God’s Extravagant Welcome Comes with Expectations

Written by Joel on October 13th, 2011

Oct 9, 2011
Proper 23
Matthew 22:1-14 – Parable of the Wedding Feast

Another Sunday, another parable. This one is quite difficult. Again, remember that we find ourselves in a series of several parables. All of them take place shortly after Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and kicked over the tables. These parables all serve as an answer to the chief priests and elders questions about Jesus’ authority. Again, this parable comes on the heals of last week’s parable. You may remember that that one ended with the chief priests and the Pharisees realizing that these stories were all about them. It would seem now that Jesus is no longer trying to make them see, but now he is driving his point home.

Again, there is what would appear to be a quick and easy allegorical reading of this parable. The Pharisees are the people who rejected God’s invitation to the Son’s party, and so Jesus invites all, the good and the bad, to his feast. But again, we must be willing to look at the mirror of the parable and ask as the church in the modern day – when do we risk falling into the trappings of the people in the parable? When might we reject Christ’s invitation to the party?

This parable is about an extravagant welcome, and a rejection of that welcome – on two counts, a double rejection. First, this was not just any old wedding we are talking about here. This was a royal wedding. I can’t help but think back to the royal wedding in England earlier this year. It was watched by over 2 Billion people around the globe! Could you imagine anyone turing down an invitation to actually be there in the Cathedral for the wedding? It would be kind of unthinkable, kind of an insult to the king and the royal family. Back in Jesus’ day these were grand events, lasting for a week or more and the king would have the resources to invite the entire city. Anybody whose anybody would have been there. Yet the parable shows how all the worthy people – the dignitaries, the high class, other royals, business owners, etc – all these people rejected the invitation. They “paid no attention” to the invitation, regarded it has completely unimportant, and they did not attend. If ever they wanted to be sure to let the king know that they were disrespecting him, they were sure to abuse his servants are really let him know that he was not respected around here (by the way, what is going on with all the poor defenseless servants in these parables!?). The king’s invitation came with an expectation that his guests would come.

Rather than dispense with the festivities, throw away all that food, and have an empty palace the king chose to invite the commoners. The wedding feast must go on! Go to the street corner, invite everyone you can find – the good and the bad. Could you imagine such a wedding party? Now, there were a number of strange and unruly characters at my own wedding – I just happened to be related to them. But seriously, could you imagine in this day and age what it would look like to just walk up and down the streets of Timberville, Broadway, New Market, Harrisonburg and invite just any old body you find to something so significant as your wedding? Drug dealers, prostitutes, drunks, homeless, hooligans… even… teenagers! Seriously though, the invitation was to the good and the bad. Yes, certainly the extremes of society, but also the common folks. What would that look like around here? Single moms or dads just trying to make it and raise their kids, small business owners, minimum wage workers, young families just starting out in a small town because its better for the kids; new retirees who move to the valley; people with mental and physical disabilities, folks who don’t own a car, folks who don’t speak our language but share the American dream. The king saw as vitally important that his social hall be full, so that the party could be better. Have you ever thrown a party where no one shows up? Not so much fun. He just put out a “y’all come!” And he did so through his servants. Servants!, go and invite people to the palace.

This is starting to sound a bit like church. We love to see the pews filled, and on light Sundays I hear folks remark as such “slim crowd this Sunday.” It sure is nice to fill this hall, something a bit more celebratory when the many voices gather together and shake the windows with our hymn singing. But I do wonder, how important is it to us to have a full church? – Is it important enough to us that we would go out into the the streets to invite the good and the bad alike, just like the those servants? Let’s face it though, there really aren’t many churches out there doing that. Even if there were, it really is a tough sell these days. Come to church? Why would I want to bore myself with that on a Sunday morning?

We live in a culture were the fastest growing religion is “no religion” at all. To some extent, though I do wonder if this is in part due to the lack of invitations being extended, and also the church forgetting that Sunday morning is a celebration. Come, sit, listen. But do we celebrate? Do we understand “going to church” as a celebration- like the king’s wedding feast? Or perhaps as an inconvenient chore we’d rather not go to because there are better things on TV, perhaps much like the invited guests who rejected the invitation? How much does church look like a feast, or a party? And would our invited guests recognize what goes on here on a Sunday morning as a continuation and anticipation of the wedding feast of Christ? Yes, that extravagant welcome, that invitation does come with an expectation – that you will celebrate!

The last piece in this parable is quite challenging and is quite harsh. A man shows up without a wedding garment, he is spotted, yelled at, tied up, and thrown out! Doesn’t this king realize that he invited poor, common, and bad folks alike to the feast? Why would he expect these people to be dressed up? Saint Augustine tries to rationalize this harshness and suggests that the king would have provided a garment for the man, but he chose not to wear it. That, or he could have borrowed from someone, or at the very least simply not worn dirty work clothes to a wedding feast. This of course, is symbolic. This is not an invitation to discuss whether it is appropriate to wear jeans, t-shirts, and sandals to Sunday morning worship. But what does it mean to dress spiritually for the feast? I wonder that it means that you show up and you are ready to celebrate. What happens here on a Sunday morning is a celebration at it’s very core, come not as a chore, but join in on the celebration! You are the celebrators of worship!

In another sense the man, in choosing not the dress appropriately (again, we think of this in a figurative sense) for the feast showed that he did not take the invitation seriously. That he did not not to change what he was doing in order to attend the party. You know people understand Christianity as the “religion of nice.” Come as you are, those are some very nice people; but people seem to get offend when you suggest that the Christian life comes with expectations. If someone accepts the call of Christ to enter his church and yet still clothes themselves in sin – drunkenness, sleeping around, lying, stealing, and cheating. How much would that person be failing to be clothed in Christ, figuratively “not dressed for the occasion?” Yes, this invitation comes with expectations – that the old stain of sin would be put off and that Christ would be put on.

God offers an extravagant welcome to all, an invitation to join in the celebration of his feat. This invitation comes with expectations. God expects the called to accept the invitation, that his guests celebrate, and that the called would put on a new life in Christ. You are invited, let us continue to join in the celebration.


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