Everybody loves a good wedding, right? Well, maybe and maybe not. But one thing is for sure: tens of thousands of dollars are spent on them every year. According to USA Today, the national average cost of a wedding in 2011 was $27,000 and according the website “costofweding.com” the average cost of a wedding right here in Harris County was $25,000. Although I like to brag that my wedding costs just under $2,000; the truth is: if Cinnamon and I had the money, we probably would have spent more.
This is because weddings are a big deal and they have always been viewed as joyous celebrations. In the life of a 1st Century Jew, weddings were considered one of the most important occasions in the life of the community and could last up to a week.
Perhaps this is why in today’s gospel, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who throws a wedding banquet for his son.
According to Biblical Scholars the attendance to a king’s wedding banquet would be expected as an expression of the honor one owed the king. Excuses would not be acceptable, and the invited guests in today’s parable offer none after the first invitation goes out.
However, the gracious king decides to give the guests a second chance… he sends out a second invitation…telling them it’s going to be an amazing party and the best food is ready and waiting for them. But once again, the guests refuse the king’s gracious invitation. Instead, one goes off to his farm, another to his business and the rest actually kill the king’s messengers.
Now, to refuse the invitation not once, but twice and on top of that to kill the king’s servants would be equivalent to treason. So the king, in his anger, sends an army to destroy the invited guests and burn their city.
But he doesn’t cancel the party; instead, the king sends out a third round of invitations—this time to any and all who will come. The king’s messengers go out into the streets (to the bad part of town) and gather up everyone they find— as many as it takes to fill the wedding hall.
Most scholars believe that this parable served as a warning to the Pharisees and Scribes, about rejecting God’s invitation to celebrate with His son.
They believe that the rejection of the king’s messengers represent the historical rejection of God’s prophets. That the burning of the city in the parable echoes the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by Rome in 70 CE; and finally that the 3rd round of invitations represent the opening up of God’s Kingdom to the Gentiles.
In other words, the parable seems to be about the abundant grace of God welcoming everyone—both good and bad! After all, those gathered in from the highways and byways in no way deserved or earned this invitation and never in their wildest imaginations would have expected it.
Instead, it came to them from nothing other than the generous hospitality of the king. It was grace alone which offered the invitation and grace which gathered them in!
Yet, as we know this is not where the parable ends. Instead, Jesus goes on to describe a very odd exchange between the king and a certain wedding guest.
As all the guests are ushered into the banquet hall, the king spots a man who is not wearing a wedding garment and asks him why. However, the man is speechless and gives no reply. So the king orders the guest to be bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness.
Upon first hearing, this whole exchange may not make a whole lot of sense. After all, what did the king expect? If you are going out into the streets to round up wedding guests at the last minute, how can you expect them to be wearing the right clothing?
Yet, many scholars point out that it was a common practice of the time for wedding hosts to actually provide garments for their guests in the same way that fancy restaurants today keep a spare coat and tie on hand for under dressed dinner guests.
If this was true, why did the guest refuse the robe that was offered him? What made him think that he could come as he was to such a special feast without being noticed?
Suddenly, the focus of the parable shifts from being about inclusivity and welcoming all to the table to a story about repentance and transformation.
Biblical Scholar William Barclay puts like this, “It is true that the door is open to all men, but when they come they must bring a life which seeks to fit the love which has been given to them. A man cannot go on living the life he lived before he met [Jesus] Christ. He must be clothed in a new purity and a new holiness and new goodness.”
Now this is not to say that God does not love you and me exactly the way we are right now, of course He does. God’s gracious invitation always comes to us exactly as we are. However…God loves us too much to let us stay that way.
After all, Grace is free, but it is not cheap. It involves change, transformation and repentance.
As Bishop N.T. Wright states, “God loves serial killers and child molesters; God loves ruthless and arrogant businessmen; God loves manipulative mothers that damage their children’s emotions. But the point of God’s love is that he wants them to change.
He hates what they’re doing and the effects it has on everyone else – and on themselves, too. Ultimately, if he’s a good God, he cannot allow that sort of behaviour, and that sort of person, if they don’t change, to remain for ever in the party he’s throwing for his son….” (Matthew for Everyone: Part Two, 84).
The incredible thing is God loves us so much, that He always gives us the freedom to choose. After all, love by its very definition requires freedom. It always has and it always will. We are completely free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s will for our lives.
If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option. If we insist on using our God-given power and strength to make the world in our own image and rule our own little miserable kingdom, God grants us that freedom.
In other words, we can choose to be at the wedding party surrounded by God’s love, joy, and peace or we can spend our time in the outer darkness engulfed in fear, anxiety, and self-centeredness.
Here’s the good news: we have all been invited to God’s heavenly banquet. God has ushered us into the wedding hall. However, we aren’t present at the table because of anything that we have done. We are only invited and then made worthy because of God’s grace and generosity.
The question is: what will we choose to wear from this day forth? With God’s help, may boldly put on Christ, by dressing in the garment of righteousness.
Not because we feel obligated, or because we have to, but because we want to. Because God in the person of Jesus Christ has been so gracious to us, that we can do nothing else.
The feast has already been prepared. Will you come?