The 20th Sunday after Trinity, Matthew 22:1-14
Luther Memorial Chapel, Shorewood, WI
The Rev. Dr. Jason D. Lane
GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE TO YOU FROM GOD, OUR FATHER, AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST!
Beloved in Christ, when something is urgent, you come. Expecting fathers, when your wife calls to tell you she’s in labor, drop whatever and go. It’s urgent. It’s like when you get the call that your baby’s sick or your parents or your grandparents are sick, you drop everything and run. Moms, when you hear the kids screaming outside in pain, you drop what you’re doing and go. When things need attention, or when someone’s in trouble, we don’t think, we just go. We hear the call and we come as fast as we can. Why? It’s because it’s urgent and you know that somebody needs you.
But for some reason it’s different when faced with two apparently good things that are, in our minds, equally urgent. It’s not that somebody’s in trouble or somebody’s needy. It’s just two good things pulling at us, and we can feel a bit put out that one good thing’s going to take us from the good thing we already had. Who can choose? Let me just say this, because it’s usually misunderstood in this parable. There’s no sin in tending to your business and there’s no sin in working on the farm, or playing sports or being involved in music and plays or whatever else. The Lord made the land for us to work and He gives us property and income to take care of our families and our brothers and sisters here, and to support His ministry among us, and He invented play. It’s all work that needs our attention and it’s joy that God has given us; it’s good. But when wisdom is calling, when the King is calling, “Come to the Wedding Feast!” Something more urgent than business and land, and play has come. You understand why the King would be upset when He heard that they didn’t want to come or that they’d had more important things to do.
In the moment, we can lose our heads and think that we can love two things, that we can love God and love money, or love God and love the world. But Christ says, “You can’t serve two masters. You’ll either love the one and hate the other. Or else you’ll be devoted to the one and despise the other.” St. Augustine, one of our beloved church fathers, called this confusion a confusion of our loves. It’s disordered love, said Augustine, to love anything more than the Lord. That’s what we learn in the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. But to love Him, or to say it as He says it, “to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” means that all the other good things of this life will be added to us. “All we need He will provide us and through peril will lead us.” The love of earthly things above His eternal kingdom or the seeking after the things of this life rather than seeking only to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life is disordered love. It’s folly and destroys or twists even the good things we’ve been given in this life: house, home, faithful spouses, good government, a just Supreme Court, and everything else we enjoy from God here and now. But loving Him above all things means that our hearts are already captive to Him and can’t be enslaved to anything here in this passing life.
We can fool ourselves, however, like the ones in the parable did, to think that certain things in this life are more urgent than the invitation to the Eternal Banquet. That’s what sin does to us. It disorders our love so much that we ignore the eternal things only to run after worthless and fading things. But as we learn here, whatever way leads us from the King will always lead us to death. Jesus said, ... “The kingdom of Heaven is like a human king, who arranged a marriage for his son and sent out his servants to summon to the wedding those who were called. But they didn't want to come. So he sent out others servants with orders to tell those who were called, 'Listen! My banquet is served! My fed oxen have been butchered and everything is ready! Come to the Feast! ' But they ignored it, and went off, one to his farm another to his store, while the rest took hold of the king's servants and committed outrages against them and killed them. And the king was outraged and sent his soldiers and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”
The parable is really split into two parts. That first part, which you just heard, was told to the Jews who rejected those whom God sent, especially who rejected God’s own Son. The language about seizing the king’s servants and treating them shamefully and killing them, should remind us of Jesus’ own passion, who was mocked and flogged, and finally crucified. Just before our Gospel text for today, St. Matthew reports: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.” And He was speaking about them, which is why they were looking to seize Him, just like they seized the servants in the parable. So we can lump these Pharisees and scribes in with the whole lot of Israel in the Old Testament who ignored, rejected, or killed the prophets who were sent to them. But the Lord also includes all those who belong to unbelieving Jerusalem down to the present day, who reject the Messiah and His apostles. The King did send Roman troops to that city and burned it to the ground in 70AD. The destruction of Jerusalem was God’s judgment on those people who refused to come when they were called, and it was only a shadow of what’s to come on Judgment Day for all those who refused to come when He called.
