October 9, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come . . . .’”
What if God held a party and no one came? That is the situation Jesus describes in the Gospel Reading for today. He tells a parable, comparing the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son . . . .” This is a big event in our day, but it was even bigger in days gone by. Think of how much attention was paid to the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge held in England. Everyone wanted to know what William and Catherine would wear, but just as important was who would be invited to the parties after the ceremony. In fact, there were two receptions: that is how important their marriage was.
The Scriptures describe a wedding feast that God holds. You heard about that in the prophecy given by Isaiah: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.” That is the wedding feast that Jesus talks about with His parable. He says that this was beginning to take place with His presence in the world and would culminate with what He achieves by His death and resurrection.
Jesus was present to bring people to that banquet. But what does He say about that? The invitations went out for people to participate in the grand expression of divine generosity: “[The king] sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.” Jesus talks about the negative response that God received, but also God’s insistence in having people share in His generosity: “Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’” But instead of people marking their calendars, setting aside the day, making sure that they would be present to share in what God would give, they did the opposite: “They would not come.” Other matters occupied people’s minds: “They paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business. . . .” For some, there was more than refusal to attend, there was outright hostility toward God: “The rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.”
So what should the king do? What does God do? He makes the promise to hold a feast, and He will do so. He promises that people will join in it, and He will ensure that they will. But the participants will not be those who refuse the invitation. No, those who refuse His divine generosity will suffer His wrath, as Jesus describes: “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” Yet after that, there is an action of giving that takes place: “Then [the king] said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” That is what God does. His promised feast will take place, and there will be guests brought to it, invited by His servants to take their place at His tables.
What Jesus describes in His parable is God’s fulfillment of promises, even in the midst of rejection. The people of Israel refused the divine generosity. It started with the rejection of the faithful prophets who spoke the divine invitation and the faithful priests who brought the benefits of the divine covenant to the people. Such rejection went on for centuries, as the Israelites wandered off into idolatry, false religions, outright impiety or just plain apathy. Some even killed the prophets and priests. Even when the promised Messiah, Jesus Himself, stood amongst them, directing them to the salvation that God was providing and calling them to take their places at the wedding feast, they refused to do so.
Despite the rejection of Jesus by the Israelites, God’s wedding feast would still take place. The invitation went out for people to participate in what was achieved by Jesus’ death and resurrection. God had promised through His prophet: “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” So He was going to bring people in to receive this generosity. That is described in Jesus’ parable: “Then [the king] said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’” The servants were sent out to deliver the invitation to others. If the first invited guests didn’t want to participate, then so be it. But a group of guests were going to be at the king’s event held for his son.
Hear again what Jesus describes: “And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” That is what has happened for your benefit. The second set of invitations was sent out, so that you could participate in the wedding feast. The invitations were not sent to just a particular group of people, but as the king said: “Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” The servants were not to concern themselves with anything about the people they encountered, but just to invite them to the banquet. The king’s instructions were simple: “If you see a person, invite him. If you see ten people, a hundred people, a thousand people, invite all of them. Just get them here to share in my generosity and happiness.”
That is the invitation that has reached your ears. The divine servants have gone out with the message: “Come and receive the generosity that God offers to you. Become one of His people, even His children, through Holy Baptism. Take hold of the salvation that is granted to you because His Son has died in your place and risen again. Receive the forgiveness of every sin that you have ever committed. Have a new way of life that is not just for this world, for the world to come. And not only are you promised to have a place in a new heaven and new earth, but God allows you to have part of what is promised now, as you gather to hear His words and to eat and drink with Him now.” This invitation has been given to you, not because you deserved it, not because you would bring some clout or prestige to the event, but because God wishes to share His generosity with you.
But what do you do with that invitation? Jesus doesn’t specify it in the parable, but the second set of invitations can be rejected just like the first. Remember again what He said about the first group of people invited: “But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” That same response happens even now, as the divine servants are sent out the second time. Among those along the main roads called to the wedding feast are people who will not heed the invitation. They pay no attention. Or worse, they show hostility to the servants sent with the call to bring people to the banquet.
Such a response is not meant to be yours. But it can indeed happen. It is seen when individuals don’t participate in the gathering together of the Church, where God’s gifts are freely given. It takes place when other matters occupy the mind, so that the ways of the Lord are forgotten or neglected. The refusal of the invitation happens when people mock the words of the Gospel, that the Son of God lived perfectly, died sacrificially, and rose victoriously for the salvation of the world. There also is the rejection of the divine generosity when God’s servants are hated, abused, and even killed. Jesus’ parable warns you about this, so that you would not ignore the invitation, become too busy with worldly matters to act on the invitation, or assail the servants who carry the invitation. The warning is given to you, so that you would not be numbered among those who will suffer the terrible fate at the Last Day: “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”
Jesus’ parable warns you, so that you would not miss your place at the banquet that God will generously hold: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” That is what is promised for you. That is what the divine invitation extends to be yours. Despite your sins, despite your imperfections, despite your failures, the invitation has come to you. For many of you, it has come again and again and again. That is how generous God has been for you, the generosity that is shown in His divine, compassionate acts.
But one other warning is given for you at the tail end of Jesus’ parable: “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” This needs to be heard as well, since this tells you about the exclusivity of the divine invitation to share in the heavenly banquet. The invitation was sent out to all people, but its content is very specific. And Jesus wants you to know that well.
Just like the invitations you receive to wedding receptions or other festivities tell you about the location, the time, the dress, and other details, so does the divine invitation to salvation. The invitation that has been extended to you and the world includes the details about how to enter the kingdom of heaven. Entry into the kingdom of heaven depends on receiving the merits of Jesus’ work for you. That dependence includes the proper faith in who He is and what He has done. The wedding garment is the salvation that Jesus brings through His death and resurrection. Holy Baptism is how that wedding garment is given to you, made to be yours, as you are clothed in Jesus’ righteousness, joined to His death and resurrection. That dependence also includes continually receiving forgiveness, life, and salvation in the present day through Holy Absolution, Holy Preaching, Holy Supper, Holy Conversation of the people of God—for these are the means through which Jesus’ Gospel is applied again and again to you.
The great news of Jesus’ parable is this: God is holding a party and you will come. You have received all that is necessary to participate in the eternal wedding feast that God the Father holds for His Son, Jesus Christ. It has been provided for you. The invitation has been extended to you, delivered with everything that makes it possible for you to enter the kingdom of heaven. That is the extent of the divine generosity that God shows to you and to the entire world. So do not ignore it. Do not become apathetic about it. Do not hate those who deliver it. Instead, make that invitation the most precious of your possessions. Participate in the foretastes of the feast to come. Treasure all the signs of generosity that God shows to you in the days that lead up to the time of the eternal wedding feast. Then you will be welcomed by God Himself, and you will say: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.