Sacred Heart Church, El Reno, Oklahoma & Saint Joseph Church, Union City, Oklahoma
Isaiah 25, 6-10 + Psalm 23 + Philippians 4, 12-14 + Matthew 22, 1-14
We take up a third parable in Matthew’s Gospel today concerning judgment. Two weeks ago we heard the parable of the two sons who responded to the Father’s request in opposite ways ending with a question about which one did the father’s will, and a condemnation of those who refused the message of both John and Jesus. Last week we heard the next parable about the workers in the vineyard refusing to give the owner his rightful portion of the harvest and how they abused those the owner sent to collect. Again a question was asked: “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”The response from Jesus is dire: “The Kingdom will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”The purpose and the proposal Matthew puts out there is that the privileged relationship with God has now been given to the Church, the followers of Christ who did not reject the message.
Now comes this parable once more addressed to the leaders of the people with a slight but important twist. Judgment is emphasized, but this time the judgment is on the Christians, no longer upon the leaders of the people. So with this parable, there is no chance of us sitting back to listen as though this does not concern us. This one does concern us, and as with all parables, something important about God is revealed. This parable reveals how God will look at and how God will judge us.
There are really two parables here. The first is an interesting match to the one before concerning the tenants of the vineyard. Both record violent abusive treatment of the messengers. In both there is a severe judgment, but with last week’s parable the judgment is predicted in the future. The second parable here begins when the king comes into the banquet to meet the guests. There is something very different now. In the two parables last month, the judgment was in the future. It something that “will” happen. In this parable, the judgment happens as part of the story. Right now the man is tied up and thrown out. It is not something that will happen later or in the future.
It is a tough story for us. It seems outrageously unfair. How could the king be so demanding and so harsh to a poor man who has been dragged off the streets to attend this banquet? The fact of the matter is, a custom in those days and in that culture would have been for the host to provide a clean tunic for a guest. How can this king even ask the question: “How did you get in here?”He ought to know he had people dragged in off the streets! With these questions in mind, we have to stop and put the story back together.
The wedding feast is the age to come. It is not the church. The garment is right behavior according to the teaching of Jesus Christ. This is happening during the feast. It is happening to someone at the feast, at the table, someone who, in a sense, is in the church. Being present is not enough it says to us who are in here. Being at the table does not promise an escape from the judgment of the King. The man had come to the banquet accepted the invitation, but he had not conformed his life to Christ. Suddenly this parable is not for the leaders of the Jewish people anymore. It is for you and for me, people already at the table.
It reveals to us a God who has greater expectations than wanting us to show up. It comes not so much as a threat, but rather as a word of encouragement that living our lives in Christ, that having “put on Christ”, as we sometimes say, is the only way to avoid being cast out into the darkness. We have all been called or we would not be in here today. Yet there is something more than just showing up. Our best hope is that our lives, when we are not in here, make it obvious that we have put on Christ and do wear the garment of salvation having conformed our lives consistently, personally, and faithfully to the gospel Jesus has proclaimed to us. It makes me very uncomfortable that the man is silent when the king asks his question. He knew what was expected. He had no excuse. He knew where he was, and who had invited him. So we tell the story again so that we may not be in his place.