PRAYER: We thank you, O God, for the invitation to your kingdom. Remind us today that when we accept that invitation, that we are called to offer your healing and peace in the midst of brokenness. Remind us that when we accept your invitation, we are called to be transformed – to put on Christ in all that we do. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
A couple of weeks ago, our lectionary text turned to Matthew 21 and 22. The story in these chapters happen in the early days of Holy Week shortly after Jesus entered Jerusalem on what we would know as Palm Sunday. Jesus makes this grand entrance into Jerusalem, he overturns the tables of the money changers in the temple. He makes his presence known. All of what we’ve read for the last three weeks has taken place the following day as the chief priests and temple elders confront him and ask him by what authority he does these things.
Over last three weeks, we’ve been hearing three different parables that Jesus tells in rapid succession. The first one was about a father who told his two sons to go out and work in the vineyard. The first one said no, he wouldn’t go, but eventually he did. The second son said he would go, but he didn’t.
The second parable was about a landowner who leased out his vineyard. When harvest time came, he sent some servants to collect his produce, but the tenants beat the servants and even killed one. Then he sent his son, and they killed him too.
And now this third parable, which from a perspective of Matthew’s gospel, is certainly one of the more challenging ones to read because it contains a pretty tough-to-read response from the character that we would typically associate with God – the king. The invited guests to the wedding banquet don’t show up so the king – or God – responds by destroying them all. And then, after having his servants invite people off the streets, the king still manages to find fault with the one hapless guest who wasn’t wearing the appropriate wedding attire.
It’s a tough parable, to be sure. Especially given what’s happening in the world right now. I can’t stress enough that Matthew is not advocating for such violence. Jesus’ words using violent imagery are not something he’s telling us to emulate. He’s using these stories to drive a different point home about being transformed.
It’s helpful for us then to view these three parables together. There’s an element within them that isn’t necessarily apparent when we view them separately. In the first parable about the two sons, Jesus is really talking about John the Baptist who told the people to repent… to go out into the world and proclaim the kingdom of God. Some said they would, but ultimately didn’t, while others dismissed John’s proclamations at first, but ultimately did follow him.
In the second parable, Jesus is talking about himself. The son was sent to proclaim the kingdom of God, and they killed the son.
And finally in this third parable, Jesus is talking about the culmination. He’s talking about judgment and salvation. He is not being subtle at all in this parable. He is directly accusing the chief priests and temple elders of having completely dropped the ball with respect to doing their jobs for the community. They’ve chosen their own wealth and comfort, their own power over the very people they were supposed to be serving. In this third parable, he is telling the leaders of the religious community that they had their chance to lead, to bear fruit – to stand up for ways that would be transformative, but instead they lined their own pockets and fed their own egos and built their own agendas. Ultimately, the kingdom of God is about transforming hearts and lives, being a light in the wilderness that saves rather than exploits. Their job was to take God’s love and share it downward and outward, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that asking the elite and powerful and the wealthy to pass down benefits never works.
But Jesus didn’t end the parable there, did he? Notice that after Jesus says that the king sent his troops, destroyed those elite who refused to come and burned down their city, the king then sent out his servants to invite people from the street. “Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” The wedding banquet – the kingdom of God was not canceled because those elite didn’t show up. The kingdom of God still happens even if those short-sighted egotistical religious elite found themselves on the outside looking in.
But now, who comes to the banquet? Now, everyone is invited. You and I are invited. Everyone who is found is invited. This is the great good news for us all. We are all invited.
About 25 years ago, I started to play golf. It was a chance for me to spend time with my dad because golf was his favorite thing to do after he retired. Frankly, I didn’t enjoy it as much as he did, but I liked going out on the course with him.
One day, one of the course rangers caught up to us while we were on the 9th or 10th hole. As I was teeing off, he spoke with my dad for a moment or two and then drove off in his cart. My dad said that he came over there to tell me that I was dressed inappropriately for the golf course. You see, I was wearing jeans. Apparently jeans are not appropriate golf-course attire. Because my dad was well-known on the course, the ranger wasn’t going to kick us out that day, but I was warned to never wear jeans on the golf course again.
