Having been involved in the preparation for our daughter Grace’s wedding earlier this year this reading today took on a new meaning for me. Usually people only see the end result of months, maybe years, of preparation that goes into the big day. Making sure everything is just right so that the day is perfect for the bride. It’s not the day when you want things to go wrong, things to get forgotten, unexpected surprises. You want everything perfect. And here in Jesus’s parable we have a King who is throwing a wedding banquet and wants everything perfect. And the most important part of the wedding banquet that is left is the guests who have been invited. After all the work and expense he has gone through the King cannot understand why people won’t accept his invitation. These people seem to not realise the expense and trouble he’s gone through and how privileged they are to receive an invitation. One of the hardest parts of any wedding is settling on the invitation list. You want family and friends there but you can’t afford to invite them all and venue size doesn’t allow you to anyway. You hope not to offend family who might expect an invitation. You don’t want to upset someone who thought that they were a close friend or had invited you to their wedding. And it’s important to RSVP if you can’t make it so others on the shortlist can be invited and that your seat that has been paid for isn’t empty at the reception. So the King is justifiably angry that the invited guests don’t accept his invitation. In turn he reissues the invitation to anyone and everyone. He wants his wedding feast filled to celebrate his son’s wedding day.
The parable is an image of the situation today of God’s invitation to all people to enjoy eternal life in Heaven. Some believe that the first invitation is a description of God’s original invitation that had gone out to Israel who rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah. God had promised a Messiah and the people had rejected the messengers preparing the way for John the Baptist and then finally Jesus. We are seeing in this section of Matthew growing rejection of God’s invitation by his own people. We had the parable of the tenants who rejected God’s messengers – even his own Son. The week before that was the rejection of Jesus’ authority. In the next chapter we will see the pain and anguish over God’s own children continuing to reject his invitation when Jesus look’s over Jerusalem in lament; “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37). And as they were not willing, God now extends the invitation directly to all people. In Jesus’ life and death God extends the invitation with the wording: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16). God has opened the invitation list to all people. No one is excluded despite what they might think about themselves. Some think their sin is too great. Their background is too awful. Their heart is too hard. Their temptations too strong. They don’t really believe that God’s grace can be so free, so accepting, so forgiving. If you are among this group you are reassured of the invitation of Jesus who died for all.
The parable Jesus told described that there was no social standing limiting the invitation anymore: The King’s servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; but there is one there who should not be which is hard to understand. If all are invited who is it that should not be there? The only clue that we are given is that he is missing a wedding robe. As the invitation to God’s heavenly banquet is now extended through Jesus’ death it is only through Jesus that one can be guaranteed entry. In the same way that the blood of the lamb at the Passover covered the Israelites in Egypt assuring safety from the angel of death in Egypt, so too, it is by the cover of Jesus’ blood shed for our sins that we are assured safety from the coming judgment of sins. St John saw an image of those in the wedding feast when he said: “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:14,15)
We cannot assure ourselves of eternal life by our good works because we can never be assured that we have done enough. We cannot assure ourselves of eternal life by following any other god because no other god has died for our sins. We cannot buy our way into eternal life because only Jesus’ death has paid for our sins. Only by the robe covering of Christ’s invitation can we be assured of our eternal life. This parable is a difficult parable told by Jesus because it does speak about those who reject God’s invitation to eternal life. It is a timely reminder to us to not take in vain God’s invitation to us. There are so many that have rejected the invitation like the ones in the first part of the parable. There are many who have rejected or neglected their baptism. There are many who have rejected or neglected their invitation to the Lord’s Table. There are many who have put their careers and personal lives ahead of their Christian faith. They are the ones who have heard God’s invitation like the first invitees in the parable who made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. It hurts to hear that because some of them are our friends and family. The good news is that God is a God of invitation. The Bible is full of invitations to supper with God. Jesus ate with a Pharisee; he dined with fishermen, tax collectors, the poor and the rich. He called to a man up in a tree, “Zacchaeus, come down. I must have supper with you this day!” And God continues to extend that invitation through you and me. Entrance into God’s Kingdom is by invitation only. God does not use force on anyone to believe in him, to accept his Son, or to obey his laws. God respects the free will of a person. He invites, pleads, begs and will do anything except use force to get us into his Kingdom. All he says is “Come.” We are God’s invitation and he sends us out just as the King sent his servants out to invite people to the Kingdom. St Paul says in 2nd Corinthians; We are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. And the invitation is for all – good and bad. We are not to determine who deserves and who doesn’t deserve an invitation. God excludes no one. Only we exclude ourselves when we reject his invitation. And that’s what made Jesus sad when he lamented over Jerusalem because all God wants to do is to lavish his love and generosity on everyone and can’t understand why people don’t want to come.
The wedding feast is ready for the guests. We do not bring a dish of food. We bring only ourselves. God does all for our salvation. By grace are we saved. The refusal hurts God. It means considering someone or something else more important even though he sacrificed his own son to guarantee our place at the wedding banquet. The parable deals with evangelism. The invitation of the king to those not in the king’s household. Evangelism is the church’s outreach to those not in God’s household of faith. The king sends his servants to go to the people to invite them to come and we go as his representatives. We are sent to the highways and byways to invite. And just as the king wants his banquet hall to be full, God desires all humanity to come to him and to be reconciled. The work of evangelism is not done until “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”