Sermon

Matthew 22:1-14

When Showing Up Isn’t Enough

By Dr. Mickey Anders

Can you imagine this story? Just imagine that you were to receive a personal invitation to a banquet at the White House. The President of the United States is going to be there and has personally invited you to attend. Not only that, but you will be picked up at the local airport and whisked off to Washington in Air Force One. You are going to be given the VIP treatment that only visiting heads of state receive.

So how do you respond? “You say that’s next Saturday? Let’s see. Well, I don’t know. I was planning to go out and check on my garden that day. No, I’d better pass. The corn might need my attention that day.”

And imagine that the President was so concerned that you might not have the appropriate dress that he gave you a gift certificate for formal wear. But you just didn’t bother to go get the tux or the evening gown and showed up at the White House in the dirty overalls you love to wear when you are gardening.

Not likely, is it?

Well, those stories are similar to the parable Jesus tells in our text today. And this parable is just as unlikely. Jesus tells the story of about a king’s son who is getting married. The king decides to plan the event of a lifetime and sends invitations to all the right people to attend. But the invited guests come up with lame excuses and beg off. They further mistreat the king by mistreating his messengers and even killing some of them. The king is enraged that his guests not only reject his invitation, but mistreat and kill his messengers. So he calls up his troops and makes total destruction of the invited guests, their towns and villages.

But the king insists on having a party and that the banquet hall be full. All this effort and expense is not to be wasted. So he sends his servants out into the streets and alleys, the bars and nightclubs, the restaurants and theaters, the flop houses and homeless shelters, and invites old and young, rich and poor, good and bad to come fill the banquet room.

All is well, except now the king notices that one man has come to the party to enjoy the food, but he has refused to wear the wedding garment. Many have suggested that the king actually provided white robes for everybody attending. At any rate, this man did not chose to dress up for the occasion, so the king throws him outside.

First, we must note God’s gracious invitation. This is obviously more than a story about a king and a banquet. It is the story of salvation history in which God sent prophets and Christian evangelists with Good News, which some reject and others accept.

There are a number of parallels between this parable and the one we studied last week, the parable of the Wicked Tenants. In both parables, the owner or king provides something wonderful. In the first it was a fine vineyard, in the second a banquet feast. He then sends slaves to convey a message. In both, the people mistreat and kill the slaves. But the owner persists, sending other slaves, whom the people also mistreat. He then punishes the people. The son is involved in both parables, although in different ways.

The code for understanding this allegory is as follows:

The king is God.
The son is Jesus.
The invited guests are the Jewish people.
The first slaves are the Hebrew prophets.
The second and third sets of slaves are Christian missionaries.
The burned city is Jerusalem.
The “good and bad” constitutes the mixed membership of the church.

I want us to focus on the rejected invitation. Why was the invitation rejected? The parable says simply that the guests “would not come” (v. 3). They offer no excuses, but simply refuse to honor the invitation.

Perhaps they had accepted the invitation some time earlier. It was easy to accept an invitation for a dinner to be held sometime in the future. Merely accepting the invitation did not inconvenience them in any way, and it was an honor to be invited. But it was something entirely different when it came time to drop what they are doing, to change clothes, and to go to the banquet.

Likewise, the call of Christ may be easy to accept in principle. It’s a no-brainer to choose heaven over hell. But we may find it much more inconvenient to accept the particulars about following Christ. What about Christ’s call to serve on the church board, to teach Sunday School, or to tithe?

Some have suggested that there were political reasons for refusing the invitation. The attendance of the great men of the kingdom at the wedding feast of the king’s son would be expected not only as a necessary expression of the honor they owe the king but also as an expression of their loyalty to the legitimate succession to his throne. They know full well that their behavior will be understood as insurrection. Apparently, this is what they intend, and those who kill the king’s messengers only make this intention known more emphatically. In this light, we can better understand the king’s violent response in verse seven.

