Jesus responded by speaking again in parables: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding party for his son. 3 He sent his servants to call those invited to the wedding party. But they didn’t want to come. 4 Again he sent other servants and said to them, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Look, the meal is all prepared. I’ve butchered the oxen and the fattened cattle. Now everything’s ready. Come to the wedding party!” ’ 5 But they paid no attention and went away—some to their fields, others to their businesses. 6 The rest of them grabbed his servants, abused them, and killed them.
7 “The king was angry. He sent his soldiers to destroy those murderers and set their city on fire. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding party is prepared, but those who were invited weren’t worthy.9 Therefore, go to the roads on the edge of town and invite everyone you find to the wedding party.’
10 “Then those servants went to the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding party was full of guests. 11 Now when the king came in and saw the guests, he spotted a man who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes. 12 He said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ But he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to his servants, ‘Tie his hands and feet and throw him out into the farthest darkness. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.’
14 “Many people are invited, but few people are chosen.”
The kingdom of heaven is like going to my cousin Dana’s wedding.
It was banner occasion of 1988 in the Freeman household. It was the first time I ever officiated at a wedding. I remember getting the phone call. Standing in the kitchen, stretching the wall phone cord as far as it would go. No one was home at the time, so I left a note on a yellow paper towel (remember those colors?):
“August 13 – Dana and Jimmy are getting married and they want me to do it.”
It was so important that my mother framed it. She framed a paper towel. Undoubtedly the oddest request her friends down at The Frame Shoppe (real name – creative, huh?) ever had.
Anyway – we all went to Dallas. Everyone was invited. No one, not a Freeman, not a Stallings, nor Roe would turn down the invitation. All was merry until we got dressed to go to the church.
I had chosen a dashing ensemble – dark blue suit, of course, with a white dress shirt with a red pinstripe which perfectly matched the tie. My mother took one look at my already-dressed self and said, “You’re not wearing that. This is a wedding. Did you not bring a white shirt?”
In my estimation, this was a white shirt – with a red pinstripe. “Does it really matter?” I asked, “I’m going to be wearing a robe!” I shouldn’t have said that.
After several more escalating ultimatums, she laid down the final gauntlet, “You are NOT leaving this house in that shirt. Wear that shirt and you will be ‘cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth’!”
With that volley, the war was over. Mama won – doesn’t she always?
I know what Jesus’ unsuspecting party-goer feels like! There was absolutely proper “wedding garments” to be worn.
When Jesus says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . . ” we know we are getting into some “tall weeds.” The meanings are never a straightforward allegory. Even though it sounds like “King equals God,” and “banquet equals salvation,” the truth is so complicated that we are still searching for it – 2000 years later!
And – remember – I’ve said for the past few weeks that we have to look at the whole picture, not just the individual elements. When we step back and look at the entire story, a few things become clearer.
This passage occurs after Palm Sunday, and the “Cleansing of the Temple”. As you might expect, the “powers that be” – the Chief Priests and the elders – approach Jesus. They asked him, basically, “Who do you think you are, tearing up all this stuff?”
By the time our passage comes around, Jesus is still answering the same question from the chief priests – where do you get your authority?
“Well,” he says, “Tell me. Where did John get his?” They can’t answer because the people liked John, thought he was a prophet. They wouldn’t want to offend their constituency!
“Got a story for you,” Jesus continues. “A man had two sons. One said he would work, but didn’t. The other said he wouldn’t work, but did. Who really does his Father’s will?”
“The one that worked!” they answer triumphantly (finally, a question they could answer).
“Then, why don’t y’all get to work? You say you are doing your Father’s will, but you aren’t. There’s tax collectors and prostitutes over there doing more of God’s will than you are!” Jesus was really getting into trouble now!
Then, last week, we heard about the vineyard owner who just wanted to get what he was due; but, the workers kept killing his servants! Finally, he sent his own son. They killed him, too! Jesus insinuated that he was the Son, and the Chief Priests were the murderous workers. They got it! Verse 21:45 says, “they knew Jesus was talking about them.”
“But you won’t have to worry long,” Jesus goes on, “God will take the Kingdom from you and give to people who really do his will.”
Never one to “leave well enough alone,” Jesus had another one. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a King who threw a wedding party for his Son . . . ” We remember who the Son is. Let’s hope the Elders are still listening.
This whole thing, this whole movement of which Jesus is the leader is a party – a celebration! Just like the vineyard owner who tried to reach his servants with a crazy love, this king is trying time after time to get someone – anyone! – to come to the party!
Let’s not be dense, we are the invited guests! Some of us don’t even want to come. There is an abundance of joy, nourishment, and love, and we just ignore the invitation. We’d rather just stay home.
Some of us run the other way and do anything other than come to God’s party. Hunting, fishing, football games, vacations, doing the laundry, or the housework. Anything but accept God’s invitation. Why, we’ll even abuse the ones who invited us – thankfully, most of us stop with harsh words and don’t go as far as the folks in the parable!
Jesus intimates that God’s patience is not infinite – he might just destroy the invitees altogether and make up a new guest list! That’s harsh!
If that’s not enough, we who get to the wedding find out we are wearing the wrong shirt! The host was expecting a white dress shirt, not one with a thin red pinstripe!
Even the ones who finally accept the invitation are expected to show that they are invested in being there. John Wesley preached a sermon on this passage called “The Wedding Garment.” The garment to be worn is the grace, the forgiveness, the “sanctifying grace” (to use a real Wesleyan term) that helps us grow into perfection (another Wesleyan term). We can’t just accept the invitation without showing that we take that invitation seriously.
We must take our salvation seriously by showing our intent to wear a “new life;” to change out of our old, ratty life and put on the “wedding garment.”
This sounds a little judgmental, because we love to talk about how God accepts anybody! Just come on in! You’re part of the family! That is true. But there’s more. You have to show evidence of change, put on a new life, to truly be part of God’s wedding festivities.
Let me put it this way, since when is “just showing up” an effective way of doing anything?
Does it work for a job? No. You have to do the work.
Does it work for school? No. You have to study!
For football team? No!
For a politician – that’s a bad example.
A preacher? Tried that. Didn’t work!
In no other area of life is it enough to just get in the door! It should not be accepted in God’s Kingdom. God does invite everyone to the party! Some ignore. Some run the other way. Some do even worse!
But those for who accept the invitation, there are beautiful, new “garments” to be worn. Put aside your old life. Put on a new life, growing more holy the longer you’re at the party!