Last week I encouraged each of us to appreciate and even love both this country and this church, and today the Gospel calls us to consider the quality of that love for God. Each of us has indeed been loved by God and has been invited to the great banquet of the Lamb, but showing up to the feast is not enough, God wants us properly dressed.
There is quite a confusing end to the parable that Jesus tells us today. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a King who throws an amazing feast! You can just imagine the expense, right? Food for days, goblets, and candles, wine, paintings, chandeliers, and every sort earthly delight. Few people in Jesus’ day, and even in on our own, will ever witness such beauty, decadence and pageantry. Probably as close as any of us will get is to watch a royal wedding on t.v.–something like when I was a boy watching the beautiful Princess Diana and Prince Charles on their wedding day at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Called “the wedding of the century” the glamorous ceremony was attended by 3,500 guests and watched on television by 750 million people.
In today’s Gospel, although the king had made all the preparations, his invited guests refused the invitation outright, others went to work, and others laid hold of the messengers and killed them. Jesus’ audience would have known immediately who Jesus was referring to. How uncomfortable to be among the chief priests and the elders of the people as Jesus told the story, knowing that he was accusing them of refusing God’s invitation of life and love, of celebration and the joy that God promises to all who enter his Kingdom. Worse still that not only did they refuse the invitation, they even killed the messengers–the prophets of God that told the people of God’s generosity and inclusivity, but warned them also of God’s demands.
And because God’s people refused the invitation, the great King said, “My banquet hall will be filled!” The King opens wide the doors to the hall, “Go out into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find,” the King commands. The servants went out and gathered all they found, the bad and the good alike…and the hall was filled.
Those roughians, those on the streets, “the bad and the good alike,” well that, of course, is us. We who are not Jews and the natural heirs to the wedding feast of the Lamb, but we are among those who have been invited anyway. We are the gentiles, the unclean who have been invited by Jesus, but who by the blood of the lamb and through the waters of baptism, have been made clean, been made pure…white as wool.
I think sometimes we forget that we had no claim on God and God’s kingdom, had no ticket to the wedding feast at all, but because of God’s generosity and inclusivity, we enjoy the Kingdom even now on earth, and in its fullness when we pass on. I think sometimes we are quick to celebrate God’s love for us, God’s generosity toward us, but like spoiled children, are slow to rise to the demands that his relationship has on us. And for the spiritually lazy, for those who remain luke-warm, for those who have a sense of entitlement among us, today’s Gospel has a clear warning–you can be thrown out, just as quickly as you were invited in.
The king sees a man not dressed in the king’s wedding garment, and was without excuse. Standing before the king, enjoying choice food and choice wine, he hadn’t even made the smallest preparations to attend the feast, and upon arrival, he did not dress the part. Many of us might find the King’s actions harsh. The king is the one, after all, that opened the doors and invited those along the roadways, in the fields, the good and the bad alike, right? That’s true, he did. But the King did NOT say, show up just as you are, make no preparations, do your own thing, I expect nothing in return. The man was selfish, enjoyed the king’s generosity, and gave nothing in return–not even so much as to wear the king’s garment. The man was bound hand and foot and thrown out into darkness. “Many are invited, few are chosen,” Jesus says.
What exactly was this wedding garment that the man refused to put on once invited to the king’s banquet? We find a clue in the Book of Revelation. There, the Church is referred to as the Bride of Christ, and the unity of Jesus and the Church for eternity, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. In Revelation 19, after the great battle between Jesus and the beast of the Apocalypse, when Babylon falls, and God’s reign is fully realized, the wedding begins. In verse seven, “For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready. She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment. (The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.)” The man was thrown out because he was invited, but did not clothe himself properly.
And there’s the warning for us. We have been invited to the most glorious Wedding the universe has ever known. No expense was spared. God’s own son is wed to his bride, the Church, and everyone of the guests must put on the wedding garment or be thrown out. And the garment is our righteous deeds, our actions, the quality with which we live our life toward others. Our “righteous deeds” manifest themselves in acts of mercy, kindness, generosity, and service. Our “garment” is speaking well of others, refusing to gossip, sticking up for the unpopular at school, being respectful of our parents and authority and caring for others. This is our garment. If we were to stand before the king today, will he find us wearing ours or will we be reduced to silence and thrown out?