"Put On Your Sunday Best" – Matthew 22:1-14
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
-----------A lot gets lost when sermons are read rather than heard, which is why I will make it explicit that the first half of this sermon is scarcasm!-----------
I'd like to begin today’s message by telling you that every Sunday I get a good long look at each one of you and I judge you based on your appearance.
To be honest, I’ve always thought it was kind of a personality flaw on my part; but when I read today’s Gospel message I realized that Jesus wants me to notice how you are dressed and treat you accordingly.
In today’s parable Jesus tells us about a king who throws a wedding banquet for his son. All the guests decline the invitation and resent that they were invited in the first place. So the king kills off all the original guests and opens up the party for everyone who wouldn’t otherwise be invited – the outcasts of society. And all of society’s outcasts are invited and welcome to the party. There’s only one tiny catch…those outcasts had better wear the right clothes to the party!
This parable says that we have been invited to the party, but if we’re not dressed for the part, we will be humiliated in front of the other guests and thrown out on the street where we’ll cry our little eyes out and be left all alone; which means that the moral of the story is that God’s unconditional love and acceptance actually does have one condition – the quality of our outward appearance.
Perhaps you hear this as good news. After all, just about all of us already use factors such as appearance to determine how we treat other people: clothing style, haircut, hair color, glasses, wrinkles, tattoos, piercings, what kind of car they drive, what kind of house they live in, who they live with, etc. And here we are with Biblical assurance that we are right to judge people, especially based on such superficial things.
So, at this point we have a decision to make. Either we all start showing up on Sunday dressed in our finest clothes and continue feeling justified in judging other people based on how they look…or we decide to take another look at this parable and find its underlying truth.
Which would you prefer? Trusting in your clothes get you to heaven…or discovering the deeper truth of Jesus’ message?
I hoped you would choose that one. Let’s try this again.
-----------------(end of scarcasm)--------------------
I want to begin today’s message by assuring you that despite how this parable sounds, it is not about clothes! Jesus does not give a lick about what you wear and Jesus certainly does not permit us to judge and mistreat others based on their appearance. How can I say this when the scripture seems to argue the opposite point? Well, there's the verse from Matthew chapter 6 where Jesus says,
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
And there’s my favorite verse of scripture, Micah 6:8,
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (no mention of wearing nice clothes!)
So if this parable is not about clothes, what is it about?
This parable is about the acceptance or rejection of Jesus and how God’s grace affects our hearts and minds.
This parable was originally directed to the high priests and religious leaders. And, similar to the parable we examined last week’s, Jesus was reminding the religious leaders that they are subject to God’s judgment and punishment based on whether they accept or reject Jesus.
Now the phrases “accepting Jesus” and “rejecting Jesus” need to be clearly understood. We not talking about merely saying “I believe” and then carrying on with our lives as if God’s call upon us has no discernible effect. Accepting Jesus is not an one-and-done event; it’s not the day we were baptized, it’s not a single prayer. Accepting Jesus means that we radically re-orient our lives around those things which were important to Jesus – forgiveness, justice, loving the unlovable, speaking hope in the midst of despair. It’s a daily dying to our selfish selves and rising to the new life promised to us as we daily remember our baptism.
And I assure you what we wear is not important to Jesus.
Elsewhere in the New Testament, the writers use the phrase “putting on new garments” as a way to talk about the new life we have in Christ – a new life characterized by repentance and forgiveness. People don’t get tossed out of Jesus’ party for not wearing the right clothes; rather, they get tossed out when they simply show up but fail to be authentic disciples of Christ.
Simply accepting the invitation to the party – simply showing up – is not enough.
Living as a disciple of Christ demands more from us than intellectual belief or emotional trust; and certainly more than simply showing up to share God’s love with others only when it is convenient to do so. Instead, living as a disciple of Christ invites us to merge our behavior and actions with the teachings and life of Jesus every day of the week.
As a Christian, it is not enough for us just to show up. Rather, we must take our gifts, talents and abilities and use them for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
God’s grace is boundless and inclusive, but it is also demanding; it demands our whole life.
This is a difficult passage with a simultaneously uplifting and somewhat dismal message. Martin Luther once said about difficult passages that we must squeeze them until the good news drips out.
Well, the good news is that we are outcasts, but Jesus saw it fit to invite us into his kingdom. We took Jesus up on the invitation and each day we are presented with dozens of opportunities to overcome our selfish obstacles and share God’s life-changing love with others.
Even when we fail to live into the new, gracious and glorious reality of life with Jesus; even when we find ourselves back on the streets, looking in on the wedding banquet festivities, the invitation is re-extended.
So come, feast on forgiveness and freedom, and party on.