upon a time, a king threw a wedding party for his son. All the most important people in kingdom received their invitations. As the RSVPs came in, it became painfully clear that they had other plans. The king even sent his messengers out to them personally and say, “The steaks are on, the prime rib is smoking, the wine is poured, the party 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. Those who were invited paid no attention. They just didn’t care about the invitation. They had other things to do. One guy went off to his farm to work, another guy to his business. Some actually grabbed the messengers and beat them up and murdered them. And these were invited guests! This feast was prepared especially for them and they wouldn’t go. They didn’t care. The king’s generosity toward 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 reject his invitation by lynching his messengers. 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 for whom the party is being thrown, is, of course, Jesus. Israel’s leaders and the many people who followed them, were like guests invited to a wedding—God’s wedding party, the party he was throwing for his son. But they refused. God was planning the great party for which they had waited so long. The Messiah was here, and they didn’t care. They abused and killed the prophets who had tried to tell them about it, 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.” Jesus was 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. God is the great and generous king. He wants to bestow his mercy and grace richly upon them. Yet they rejected God’s generosity. They rejected his only Son and the result was that their city would be destroyed by Roman armies.
We have the same invitation before us. We get a foretaste of the future marriage feast of the Lamb in the Holy Supper each week. 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 is offered freely to you. You have the invitation, “Come to the feast.”
But how can people today continue to reject the invitation to this great feast,? It’s our own stubborn will. Sometimes there is just something on our agenda which is more important than sharing in 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 messengers out to track down the invited guests who already indicated that they were too busy and distracted to come. God still sends his messengers to invite you, to remind you. “Everything is ready. Come to the feast.”
The Wedding Garment
Back in our Story, the feast is still ready. But there are no guests. The King’s generosity compels him to send out new messengers, to the wrong parts of town, to tell everyone and anyone to come to the party. And they come in droves. There were two-bit hookers, tax collectors, riff-raff, nobodies, the blind and lame, the disreputable, the least, the lost, the lowly, the people who thought they’d been forgotten. And the wedding hall is full of guests pulled off the streets.
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 this generous king was handing out Armani suits at the door. But for some reason, this man wasn’t wearing the wedding suit he was given. He must have taken it off. Just like those who rejected the first invitation, he rejected the king’s generosity. The king confronted him. “Hey, buddy. How’d you get in here without a suit?” The guy didn’t know what to say for himself. He thought his own, old, stinky, ragged street clothing was acceptable enough. He was speechless that the king didn’t seem to agree. He’s 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 and out of all the wrong parts of town. We are the riff-raff, nobodies, the blind and lame, the disreputable, the least, the lost, the lowly, the people who thought they’d been forgotten. 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.
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.” People often say ‘You’re all right as you are’. when they want to justify particular types of behaviour. You are not fine the way you are! You are a poor, miserable, sinner. The Gospel doesn’t say ‘You’re all right as you are’. 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. Those who think they’re worthy are found unworthy, the unworthy are declared worthy.
At this feast, Christ feeds us with his precious Body and Blood. He has given you his Spirit and until the day you die he will continue 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.
To be invited to this feast 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. 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.
Jesus adds the punch line: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” The many that are called are all who have heard this great good news: Christ has died, Christ has risen. The few who are chosen are those who are clothed with the wedding garment of His righteousness in Holy Baptism, and have come to the feast. It’s grace, gift, Gospel. Unearned, unmerited. Those who think they’re 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.