October 17, 2023

October 15, 2023, the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

October 15, 2023, the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14

Jesus tells a parable indicating that the blessings of God’s kingdom are available to all, but the invitation is not to be taken lightly.

1Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”



This text has always had that sort of tone to it. Like, oh gosh, now Jesus is telling parables about people being judged for what they’re wearing! Great. But I don’t think Jesus really intended us to read it that way at all – this parable is about far more than wedding fashion.  

We need to know about royal banquets and weddings first.  Our current social construct of weddings dictates that it is a one day event.  There’s the wedding and then a reception.  Sometimes there’s a rehearsal and dinner, once all the family is in town.  But in Jesus’ time, wedding celebrations could last a week, and especially one for the king’s son.  And this would not be an occasion to show up in your finest toga.    The custom was that the king would provide EVERYTHING needed to party it up in style.  Including the robe.  Special robes were made for guests to wear for the events.  Some commentaries even suggest that they would be all made the same, so that guests could converse as equals, all wearing the same thing.  If wedding robes were provided, the man being cast out wasn’t just wearing the wrong thing – he chose to ignore what was provided for him  and wore his own thing.  Why would you refuse to put on the wedding robe?  

Remember that there were those who refused the invitation all together.  Invited to the feast, but couldn’t be bothered to show, and actually got quite hostile about it.  So those gathered off the streets have no reason or right to be there — except that a gracious king invites them.  Nothing that they’ve done merits this – but they have to show up and put on the robe.  I need to say that this parable sounds a bit ridiculous in the sense of over the top, but Jesus has been a bit over the top since he got to Jerusalem.  

Riding in a donkey, making a scene in the temple by turning over the tables, and telling strange parables.  “With each audacious parable he tells, the authorities become more and more outraged, and the crowds (no doubt) more and more astonished and delighted. Can you believe this guy?” saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2020/10/5/playing-with-fire-salts-lectionary-commentary-for-nineteenth-week-after-pentecost 

Jesus is not only turning traditional sensibilities upside down, but purposefully playing with the tradition to make us think and think hard.  

Jesus is issuing the invitation for all to join him as God’s guests in a banquet feast called the kingdom of heaven.   God doesn’t just extend the invitation to the feast – God makes it possible for us to attend and gives us everything we need. But as usual, we’d rather do it our way. Rather get in by our own merit, and express our individuality.   We are all the last minute guests in the street who show up because someone called us here, perhaps not even knowing why or what we’d find when we got here.

The robe freely given to us in baptism is Christ.  We have put on Christ, and Christ’s righteousness covers us.  Rather than seeing the grimy sinful mess we are, God sees who we were created to be – we are made children of God and outfitted for a feast – dressed appropriately.  

St. Gregory the Great, the sixth century pope, when reading this text, asked “what do we think is meant by the wedding garment? For if we say it is baptism, or faith, is there anyone who has entered this marriage feast without them? What then must we understand by the wedding garment, but love.”  As St. Paul writes in Colossians 3:14: “above all, clothe yourselves with love…” Because just as those who were first invited to the wedding feast and would not come, were not worthy because they rejected the one true God and His only begotten Son, so also are those not worthy who would accept the invitation, but not come with love in their hearts—for God, and His Son, and the other guests at the banquet. It is one thing to be invited, by God’s grace, to the wedding banquet of His Son–it is quite another to presume to come to the feast, without love–without clothing oneself in the garment of the Kingdom–love of God and neighbor.

 The story Jesus tells today makes no sense.  Why would anyone refuse an invitation to the king’s party?  And once there, why wouldn’t you just put on the wedding robe and join in the joy?  Is God really the sort to burn it all the ground when faced with rejection – or is that just our faulty perception of God.    It seems ridiculous, and then I realize I turn down the robe all the time.  I neglect to put on Christ, and I refuse to put on love.  In those moments when I have secretly considered myself somehow superior to — or at least not ‘as bad’ as the other guests who were also invited to the party.  When I don’t want to cover up what makes me distinctive by putting on a robe.  

This is me on those days when I believe I have to do more, be more to be able to earn an invitation to the banquet. When all I really have to do is show up. All I have to do is put on the robe.   And when I forget I am here for a purpose larger than me.  The robe reminds me of this: perhaps, like with a wedding feast,  I am simply here to live in joy and gratitude for all that God has done.   And every time I forget that I, too, always need the ‘wedding robe’ of Christ’s forgiveness — to cover up all my brokenness, my failings, my sin.  God keeps trying to give us the clothes.   

As any mother knows, dressing another person can become a contest of wills. Scripture understands this — in fact, it is a profound theme of scripture from the beginning, when God dresses Adam and Eve in animal skins before they leave Eden, to the end, when we’re all going to be wearing white robes in the new Jerusalem.  God provides these clothes freely to those who need them.  And he keeps trying.  

He calls us to this foretaste of the wedding feast to come, and the Son is present here with us.  He bids us come to the table and has clothed us in Christ and expects that we’ll come dressed in love.  

This is the rehearsal dinner, where we practice the banquet to come with with just a small piece of bread and a swig of wine — yet as we kneel around the altar rail to receive Christ in this meal, we can look to our left and our right and see that all are invited — both good and bad — saints and sinners  — all the same.  And as the body and blood of Christ nourish us, we remember that we are called to love those people on either side of us — and everyone in this room — and all those out in the streets whom we are called to also invite to the banquet.  And with the help of the Spirit and God’s forgiveness of our failings, we, too, can hope to be found at the banquet, dressed in our wedding robe — in the garment of Christ himself given to us at baptism, which is the love of God.  Amen. 

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