Others have said that the primary reason the invited don’t go is because they don’t want to go. It’s not a situation where they can’t come. They just don’t want to. Their “not wanting” to attend indicates that they did not view the invitation as an honor or privilege, even though it came from a king.

This is followed by a second invitation. Even if they don’t like the king, perhaps they will come because of all the good, free food. Again the invitees response shows a lack of respect. In verse 5, we read that “they made light of it.” Here is a response of apathy. They want to do what they want to do when they want to do it.

They went about their ordinary affairs, “one to his own farm, another to his merchandise” (v. 5). Good things, not bad, distracted them. These aren’t excuses, but personal concerns that they think are more important than the king’s invitation to this most important celebration for his son.

Temptation often comes clothed in wholesome attire. We have to work, to run errands, to take care of children, to clean the house, to cook and to wash dishes, to pay bills, to mow the lawn, or to repair a leaky faucet. Where can we find room on our “to-do” list for God?

Is it too far fetched? Is this a parable that could never happen? Of course not. We see the same thing happening all around us every day, and especially on Sunday morning.

The King, the Lord of Lords, the almighty Creator of the universe invites us to a party, a feast, a banquet, the marriage feast of his Son. But we offer excuses.

“But I was up late last night and Sunday is my only chance to sleep in.”
“I don’t want to miss the opening kick-off at noon.”
“It sure is a beautiful morning for fishing.”
“The kids have a soccer match this morning.”
“The family is coming over for dinner and I’ve got to get ready.”

When you don’t want to do something, any excuse will do, no matter how flimsy or absurd.

If you took the same excuses that people use for not going to church and applied them to other important areas of life, you’d realize how inconsistent we can be in our logic. For example, someone has suggested these reasons not to wash. See how ridiculous they sound.

• I was forced to as a child.
• I wash on special occasions like Christmas and Easter.
• People who wash are hypocrites they think they are cleaner than everyone else.
• There are so many different kinds of soap; I can’t decide which one is best.
• I used to wash, but it got boring so I stopped.
• None of my friends wash.
• The bathroom is never warm enough in the winter or cool enough in the summer.
• I’ll start washing when I get older and dirtier.
• I can’t spare the time.
• People who make soap are only after your money.

Finally, we must look at the man who came without the wedding garment. We must point out that the wedding robe has nothing to do with the kind of clothing, fancy or plain, that we wear to church.

But it is clear that the key to understanding this allegory is the symbolism of the wedding robe, But Jesus doesn’t explain exactly what the wedding robe represents. Augustine thought of it as the charity. Luther said it was faith. Calvin thought it was good works.

Wearing the garments indicated one’s participation in the joy of the feast. To appear in ordinary, soiled working clothes would show contempt for the occasion, a refusal to join in the king’s rejoicing.

This man is no more worthy than those who rejected the invitation. They refused the invitation to the feast; he shows contempt on the feast while actually attending it. In effect, he has not really accepted the invitation, since the invitation is not just to be physically present at the feast but also to participate in the king’s rejoicing over the marriage of his son.

Clothing is a common New Testament metaphor for spiritual change. Paul wrote in Romans, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, for its lusts ” (Romans 13:14).

And in First Corinthians, “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:53).

In Colossians, we read, “Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance.” (Colossians 3:12).

Finally, in First Peter we are admonished, “Yes, all of you clothe yourselves with humility, to subject yourselves to one another; for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble'” (1 Peter 5:5).

Being clothed anew is a consistent New Testament expression for holiness and righteousness. The old clothes have to come off and new ones put on.

This text confronts us with the paradox of God’s free invitation to the banquet with no strings attached and God’s requirement of “putting on” something appropriate to that calling. The theological point is that we are warned of the dire consequences of accepting the invitation and doing nothing except showing up.

William Barclay concluded with this telling comment: “The door… is not open that the sinner may come and remain a sinner, but that the sinner may come and become a saint” (Barclay, 298).

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2002 Dr. Mickey Anders.  Used by permission.