Proper 23, year A
Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again 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.' But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, `The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, `Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless. Then 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.' For many are called, but few are chosen."
We studied these readings at bible study last Tuesday and one of the members of the group made an interesting comment. She said, “I'm glad I don't have to write a sermon on this gospel reading.” Another member recommended that I write the sermon on the reading from Paul.
As we went through the questions I felt much more comfortable about this reading from Matthew so here it goes. I would like to preface my sermon with a comment. Sometimes I think we can get too bogged down with the details of a story and lose the reason for its telling, the message.
First I would like to look at the cultural context of this very complicated parable. The king sent out two invitations. This was common in the first century. Along with the invitation would be a list of who else received invitations. This culture was very concerned with social standing and if there were people invited who were of lower social standing, then the guests would turn down the invitation as happened in this case. If someone high in the social structure was seen eating and drinking with a person of lower status it was likely that he or she would be shunned by family and peers.
The king is humiliated by the treatment his servants are given and punishes those who did it. He then basically opens the gates and invites everyone to the banquet. In this first century scenario the king would have provided a wedding garment for those invited and they would be expected to put it on before entering the banquet. One person, however, chose not to put on the garment and he was thrown out.
So, with this story, what is Jesus trying to tell us about the Kingdom of Heaven. I believe he is saying that you and I have an invitation to the heavenly banquet. If we choose to not attend because we have other interests in our lives or we are concerned more about our social status, then the invitation will be taken away. If we accept the invitation but we chose not to wear the spiritual garment that God offers us then we will not be allowed into the banquet either.
How do we accept the invitation? I believe you all know. We follow the way that Jesus described for us in the Gospel. It is a way that is simply explained but not all that easy to do. We are expected to practice love for each other even at times when it is difficult to love. God expects us to occasionally fail and at those times we ask forgiveness and God gives it.
I would like to bring in a little of Paul's letter to the Philippians because it clearly states to me the spiritual garment we are expected to wear. He writes: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence 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.
If you wrap yourself in the garment of truth, honor,and purity and you do what is pleasing to God you will surely be welcomed to feast at God's banquet.