Feast Day: Pentecost 19
Readings: Matthew 22:1-14; Philippians 4:1-9
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”
The parable that Jesus tells in our gospel reading this morning is a challenging one. And it ought to be. Jesus told parables not to comfort and console but rather to jolt his hearers out of their slumber with startling news. Sometimes that’s what we need. We need the Holy Spirit to grab us by the collar on occasion and give us a good shake so that we stay alert and sober, rather than drifting off to sleep.
This morning Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven. He wants us to know what life with God is like. So Jesus tells this story about a wedding banquet to highlight the great love and mercy of God and his desire to lavish that love upon his creatures. There is a lot going on in this parable but the king is the real actor. In fact, he’s the one with all of the speaking lines. So it would be fitting for us to focus our attention this morning on the figure of the king.
What does Jesus tell us about the king? Three things: the king invites, the king clothes, and the king judges. Let’s look at each of these briefly this morning.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” Here is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, and he’s giving us an image of what life with God is like and what does he pick? Is it the image of a hermit hidden away in the woods? Is it the image of a classroom full of students with their noses in the books? No. It’s the party of the century. A royal wedding.
Now, I don’t know what you think life with God is supposed to be like. I don’t know what your parents told you when you were young or what others have since told you about the Christian life. But if you think about following Jesus Christ and the joy of a good party doesn’t come to mind then you’re missing something.
And we Christians are often to blame! A few years back Pope Francis lamented the fact that many Christians leave mass looking as if they were coming from a funeral. May that not be so for us! May we leave here each week, faces aglow with the glory of God as was the case for Moses when he descended the holy mountain.
Alright, now that I’ve got that out of my system let’s move on. So the kingdom of heaven is like a king who throws the party-to-end-all-parties for his son who is getting married. And what does the king do? The king invites.
He sends his servants out to everyone who’d received the save-the-dates months back. But they wouldn’t come. So he sends out his servants again to say what a grand affair it is. Everything is ready! The food is piping hot! Please, come! But still they refused to come. “They made light of it and went away,” Jesus says. In other words, they didn’t give a damn.
Some of the invitees simply went off about their own business. But others seized the king’s messengers and killed them. As a professor of mine once said, “This is not only refusing to attend Mom’s thanksgiving dinner, but going on a senseless rampage when she says to turn off the TV and blowing up the car in the driveway.” Enraged, the king himself sends out the troops to destroy the murderers and torch their city.
A brief comment about the violence in this parable which surely strikes us as irrational. First, some commentators have said that it is exaggerated in order to get our attention. Second, the violence within this parable has to be understood within the context of Jesus’ last days. Matthew has this story told during Holy Week. Jesus is on the way to the cross where he will suffer terribly and unjustly. So this parable anticipates, tragically, the treatment that Jesus will receive from his own people as from the pagan rulers. The great banquet is ready but Jesus knows what is in store for him.
So, those who had received the first round of invites refused to show up. Yet the banquet is still set and the tables still spread and laden with food and drink. A third time then the king sends out messengers: “Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Previously it was, “Go and call those who have been invited.” Now it’s, “Go and call everyone and anyone at all, whoever you can find.”
The servants hit street and round up every one with a pulse, both bad and good, and in the end the wedding hall was filled with guests. Because the kingdom of God is totally indiscriminate. It doesn’t matter what sort of shape your marriage is in. It doesn’t matter if you’re not married at all and you’re shacked up. It doesn’t matter if your mental health isn’t in top shape. It doesn’t matter if you’re not in top shape. It doesn’t matter if you’re addicted to God-knows-what and it doesn’t matter if you have a past that any decent person would consider questionable. Because God doesn’t give a damn about decency. He loves you and he wants you and he refuses to be God without you and he’ll suffer death to make it happen. Because the joy of the gospel is for everyone.
So, the king invites and what else? The king clothes. Because those of us who have been invited to take their place at the table alongside those who did show up cannot enter into the joy of the feast without a wedding garment. What’s that about and where do we get it?
It’s worth saying that actually Matthew does not tell us and that the wedding garment has been interpreted in various ways. Is it holiness? Is it faith? Is it Christian love? To which I would say, yes. The point is that when Christ calls you to share in his life and joy he himself will renew you by the power of the Holy Spirit. When Christ calls you he clothes you with his love and releases you from the fear and anxiety associated with having to pick out your own outfit. Indeed, he clothes you with himself.
“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” says the Apostle Paul (Romans 13:14). And elsewhere, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ,” (Galatians 3:27). And again the passage from Philippians that we heard this morning: “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any virtue and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you,” (4:8-9).
In other words, when we are baptized Jesus himself gives us a change of clothes and in committing ourselves to love him in return, in setting our minds on him, we enter into that heavenly banquet dressed for the occasion. I like the way one theologian put it: Christ clothes us in his love without measure, that we might absorb his love, understand it, and implement it.
The king invites, the king clothes, and the king judges. In fact, this is a parable of judgement. Just as the Church is constituted by the grace of God’s call so we ought to be sobered by the justice of God’s judgement. But let me ask you, what is the principal judgement in this parable? What’s the judgement in light of which all the other judgements are rightly understood? Is it not the divine invitation with which we began? The invitation is God saying, “I want you at my party.” That’s the principal judgement, that in Jesus Christ every single person—from every street corner and alleyway, bad as well as the good—has been invited to the banquet. This is “a judgement filled with grace, and it never once, through the whole parable, loses its status as such.”
But when this invitation is refused either in distrust, disinterest, or disregard then it simply caves in all around you. It remains grace, however, all the way down. God still wills nothing but the party and he still invites everyone and anyone at all. But if I’d rather sit out in the lobby sulking and complaining about the noise than enter into the warmth and joy of the banquet hall where there is food and drink for all then he’ll simply go and find others who know what a good deal is when they hear it. Notice, however, that no one, absolutely no one finds themselves excluded at the end of the parable that wasn’t invited in the first place. We are judged simply by our acceptance of a party that is already underway and that Christ has paid for at the price of his own death. All that counts in the end is his grace and our trust in it.
You and I are invited to this kind of banquet every single day of our life and even now in this Eucharist. Christ himself has fashioned garments for us and he has spent all he has on this outlandish banquet so that by his love and poverty we may be made rich. Will you join in? Will you say ‘yes’ to the feast? Will you put on the beautiful garment of love that he has made just for you and in your size? In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Christopher Seitz, http://stmatthewsriverdale.org/01/the-parable-of-the-wedding-feast/
 Hans Urs von Balthasar, Light of the World, 135.
 Frederick Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary, 386.
 Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgement, 461.
 Ibid 459.