Sermon for Matthew 22:1-14 - The Parable of the Wedding Feast
Jesus is what you get the person who has everything. He is the gift given to the one who thinks anything has a price. Anything can be bought. If not, then it’s too good to be true, or not worth my time. Invited to a feast to beat all feasts, to a place of fatted beef and fine wines, Jesus is the one whom the feast is meant to celebrate. An invitation is given broadly, throughout the highways and byways, as a stronghold and refuge for the greatest of sinners. A day of celebration, because that is what the Father wants to do. He’s a party animal at heart.
We have had four weeks now full of parables. Stories Jesus tells to liken the Kingdom. Now we have the Kingdom being likened to a great wedding feast. We all love wedding feasts. We like the party. The ceremony, ehhhh. Take it or leave it. But the party. Music, dancing, food, drink, decorations. Fun. But the feast prepared is one that some think is not worthy of my time. They have been invited. Maybe RSVP’d. The day comes. They ignore the call to come, even though the barbecue is ready. Let’s go. But the Lord of the feast hears nothing. Crickets.
So he sends some other messengers with bullhorns. They dress in costumes and do singing telegram bits. Flying a plane with streamers and dragging a banner behind it. They send out a mass email, a group text, post videos on Instagram and Twitter, Create an event on Facebook – Come to the feast. Come to the table. Taste and see! But what happens?
They paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.
The NIV doesn’t give good service to the Greek. The Greek there reading “paid no attention” literally means didn’t give a damn. Not only was there indifference coming from them, but hostility as well. They would rather go to work than go to a party. They would rather stick with all the labor, the burdens, the slaving under the hot sun than go to the feast.
The others, who had time on their hands and no work to do, beat and kill the messengers. Maybe the free food was too good to be true. Maybe they really hate telegrams. Regardless, it ends badly. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. The invitation given. Invited with no strings attached, but the worthiness of the feast is different in the eyes of the Lord than that of these guests. Leading to disaster.
So the Lord does something else. Where does he send his servants? To everywhere. To the street corners, the alleys, the municipal bar, the halfway houses, shelters, railroad tracks, ivory towers, country clubs. Fill it up, he says to his servants. Fill up my banquet hall. Send out the press gangs and drag them kicking and screaming to my party. My feast needs mouths to feed. It needs butts in the seats.
We want to always say that the kingdom of God is some sort of Utopian ideal where everyone will love one another with pink unicorns, rainbows and puppies. Here it is likened to a frat party.
So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Both bad and good. Picture in your mind the one person you would never invite to family meal at your house. The one person you hope doesn’t show up for Thanksgiving dinner. The person who you are scared to run into at that work party. Then imagine a room full of folks just like them, but there you are too. Just like them. A place at the table. A call, an invitation to all has gone out, and many have come by force it seems.
This is usually the point where I get in trouble for universalism. Where I make people think I think all people shall be “saved.” Where I tell you of this Gospel that is good news because it goes out as an invitation to a Kingdom feast that is for all. That there is no bouncer. There is no qualifier to those who can come. The King wants his guests. He wants the room full, and so he has made a judgement call. He has passed judgement and has said that this decision or judgement is one based only on grace. A giving of the Kingdom to all. To you. A leaving it out there for all. All there is, is to trust that in Christ you have received the place. Graced the gift. That you have been given a seat at the table because of Jesus, not because of you. Not because of your dress, your language, your background, your occupation or how hard you work at it. You have a seat because Christ has made it so. A kingdom by invitation, not appropriation. Good works have nothing to do with it. Obedience to some moral code? No. Jesus? Yes.
And that is where the rubber meets the road. Where many of us lose our minds over this whole Gospel thing. Because deserving something, earning something, being part of an in-crowd, is so ingrained in our psyche that we can’t manage to believe that in the way of Christ, in the Kingdom of Heaven, no difference is made between the first son or the second. Between the older son or the prodigal. Between you, and that neighbor of yours.
There is one catch though. The Lord of the feast has a dress code. But the funny thing is, he provides the dress. He provides the tuxedo. He doesn’t look at what you are wearing and decide whether you belong or not. He opens up the doors of the royal wardrobe, as Robert Farrar Capon says, and hands out clothes to as many as come.
I love my mom. My mother has a certain sense of style and gravitas. Because of my mom I have eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world, tasted some of the finest wines, enjoyed my time in cities and countries I may never go to again. I can remember a time, and maybe it still exists, that at certain restaurants, you would show up for dinner, guys, but you had to wear a suitcoat. Some even a tie. Now these places though were run by good business people, so they actually would have a closet with suitcoats and ties. You would be given one by the host or hostess and take your seat. Because they want you to stay, to eat, to enjoy your meal.
Paul says – For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him. (Galatians 3:27)
This parable always gets sidetracked by what we think is bad news. The first guests who are invited and refuse. They do it boldly. Giving the finger to the Lord of the feast. And then we have the second guests, and all put on the wedding clothes. All, but one. And this one, things don’t go well for him. Cast into the outer darkness. And this scares us. We don’t like this kind of judgement. This bad stuff of the story. Things should have a happy ending.
Think of the story, though, from the point of view of grace. A first invitation goes out. The people whom the Lord has said “You’re mine. Have a seat at the table.” They ignore it first, then the second time, he comes begging, and they say they would rather pick rock in their fields or do inventory than come to a free party. Who makes the judgement?
Second invitation. Guests who were not invited before now are, they are even given clothes to wear so they don’t feel under or over-dressed. One says - No. I don’t need it. Or - what I have is better than what you can give me Lord. Or - I have worked so hard for this outfit. I need to show it off. One up my neighbor. The Lord comes to him and says – Dude, where’s your coat? The man is speechless. Says nothing. Who makes the judgement?
When it comes to the Gospel, everybody is in. That is the way the Father and the Son want it. The yes has been given already in Jesus. Paul writes to the church in Corinth: But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.
But the judgement comes from us. From denial, indifference, and pride. From turning God’s yes into a no because we think it’s not worth it, or not worthy of those people over there.
In Christ, his “yes” is given to you already. He has said “yes” to you. That is his promise to you. That is the promise of the Gospel. That is the price paid in his blood. That is the scandal of the cross, that with a death for sinners, Christ opened wide the doors of mercy. The judgement was made that at just the right time, while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. Died for me. Died for them, whomever them might be.
Robert Farrar Capon, again, puts it this way – “[The Lord] will take only yes for an answer; anyone who says no has gone to hell already….Nobody is kicked out who wasn’t already in. Hell may be an option; but if it is, it is one that is given us only after we have already received the entirely nonoptional gift of sitting together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…while this parable certainly says that God, like the king, will tell those who refuse to trust him to go to hell, hell remains radically unnecessary: there will never be any reasons…for anyone to end up there, precisely because God in Jesus has made his grace, and not our track record, the sole basis of salvation….For hell, ultimately, is not the place of punishment for sinners; sinners are not punished at all; they go straight to heaven just for saying yes to grace. Hell is simply the nowhere that is the only thing left for those who will not accept their acceptance by grace – who will not believe that at three o’clock on a Friday afternoon, free for nothing, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world actually declared he never intended to count sins in the first place.”
In a moment we will feast again at this table, at the marriage supper of the Lamb. A table made for you. The main course being Jesus, the forgiver of sins, bridegroom, come for you. Thanks be to God. Amen