Matthew 22:1–14 | Third Sunday in Lent | March 8, 2015 | First Christian Church | Mahtomedi, MN
In 1978 when I was around 8 years old, I participated in my first wedding. Well, it wasn’t a real wedding, it was a Tom Thumb wedding. If you are familiar with the practice this is a play wedding where are the participants, the pastor, the bride, the groom, the best man, the bridesmaid, everyone is a child. I was part of the groom’s party and I remember having to dress in a tux. I remember having to go to a tuxedo rental place to find a tux that would fit me.
The day came for the wedding. We had the event and then got in cars and drove around the neighborhood in our pretend procession for our pretend wedding.
What I remember from that occasion was that all of the kids were dressed to the nines. Of course we had to be, it was a wedding. Well, that and our parents kind of made us dress up for the event.
It’s funny that even though we had to have the proper attire for the event, adults don’t always dress up for the occasion. I’ve always noticed people who go to weddings and there is always someone that looks like they literally came off the street. I’m not always a fan of dressing to the nines, but I know there are certain events, weddings and funerals, where it just makes sense to dress up- not to look good, but to show that this event means something, that it isn’t everyday.
Today, Jesus is telling one of the hardest parables to talk about. It involves a king that is having a party for his son who is getting married. He sends out the invites and…no one responds. In this culture, if a king sent out an invitation, it meant you had to go. So for no one to respond brought shame to the king. However, he tried again and sent invites. Most folks ignored the invite again and some even took the messengers bearing the invitations and killed them.
The king was angry. So he sends his armies to kill those who didn’t choose to attend his son’s party. Cities were ransacked and burned. In the midst of all this destruction, the king still had no one going to his son’s party. So this time he tells his servants to bring in everybody from the surrounding countryside, both good and bad. With in no time, the palace was filled to the brim with guests. You can imagine the wedding was held, with a fantastical feast and dance taking place afterwards. People were eating and dancing. Laughter filled the air.
You would think this is where the story ends. I personally would love if this is where the story ended, but it doesn’t. The king eyes some one standing along the sidelines of the dancefloor. Everyone else is wearing the wedding clothes, but not this gentleman. He is wearing street clothes. The king makes his way to the dancefloor to meet this man. When he arrives, he tells signals to the DJ to stop spinning records. He grabs the microphone and asks the now startled gentleman. “Friend, why aren’t you wearing your wedding clothes?”
The man eyes dart from side to side and then down on the floor. He couldn’t come up with an answer.
This makes the king angry. He grabs the man and faces him towards the door. He tells the guards to throw the man out of the palace for not wearing the proper clothing.
So, what is Jesus getting at here? What is the kingdom of God like? Is God really a stickler for dress codes?
It’s a challenge to interpret this text. It was written several decades after Jesus, life on earth to the early church which was in conflict. The church was still a sect within Judaism, and the larger body had a time understanding this new group and visa versa. In this parable, the invitees that rejected the king can be the religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees who thought Jesus was an impostor. The other invitees, the one that came from near and far, represented the church.
Now, this is the rub. It would be easy to say that all Jews rejected Christ and therefore it was now this second group, the church that did accept it. The problem is that it runs close to being anti-Semitic. Which is why it makes more sense to see this being a critique of Jewish leadership and not the religion as a whole.
But all of that is not really the heart of this story. The heart of this story comes at the very end. It’s that odd act of casting out the man who didn’t wear wedding clothes. It seems mean.
But let’s look at this from another viewpoint. Salvation is offered to all. Some hear and accept and others don’t. But just because someone is invited and goes to the wedding, that doesn’t mean they can do what they want. In this case, if you were invited to the wedding, you had to wear the proper clothes. I’m not sure if wearing the wrong clothes was a big no-no, but I’m going to guess it was. It was an offense, so they man was cast out. One note, nothing says the man wasn’t allowed back in if he got the proper clothes.
What if this is a lesson on grace? We are loved by God and we are welcomed into God’s party. But we can’t just do what we want. We are called to be followers of Jesus, to learn to be like Jesus. The man who was welcomed, was truly welcomed, but he wasn’t just allowed to do whatever pleased him. He had to wear the right clothes, not because it was the rules to honor the God that showed love to him.
There is such a thing as cheap grace which means understanding you are forgiven, but not really making any changes in your life because of what God has done for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If we left the story where the king invites everyone, good and bad to the wedding, it would have been a good story. It would have been a familiar story; one where we want to include everyone to God’s table. This is a good thing, but it is only part of the story. It is good to be inclusive, as this church is looking to do in the coming days with a public statement welcoming LGBT Christians. But the question we have to ask ourselves is what are we being inclusive for?
We welcome people to the Table so that they can also learn to follow Jesus…to wear the right clothes.
I can imagine I was happy to get out of that tux at the Tom Thumb wedding. I was eight years old after all. But I never did forget to make sure I dressed for the occasion. And may we not forget that as well. Thanks be to God. Amen.