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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 22:1–14

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 18, Proper 23, series A
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Oct 12, 2014 

In order to understand the parable in todays Gospel, it is very helpful to understand the context of the culture of the day especially the context of royal wedding customs.  After all, the wedding feast in the parable is the kings feast given in honor of the wedding of the prince.  The king has all the resources of the kingdom at his disposal the best food the best entertainment.  The king might even have his best architects and builders build a whole new building just for the feast.  The feast lasted many days and so the servants of the king prepared the best lodging for the wedding guests.  Money is no object.

One of the things a king would do for wedding guests is provide a fashion spa for them when they arrived.  The king understood that travel was hard work in those days.  People would arrive exhausted and dirty.  The difficulty of travel might even make them a little grumpy.  The king provided facilities for refreshment manicures pedicures fashion designers and expert tailors everything a guest needed to look and feel their best when they entered the banquet hall.  The king wanted everyone and everything to be perfect in order to honor the wedding of his son, the prince.  This is one aspect of the culture of the parable that will help us understand it.

The other thing about the culture of that day has more to do with the simple fact that they did not have the same attitude about time that we do.  We have digital wrist watches that can tell us the exact time.  We have texting and cell phones and all other kinds of instant communication.  At the time of the parable, even writing was expensive.  Most communication was done orally, face-to-face.  If you were important, like a king, you had servants do the communicating, but the communication was still a personal, oral communication. 

This meant that there were always two invitations to a party.  The first invitation was to inform everyone that plans were under way.  This is the invitation that had the RSVP.  Those who could attend would reply that they were coming.  The second invitation informed the guests that everything was ready for them to come to the party.  The people who received this second invitation had already promised to come.  It was an incredible insult to excuse yourself after you had already promised to attend.  Turning down the second invitation of the king was treason.  Mistreating the servants who brought the second invitation was an act of war.

Jesus used these customs to illustrate His teaching about who enters the Kingdom of Heaven and who does not.  This parable demonstrates the overwhelming generosity of God the Father and His justice.  It also demonstrates the cruel insanity of those who reject the gift of salvation.  The king is God the Father.  The wedding feast is eternal life.  The servants are Gods prophets, apostles, and pastors.  Those who were invited and refused are the rank unbelievers.  The travelers on the highways who were both bad and good are those who have no worth in themselves, but who are at the wedding solely by the grace and mercy of God.  The guest who was not dressed properly is a hypocrite.  His name is on the church roles but he rejects the gifts of God.

So, what does this parable say to us today?  Why is it important for us to hear this parable?  It is very easy for us to look through the pages of the Old Testament and see the many ways that people rejected the prophets.  We hear how the people put the prophets in prison, drove them out of their homes, and put them to death, and we rightly condemn such activity.  We hear that of the original twelve apostles, only John died of old age.  All the others died martyrs deaths.  We wonder at such cruelty and once again, condemn it.  It is very easy to point a finger of condemnation at people who lived long ago and far away, but what about you and me.  What does Jesus say to us today?

Jesus used the man who refused the wedding clothes to warn you and me today.  We are gathered right now in the wedding hall of the king.  How are we dressed?

Imagine what this man had to do to get into the wedding hall without the right clothes.  When he arrived, the servants of the king came to him and offered to clean him up and heal his wounds.  They offered him clothing that was just the right style for the feast.  They wanted to give him everything he needed to fully enjoy the wedding banquet of the king.  The servants offered it all and he refused.  He insisted on doing things his way instead of the kings way.  He insisted on wearing his clothes instead of the kings clothes.  He entered the wedding hall, but rejected the gifts of the king.

Pastors are the servants of God.  When they open up Gods Word, they offer the best of heavenly style.  It is called the righteousness of Christ.  It is a very expensive style.  Jesus had to buy this style with His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death.  The heavenly style is the righteousness that Jesus earned for you with His suffering and death on the cross.  The righteousness of Jesus Christ is the only style that is elegant enough for eternal life.  It is the only style that the true servants of God can offer to you. 

As a servant of Christ, the pastors job is to remove the filthy fashion of sin and clothe you in the heavenly style the robes of Christs righteousness.  Hear the words that the Lord gave to Isaiah and that we read earlier in the Introit. [Isaiah 61:10] I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  When did we say those words?  We said them right after I said, Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. By virtue of the office of the servant of Gods Word, I cleansed you of your sin with Christs forgiveness and clothed you with the robe of righteousness.  Then we rejoiced together at this great gift from our king using the words of Isaiah the prophet.

Sadly, Jesus teaches that there are those who reject the style of heaven.  Jesus says that there will always be some in the banquet hall of heaven who insist on wearing their own clothes their clothes of arrogance, narcissism, self-righteousness, adultery, hatred, and so forth.  The old sinful nature insists that he is good enough.  He has no sin.  He does not need the heavenly style of the righteousness of Christ.  His style is just fine.  Besides, the old sinful nature will say, A loving god doesnt really send people to hell.

Jesus tells it differently.  The party crasher may have been able to fool the servants, but the servants are not the ultimate judge.  We must all stand before almighty God.  There is but one verdict for those who trust themselves and refuse the clothing of the righteousness of Christ.  The king said to the attendants, Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Those who reject Christ, reject salvation.  Those who in any way depend on their own efforts for even the smallest fraction of their salvation will meet the king and He will order them out of the wedding hall.

It is a different story for those found in the road.  The Holy Spirit works through His servants to bring them to the wedding hall and wash away all their sins.  Through His servants He covers them with the righteousness of Christ the righteousness earned on the cross.  The day will come when they, like Christ, will rise from the dead and enter into the wedding feast of the Lamb.  There they will receive the fulfillment of todays Old Testament lesson:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.  And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.  They will rejoice at the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb.  Amen

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