The first part of this parable, then, is about the Jews and the unbelieving world. But it’s also meant for us as a warning not to ignore the call of God or despise the Holy Spirit who has and is still calling you by the Gospel. I know we haven’t “seized His servants, treated them shamefully and killed them.” But every one of us has been called and at some point decided we didn’t want to come, not then. Something else was more urgent. We were busy chasing sin, choosing ourselves over Him, and listening to the noise of the world instead of Him. But it’s not only written as a warning for us. It’s also written so that we’d see with what kind of love the Father loves the ones He calls.
It’s easy to focus on the judgment and the destruction of those ungrateful and hateful called ones and miss the love of the King, who not only invited them, but invited them a second time. V. 4, “The king sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who were invited, Look, I’ve prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are slaughtered; everything is ready. Come to the feast!’”
That is to say: He means it! Many are called and they’re all wanted. God is not willing that any should perish. God so loved the world. That includes us. If He didn’t really mean it, then why did He send His servants to the ones who’d been invited, after He’d invited them, to tell them [it was time] to come? Some people will tell you that He must not have really wanted them, because they never came. As in, “Many are called, but few are wanted!” But the problem is not with the King. It’s that the ones who were invited refused to come when they were called. Maybe you’d like to know Why? How could they resist the call? But there is no “why?” Why did I ever refuse? Why did you?
All I can tell you is that THE KING –– after they refused – V. 4] the king send more servants – more prophets and then the Apostles, too, and said, “Tell the ones I’ve invited that I’ve prepared my dinner: everything’s ready! Come to the feast!”
Now comes the second part of the parable, which is directly about us: “Then he told his servants, ‘The wedding feast is served, but those who were called weren’t fit. So, go out on the main roads and invite as many as you find to the wedding.’ So, they went out on the streets and gathered everybody they found, good and bad, till the wedding hall was filled with guests at the tables.
The wedding hall is filled. We’ve been called, not because we were good or bad, but because the King told His servants to gather everybody they found. “As you go,” He said, “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in My name and teaching them everything I’ve said…Bring them in!” Which is why we here, not because we were worthy, but because He called us, brought us to the Banquet Hall of His holy Church and put His own name on us, and clothed us with His own righteousness. You can hear it in the King’s command. It’s urgent! So drop everything and come. Leave behind all worldly pleasures, enter in the Wedding Hall!
But when the king entered to look at the guests, he saw a man there who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how is it you came here without a wedding garment?’ But he was speechless. Then the king told the servants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him out in the dark. There will be crying and gnashing teeth.’ Because many are called, but few are chosen.”
It may seem like making a big deal about something very little; until you understand that clothes are part of the invitation. God the Father invites us and wraps us up in the righteousness of Christ. The Holy Spirit says that whoever is baptized has put on Christ. It’s how you know you’re not just invited, but you’re chosen. It’s whoever puts on Christ, and Christ has been put on you in Holy Baptism. But whoever come with his own clothes and his own righteousness, hasn’t taken the invitation. They’re no different than those who went off to the farm or to the store. Whoever is above a free meal will go away hungry. And whoever tries to cover themselves will be left naked and alone in the dark.
That man without a wedding garment is not particularly horrible. He’s just the way we all are by nature. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, trying to cover their own shame with twigs. But to cover us is going to take more than twigs. It’s going to take a tree suspending the Lord of Life. It takes the Father giving up His only Son to cover our shame and cover our sin.
The King has spent lavishly to have you dressed. He spent His Son, to clothe you in Him—to cover it all and welcome you to the most intimate feast of the Holy Trinity. This isn’t a business meeting where the boss is checking your performance record. It’s a wedding! It’s a personal affair of the Triune God, who welcomes you in to share in His life and His joy.
Many are called; but few are chosen! But how do you know if you’re chosen? You know because you’re here. You’ve been called. You know because you’ve been washed and the King has clothed you with the innocence of His own son. You know because He’s spread a table for you. And it couldn’t be more personal, more intimate. The Bridegroom gives you His body and blood, so that who eats and drinks of it will life forever. How do you know if you’re chosen? The King says, “Come to the Feast! Everything’s ready!” In the Name of Jesus + Amen.