I don’t play golf anymore. Not because of that, but it certainly didn’t help.
But I am reminded of that incident when I read the end of this parable of the one guest who was dressed inappropriately. Here we have everyone being welcomed off the streets, but still, this one person was kicked out because he was wearing jeans… or the wrong robe, or whatever it was.
Let’s remember that the celebration – the wedding feast is a metaphor for the kingdom of God. And everyone is invited to the kingdom of God. So if that’s the case, then what’s the deal with this one guy? The one contextual thing about this story that the people in that time would have understood instantly was that to be invited to a wedding feast, you didn’t have to go out and rent a tux or buy some fancy clothes. The host provided the wedding garments for the guests to wear. So again, if that’s the case, then why wasn’t this one guest dressed appropriately?
It’s not about the clothes. It’s not about looking like the elite well-to-do. It’s not about wearing slacks on the golf course as opposed to blue jeans. The kingdom of God is about living a transformed life, lifted up by the King and reaching out to share that love of God with others.
Yes, everyone who’s found is invited, but to enter the kingdom of God, we must be transformed. Romans 13 tells us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and to make no other provision. We must put on Christ as a garment that we are changed and doing the work of the kingdom. To be welcomed into God’s kingdom is to put on Christ as our garment, transforming us into the new creation that God calls us to be.
You are cordially invited to this feast. Everybody who’s found is invited. The required garment is the righteousness that comes from following Christ and emulating his teachings. To put on Christ is about how we live, how we love, how we treat our neighbor, and how we respond to the hatred and fear, the hunger that exists today.
The church of today must come to realize that just showing up is not enough anymore. It never was enough, but that’s another story. The man at the end of the story accepted the invitation of the gospel, but he refused to conform his life to it.
There’s a quote I’ve seen a number of times lately that’s been attributed to John Wesley, the founder of methodism. I don’t know if he actually said this or not, but it sounds like something he would say: “What religion do I preach? The religion of love – the law of kindness brought to light by the gospel. What is this good for? To make all who receive it enjoy God and themselves and to make them – like God – lovers of all.”
Are you willing to participate in the kingdom of God? Putting on Christ is about understanding that the time for bringing the kingdom of heaven… is now. It’s what we are called to do here and now as the church. The wedding garment we are supposed to wear is woven and stitched together by how we love one another. It’s not enough to be in the church, we are to be the church, loving as Christ loved. We are called to engage with our community, not to just watch from our pews. The wedding garment comes with sacrifice. It is adorned with how we encourage others, how we pray for others. Its seams are strengthened by how we lay hands on the hurting, how we do life together.
The chosen are the ones who understand that the time for bringing about the kingdom of God is now. Not later, not someday, but now. Maybe Matthew’s issue is not so much that the wedding guest showed up wearing jeans on the golf course, but that he disregarded the urgency of the invitation. He did not accept – or maybe he wasn’t told that the invitation to God’s banquet is a call to action. Jesus said that many are called but few are chosen. Those who are chosen however, have to then choose themselves to stand up and be recognized for their work in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
We are cordially invited to hear – even in this very challenging parable, the good news that God invites all, good and bad, because God is a God of expansive love and radical inclusiveness. We are cordially invited to see, especially in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, not only just how far God will go to make this invitation of grace but also God’s words of love and forgiveness are more powerful than any words of punishment, hate, or fear. And because we have seen and heard and experienced first-hand God’s love, we do not have to call down God’s judgment but can trust the God we know in Jesus to care for those who do not respond to God’s invitation just as graciously as God has cared for us.
You’re cordially invited to put on Christ, so the whole world can see what you’re about. So that the whole world can see who you are, wearing the compassion, sewn with righteousness, you’re invited. You’re invited to new life. You’re invited to love. You’re invited to say yes.
To God be the glory.