In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen
It is a tricky gospel parable set for us today – There are 4 things I want us to draw out of it. The first is who is listening in!! Jesus is telling this story in the Temple courts. Therefore, there is a mixed audience including
The chief priests and religious leaders (who have definitely turned against Jesus)
His devoted followers and disciples
And a sprinkling of people in the middle of those 2 poles wondering about who Jesus was and what he was about.
This means this is one of those stories making a lot of points!!!
The second thing I want us to think about is where this story starts…. There is a key phrase at the start of the story which is the kingdom of heaven is like or may be compared with. A lot of Jesus parables start like this including the parable of the weeds, mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, the pearl, talents, and workers in the vineyard. Above all this starting point is to help the listeners to listen. Especially those who loved him and were actively engaged in following him.
What does this phrase indicate? This is more of the upside down inside out topsy turvey teachings of Jesus setting aside the conventional reason of his day. It is not the kingdom in heaven, but the kingdom of heaven. It’s about our place in God’s Kingdom and the choices we need to make and the lifestyle we need to live! Remember we have both people bought into his message and those who are very anti listening in!!!!
So having grounded that… Let’s unpack the story to get to my third point. The action is quite straight forward to start with – The king is preparing a wedding banquet for his son and he sends out invitations to the great and the good. All those who he invites refuse to come. From the king’s perspective this is clearly not a great result at the very least this shows a lack of respect for his authority. Culturally to refuse an invitation especially from a king was a huge insult.
Likewise inviting people to a party is not a hard ask? A party is likely to be pleasurable and enjoyable, and in their best interests. This would have been an extravagant affair – going on for days staying with the King at the King’s significant expense. But the people initially invited all say No. This says a lot about practices and priorities of the prospective guests. How the wrong things had enslaved them and diverted them from God’s kingdom. We need to be wary of wrong things that enslave and divert us too.
The subtext here is that attending the party represents worshipping God, walking with God, and working together for God in His Kingdom of heaven now and in the kingdom in heaven for all eternity. Knowing this is better by far than the most amazing thing we have ever imagined. Continuing with the story then – when more servants are sent to say everything is ready, they either ignore them and go and do other less important things instead or ill-treat or kill them! We may hear this as reference to the prophets, John the Baptist and ultimately Jesus being sent to save us. This call is issued with due force this time. Everything is ready, I have taken a lot of trouble. Come!
Yet the underlying inference here is that those invited were largely unresponsive and paid no attention – going back to things that in kingdom terms were really not important. This is a warning against passivity and apathy towards our faith and its importance in our lives.
And then a selection behave very badly (again this is a reference to those who led the people to conspire against Jesus. The outcome wasn’t great for the party refusers…. And this is my third point I want us to think about as the passage says of them – 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
This is not a cosy comfortable view of God and judgement. We mustn’t gloss over the all powerful nature of the almighty and the consequences for those who entirely rejected the ways of God as his chosen people and went on to reject Jesus as well. One of the ways the commentators explain why this is here is that it is aforewarning of difficult times ahead and the fall of Jerusalem, which would have been in Matthew the gospel writer’s present . In handling this verse we must remember Jesus earlier guidance in the sermon on the mount – to leave the judging to God!
Thankfully the story doesn’t end there – The king decides to invite anyone the servants can find on the streets to the party and gather them into the wedding hall. Again, this is a loss of privilege for God’s chosen people as the width of the invitation is extended to all and there would have been more brisling from the religious leaders listening in to these words. More positively, this is a big message of inclusion – anyone his servants can find can come. They are all now invited to the palace for the son’s wedding banquet. What an honour! They’ve never even dreamed about something like this, but now they have it! All they have to do to be “worthy” of it is to accept the king’s crazy generosity and head to the palace.
This is the way of God’s grace – not about our worthiness but God’s amazing saving love for us. Interpretively, this is the great turning point in redemption or salvation history. What God’s chosen people had thought was exclusively theirs because they are genetically descended from Abraham, we now learn is available to everyone. Anyone who accepts God’s invitation can now be a child of Abraham and a citizen in God’s Kingdom of heaven.
Unfortunately for me the story doesn’t stop there, we come to the action honed in on the man with no wedding clothes. Again, we are in rather harsh territory and the second of the really challenging verses in this story appears and this brings us to my fourth point!!! A man not expecting to go to the banquet in the first place is chastised for not having the right clothes on! He is thrown out and it ends with weeping and gnashing of teeth – never good in the parable of Jesus.
Have we got an explanation for this? What I read said – That in the lavish preparations the king laid on for the party was suitable clothing for the days of festivities for all the guests. The guest didn’t have to be pre-prepared but all he needed was available.. So therefore not wearing what had been provided is more an ‘act’ of wilfulness against the king. Someone still wanting to plough their own furrow regardless of the amazing invitation!
This challenges the assumption that responding to the king’s invitation by showing up at the wedding feast is all that the king requires. But clearly, something more is necessary. Specifically, the king expects us to be appropriately dressed for the occasion. Those who aren’t – even though they have responded to the king’s invitation, are separated from the other guests and thrown out of the feast.
My commentary said this was about the importance of righteousness (Making right choices) for those who would enter the kingdom, and thus to balance the point made earlier that “both the bad and good had been gathered in from the streets”. This is all about the importance of right hearts, right lives, right motives. What we need to do is put on Christ as our clothing all day every day in our lives and live his way. Where we need to hold fast to Christ’s teachings and how he directed us to live and love.
We need to follow his direction on his path through the work of the Holy Spirit, turning to love and not selfish gain. Putting on Christ like these wedding clothes will help us to live to the challenge this parable of Jesus puts before us. We may baulk about the term righteousness (but at its simplest this means living the way God says is best) and it is not to be confused with self-righteousness. It is really important to live well – Jesus in Matthew’s gospel has said that over and over and over again. One of the ways to live well would be to apply the discipline described in our first reading today
Rejoice in the lord always
Let your gentleness be known
Do not worry
Bring everything to God in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
And let the peace of God guard your heart and your mind.