Matthew 22:1-14 Isaiah 25:1-9
18th Sunday after Trinity
What’s so good about a party? I think we’d all know how to answer that question! Unless, of course, we don’t like them at all. But one very good thing about a party is being invited. Somebody has taken the trouble to invite people to celebrate with them, and, whatever the reason for a party, it’s nice to know that you are included. If it’s a very special party, we take some extra care to dress up. Especially if there’s a dress code, like for weddings.
The image of a wedding is an important one in the story of God:
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he turned water into wine at a wedding feast. Now, towards the end of his ministry, he uses the image of a wedding feast in a parable about some people’s refusal to enter the Kingdom by those originally invited. The idea that the Kingdom of God includes a large wedding banquet may be a far cry from some people's belief that God is stern and strict, and would, generally speaking be against all forms of fun. But God is not against fun at all; he is just against things that we would call ‘fun’ but that are actually dangerous to our own mental and physical health or that of others, and that’s different. A child may think it fun to run across a busy street, but a good parent would see the danger the child is ignorant of; it’s that sort of thing.
And now we have this passage from Matthew chapter 22: the parable of the wedding feast. In the eyes of everybody at the time, a wedding feast was an important event, a highlight of the year, topped only by a wedding feast for a royal. In the first part of the parable, a king gives a wedding banquet for his son, and when it is all prepared and ready, he sends out his servants according to custom, to bring in the invited guests. However, they don’t want to come: one after the other makes excuses or even ill-treats the king’s servants. At the end, the king gets very angry and destroys their city, and then has other people called in to the feast: the lame, the beggars, the no-goods, everybody else who would want to come is called in to celebrate, and they respond.
In the second part of the parable, the theme is the same but seen from a different angle: a man is spotted by the king at the wedding feast and who doesn’t wear a ‘wedding robe’. The man can’t give a proper explanation as to why he is not appropriately dressed, so he’s thrown out in quite an elaborate way. It seems over the top: what’s so bad about not being dressed in wedding robes? Apart from the horror a lady might feel when she notices she is wearing the same dress as another woman at a wedding, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Well, like the first part of the parable, the story is about preparedness. Being prepared for God’s ultimate wedding banquet, which is an image of heaven, means accepting his Son, Jesus, as the Son of God. And like the previous parables, those who were invited first, the religious people of Israel, would forgo the banquet by refusing the Son. And others, who had been ‘forgotten’ or alienated, would instead go in to the wedding banquet.
If you got an invitation to a royal wedding, would you say, ‘I’ve just got a new car, and I want to try it out, so I won’t come’? Wouldn’t you rather get some new clothes and make sure to be there on time? And if you still went without wanting to give honour to the host, wouldn’t you risk being thrown out? The two parts of the parable are telling the story of how it will go for those who decline the gift of God’s salvation and his super wedding party to which we’re all invited.
Let me paraphrase it with a little joke:
An atheist was lying in the funeral parlour. The mortician put the finishing touches to the body and sighed: ‘Look at him – all dressed up and nowhere to go.’
Let’s not be like that. Let’s be ready to accept God’s invitation to the wedding feast of his Son. And rejoice in the new clothes for the party! Amen.