Recently, I pulled a book down from a shelf in my study, and out fell a postcard. Curiously, I looked at it, and found that it was this “Save the Date” postcard from my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding two years ago last June.
This Save the Date card is unique. My brother and sister-in-law are both comic book fanatics, and they regularly go to comic book conventions. My sister-in-law has been doing this so long, in fact, that she knows several artists who draw comic books, and it was one of them who did this “Save the Date” postcard. Their wedding was equally unique. Yes, my sister-in-law wore white, as is traditional. But, her shoes were covered in comic book pages, and in her bouquet were tiny little superhero figurines. On the corsages that my brother and his groomsmen wore were also affixed these tiny little superhero figurines. In this wedding and in the party that followed, the two of them celebrated their uniqueness, their joy at being joined together, and the love that they had for their friends and family. It was indeed quite the party.
The parable that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel is also about a wedding party, but amidst the joy of the wedding feast, we find some sour notes that may make us confused. So, in order for us to get a handle on this, we need to first take a step back from the Gospel text and look at the person who wrote it. Matthew was writing the story of Jesus to a group of Christians in the first century who were mostly Jewish in background. This group of people was seeking to understand why they had responded to Jesus’ call to follow him, while their friends and family had not. Presumably they had had very divisive arguments with their family members, and by the time this Gospel was written, they realized that their differences were not able to be bridged. Hurtful words had been spoken, and the division was final. And so we can see in Matthew’s version of this parable (Luke tells a much gentler version) a story of salvation history: God invites his chosen people to the wedding banquet of his Son, Jesus, but they refuse to come. God sends more messengers, but those who are invited treat the messengers badly, just as the vineyard workers in last week’s parable did, and they still refuse to come. Here Matthew envisions God becoming enraged and exacting punishment on those who refused, and then inviting everyone else out there to come, so that the banquet is filled and people are celebrating. Like so many of us who think that God is on our side, we want to imagine God punishing those who we think are wrong. But then, in the story, the king notices someone at the banquet with no wedding robe, and throws him out. Here, Matthew is saying that just because you are one of those whom God has gathered in to his banquet, this does not mean that you can rest easy. Your life must show evidence of the transformation effected by believing in Jesus, that is, you must bear the fruits of the kingdom of God. As James writes in his letter, “Faith without works is dead.” We Lutherans have issues with that, but that’s a discussion for another time.
So, what are some points that we can take from this strange little story today? Let’s start with this: don’t refuse God’s invitation to the wedding banquet. He has given us his very best: in the reading from Isaiah we hear about rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. In the parable that Jesus tells, we hear about oxen and fattened calves that have been slaughtered and prepared. And all for us: fallen and sinful people whom God sent his Son Jesus to die for. In the world to come, we will feast with God on the best food and drink ever, better than anything we could ever serve guests who come to one of our parties. And we receive a foretaste of that feast every week when we come to the table here to receive Holy Communion.
Besides answering God’s invitation and coming to the feast, we should also be looking around for those who are outsiders in our community. The king in the parable tells his slaves to go out into the streets and find everyone they can to bring them to the wedding feast. One of my New Testament professors at seminary always liked to say that “All means all.” I think he would also say that “everyone means everyone”. This means not only those of us who have nice houses, cars, and plenty to eat, but also those in our community who are struggling, those who rely on Loaves and Fishes for their daily bread; the children who take backpacks filled with food home with them on the weekends because they don’t have enough to eat; those who are addicted to drugs and those who live in the shabby trailer parks around our community, and so on. Everyone is invited to the wedding feast, and we are called to go out into the community and invite each person that we see.
Finally, besides accepting God’s invitation and bringing others to the banquet with you, there is the matter of the “wedding robe,” that is, proper clothes to wear at the banquet. This is interpreted as right behavior, and when I say “right behavior,” people immediately think of moral behavior: do this, but not that. But what is proper behavior at a wedding party? At a wedding, proper behavior is rejoicing: dancing, drinking, feasting, and joining in with the bride and groom’s happiness. So consider that the person at the banquet without a wedding robe was someone who was not doing any of these things. Instead, this person was grumbling that the bride’s wedding dress was not pretty enough; that the family did not greet her according to her rank; perhaps that the groom had made a bad choice and would have been better off picking her as a bride, because she would have brought him more credit. In short, the person not wearing a wedding robe was someone who was behaving in a very jealous manner and refusing to share in the king’s joy.
When do we behave like the cranky wedding guest who is at the banquet only to complain the whole time? Well, how about when we grumble about the person who we don’t think should have been invited? The prisoner, for example, who had an 11th hour conversion to Christianity right before he was executed? What will we do when we see him at the heavenly banquet: complain or rejoice? What about the alcoholic who loves Jesus and does her best, but whose behavior has ripped her family apart time and time again? When we see her at the heavenly banquet, will we complain or rejoice? Or, how about the homosexual couple who some might think is violating God’s law? What will we do when we see any of these people at the wedding banquet? Will we complain that they should not be there and that God had no business inviting them? Or, will we rejoice with God that all of God’s beloved children have been gathered in to the banquet and are now experiencing God’s love?
Beloved sisters and brothers in Christ, we are called upon to rejoice at the gathering of all to the banquet. We are called upon to welcome all who come to our doors here and now to worship and to take part in the foretaste of that heavenly feast, to rejoice as we experience our sins and the sins of others forgiven in Jesus, and to forgive one another the sins we commit. We are called to not always be somber and serious about our faith, but we are called to rejoice with God over everyone who comes to worship and celebrate with God and with us. We are also called, however, not only to welcome and rejoice with those who come, but to continually go out and introduce people to the host of the party, God, who loves everyone—and everyone means everyone—and who desires everyone to be saved. Let us go out and continue to invite, to rejoice, to be glad, and to celebrate. It’s going to be a heck of a party, with all kinds of interesting people there. Amen.