I need to start with a word of explanation. We had a wedding here yesterday – in case you were wondering; a young couple from town. She’s Chinese-American; he’s from Albania; that’s the way the world is these days! They’ll be returning later this afternoon to take down the decorations, and in the meantime, we get to enjoy them. But if you were worrying about them, you can put your mind at ease.
And it’s actually very fitting that we have these wedding decorations, because our Gospel passage this morning is the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. To remind ourselves, Jesus is in the Temple in Jerusalem. This is that stretch of five days between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday. During this time (and it covers five chapters in Matthew) it’s as though Jesus is trying to impart every bit of teaching and wisdom he can into his last earthly days, to make sure the disciples were fully equipped to carry out his mission; to draw as many people into his circle as possible.
And the parables and the commentary begin to sound more stringent, more dire – often not like the sweet and kind Jesus we think we know. But you know how that is…if you see a child about to walk in front of a passing car, you are going to yell at them to stop. Getting their attention is critical, and it’s not the time for sounding sweet and kind. And that’s just the kind of parable we hear this morning, as Jesus is talking about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.
It starts out well enough. A king plans a wedding banquet for his son, and sends out the messengers to invite the guests. But they are not in a hurry to attend the party; in fact, they refuse. We’ve probably all had that wedding or retirement party or neighborhood event that we didn’t really want to go to, and so find excuses to get out of it.
But then the story gets a little extreme. Some of the potential guests assault and even kill the messengers. The king lashes out in his anger over their behavior, and then sends out other messengers to collect up guests for the wedding banquet from all the streets and alleys, anyone willing to come to the party – the good and the bad.
This is really good news! It’s not just the important people, or the powerful people, who are invited to the banquet, but anyone the messengers can find to come to what will surely be the best party in the whole land. Of course, in this parable the king is God, and the wedding banquet is a symbol for the joy and celebration and fulfillment of purpose in God’s Kingdom. So those listening to Jesus tell this parable in the Temple would have gotten the message loud and clear that everyone is invited to the party, regardless of their status; that the elders and the rulers and the powerful might disdain God’s invitation, but they are the ones who are missing out.
All of that seems pretty clear; so far, so good. But then we get to verses 11 and 12: “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless.” Woah! What just happened? We probably want to cry foul and protest that the man without the robe didn’t know any better. Hadn’t he just been swept up from the highways and byways? He probably didn’t have time to go home and change clothes. Why should he be penalized for his clothing?
It probably helps to know that in Jesus’ day a wedding robe of some kind would be given to guests upon their arrival at the party, to put over what they were already wearing. So it was not so much that the man wasn’t dressed up enough; it was that he hadn’t been willing to fully engage in this celebration, to become one with the rest of the party-goers, and with the king, and the members of the wedding. It was a refusal of the king’s invitation in a different way, wanting to have the banquet on his own terms.
In a number of places in the New Testament we hear about the symbolism of clothing. Paul says in the Letter to the Colossians 3, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” And in the visions in the Book of Revelation the faithful from all nations, robed in white, are gathered around the throne of the Lamb Jesus. Those white robes are the robes of baptism, the clothing given to the newly baptized after they have emerged from the water – a symbolic putting-on of Christ in their new life of faith and discipleship.
So how does all of this affect us? What are some of the take-aways for us from this parable?
The most important is knowing that life in the Kingdom of God – at its best – is a banquet, a party, a feast; and we are all invited! It’s a banquet of love and belonging, and celebration, and joy. That’s what God wants for us.
But how often are we like some of the invited guests? We drag our feet, we get busy, we think maybe it will be a dull party or we won’t know anyone. Other things come up and keep pushing God’s invitation to the side. Or we think we are not worthy; that what we have done or thought or said puts us beyond the reach of God’s love and care; that God’s judgement will outweigh his compassion and forgiveness. If that were true, none of us would be invited, none of us could participate.
By God’s gracious gift, we are invited to the banquet – all of us; as the words to the song go, referring to God: “Not because of who I am, but because of what you’ve done; not because what I’ve done, but because of who you are” (Casting Crowns).
The banquet is, of course, the full life of faith and joy in the Kingdom of God, starting here and now; enacted every time we celebrate the Eucharist; and is still to be fulfilled in God’s own time when all creation is made new. We are all invited, and God is good/All the time; All the time/God is good. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 15, 2017