11.10.20. 19th Sunday after Pentecost
Exodus 32:1-14 Psalm 106:1-6, 20-24 Philippians 4 Matthew 22:1-14
In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus tells the parable of The Wedding Banquet.
A King sends out invitations to lots of important people to come to his Son’s wedding.
He wants them to put on their finest clothes and join him in the lavish celebrations.
I’m sure we all love a Wedding. They are such joyous occasions, and when we are sent a wedding
invitation there is an expectation that we will attend, that we will dress in an appropriate manner
and behave in a suitable way. It is always a delight to conduct a wedding but I have to say that I
have sometimes seen the most inappropriate clothes and some very questionable behaviour!
The Jewish custom of Jesus’ time was different to what we are used to. The wedding invitations would be sent out without stating the exact time and then, when everything was prepared and ready, the servants would go out and gather the guests up and bring them to the feast. So, when the time is right, the King sends out his servants to call all those who have been invited to the Wedding – but they won’t come even though the King has gone to a great deal of trouble.
Some guests won’t come to the wedding feast because they are just not interested, some are even fiercely hostile. Some of them come up with all sorts of excuses why they can’t attend – they are just too busy with other things and preoccupied with their own lives.
It is no wonder the King is outraged but he is undeterred and his son’s Wedding feast will go ahead anyway. The servants are sent out again to bring in anyone and everyone they meet in the streets, both the good and the bad, the outcasts and those of dubious character and the wedding hall is filled with guests. However carefully the original guest list was made up, now the only requirement needed for coming to the party is to be willing to accept the King’s generous invitation.
Those listening to Jesus’ words would not have missed the point. The King represents God, the son of course is Jesus and the invited guests are the religious authorities and those who follow them. The servants are God’s messengers, the prophets who were sent to fetch the guests.
This is the great party people have been waiting for. God’s people are being invited to honour the Son’s coming among them as the Messiah and to share in God’s kingdom, yet those most expected to welcome him are holding him in contempt and rejecting the invitation. They refuse to listen and refuse to come to the party.
So the invitation is thrown open to everyone; it extends far and wide and not just to the Jewish people. God’s invitation is all-inclusive – he invites all nations to the feast, men and women, young and old, good and bad. It doesn’t matter who they are so long as they welcome the Son.
Throughout Matthew’s gospel we see Jesus mixing with the people who are on the margins of society – the poor, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the sick who are considered unclean. They never expected to be invited to the party and they are thrilled that Jesus comes to them and that God’s invitation is for them too.
These are the people who accept Jesus and he welcomes them just as they are. But the important point is that he doesn’t leave them like that. He heals them and he changes them and helps them to turn their lives around and begin new lives.
We love to say that ‘Jesus welcomes all’ and of course that is true but this passage today has a sting in the tail which pulls us up short. The King sees a man who is not wearing the appropriate wedding clothes and he is thrown out! This is not the sort of thing we like to hear. We often shy away from talking about judgment or the demanding standards of God, about ‘being thrown into the outer darkness,’ as Jesus puts it.
But this man represents all those people who hear God’s call, who accept Christ as God’s son and come to the party but then refuse to change their lives. He represents all of us who think we can accept Christ into our lives, but just carry on how we did before.
Then there are those who over the years have done the right thing but have fallen by the wayside as their love for God has waned or they have forgotten about God altogether.
This is what happened to the Israelites in the desert as we heard in our first reading. The once faithful, chosen people had forgotten all that God had done for them and when things started to get tough, they threw God aside as they made a golden calf for themselves to worship.
Today’s readings make us think hard about our lives. They ask us if we are refusing to come to the feast at all because we are just indifferent to Christ’s message. Are we making excuses about just being too busy? Perhaps we know what it’s like to be so preoccupied with everything that is going on in our lives that God ends up taking a back seat.
Are we cluttering up our minds and our lives, making other things more important than God? All these things are ‘the wrong clothes.’ It’s very comforting to know that God loves us all and accepts us just as we are, that whatever we have done in the past, we are forgiven and accepted but God’s love also refuses to let us stay as we are. As Christians we have accepted God’s invitation but are we allowing Christ to be a transforming force in our lives?
The great mystery of God’s love and forgiveness is not the same as saying that we can carry on as we were. We know that actions have consequences, and that moral choices do matter and today we are reminded that coming through the doors of God’s kingdom is just the beginning. Our Heavenly Father has bigger plans for us because we are all on a journey of transformation through the power of the Spirit.
Both those who reject the invitation and those wearing the wrong clothes, miss out on the celebrations because they choose to say ‘no’ to the king. Jesus urges us to say ‘yes’ to him, not just once, but throughout our lives.
In the letter to the Philippians, St. Paul urges the new church to direct their hearts and minds to maintaining an active and living faith in Christ, to live their lives as Jesus directed by resolving quarrels, praying, trusting in Christ and setting their minds on all that is good. As he writes, ‘do whatever is true, honourable, just and pure.’
These are the things we bring to the feast and these are the clothes we have to wear if we truly mean we want to be at God’s party.