Text: Matthew 22:1-14
Date: Pentecost XIX Proper 23A + 10/15/17
Our approach to the end of another liturgical year continues as we hear divine words of promise and invitation, the promise of deliverance, salvation and eternal life in the day of the resurrection of all flesh. The promise is, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10). Revelation 7:9 predicts the redeemed will be “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” Today we sing of that hope in words inspired by Jesus in Matthew 8, saying,
A multitude comes from the east and the west
To sit at the feast of salvation
With Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the blest,
Obeying the Lord’s invitation.
Have mercy upon us, O Jesus!
We pray for God’s continued help and mercy only that we may be among those who faithfully obey the Lord’s invitation. For, we are told today, many will not. The question is, what is the key to know that we will be “in that number when the saints go marchin’ in”?
There is a great contrast, a great divide presented in today’s scripture readings. On the one hand is the amazing, gracious announcement of God’s great love in His offer of salvation as a wonderful gift. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast.” “And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.” God’s salvation is intended for all people. So all people are invited to receive His gifts.
Jesus’ parable today, however, says there is a problem. Though all people are invited not all people will be there.
The bottom line is that the great banquet of heaven, the wedding feast of Jesus, the bridegroom, and His bride the Church in the glory of the new, eternal life is a totally free gift, how do we usually say it, neither earned nor deserved by us, our works, our preparations. But now that does not mean, as some might think, that, because I contribute nothing to my salvation, that means all people will be saved in the end without doing anything. That’s called “universalism” and is clearly not what the Bible teaches. That would be a great surprise! But that’s not what the surprise party is about.
The greatest surprise is, while God has done everything for the salvation of the whole world and issued His clear invitation to all people through His Word, the surprise is that not all will be there, not all will inherit the great gift of eternal life. Why not? Not because they somehow don’t measure up but simply because they refuse the invitation.
In the blindness of our separation and sinful nature everyone naturally thinks that if there is a God, He is obviously mad at us because of our sin and that His anger can only be assuaged or appeased by means of becoming acceptable to Him by our own good works, by somehow becoming “good enough.” But notice that the king of the kingdom of heaven does not limit His invitation to the feast to any one in any way. “Come to the wedding feast.” Now who in their right mind would not accept that invitation? It is not based on your good works or anything in you but solely upon God’s love, His gracious and merciful love. That’s it.
Who would not accept that invitation? The parable tells of those who pay no attention busying themselves merely in the day-to-day occupations of the world. We are living in a day today where very few people, and even fewer by the year, pay any attention to the invitation of God because they don’t see their need for it.
But it’s even worse, as you know, as now we even see people aligning themselves with organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is just short I suppose of the total denial called atheism. People do not want to hear the invitation, nor do they want anyone else to hear it, some because they wrongly think they know it already, others even trying to force silence on those delivering the invitation. “But they paid no attention and went off…while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” The king says, “those invited were not worthy.” Again, it wasn’t because they weren’t good enough but because of their rejection of His invitation of love.
But the invitations have not yet all been delivered. “Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find,” both bad and good. Again, the invitation is to all, both the bad (those who know their sin and need) and even the good (those who still think of their own goodness). The point is their acceptance of the invitation.
Part of the invitation to salvation is that in addition God provides the proper attire for His guests, the wedding garment. When you are baptized you have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ who covers you and takes away your sin. This, too, is the gift of God not based on your own works. But now, you see, there is a surprise ending to the 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.’” [Remember we heard that word used before addressing one of those who worked all day in the vineyard whose accusation of the Lord is clearly in the wrong. Remember that we will hear that word again spoken to Judas who betrayed Jesus.] “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” He was speechless. There can be no good reason for refusing the wedding garment. The man in the parable clearly refused the wedding garment preferring to appear on his own terms, as himself. And who are you in yourself? I heard you say it earlier as we began today, saying, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.” That’s why we gathered here claiming to be “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” that is, as those baptized into Christ, clothed by God with the wedding garment of His righteousness.
Because God’s love and offer of salvation is for all, the greatest surprise is not that sinners will be in that number when the saints go marchin’ in. The greatest surprise is that there are those who refuse either the invitation or God’s gift of righteousness. Don’t take that garment off for any reason. Especially for the reason of pride of self. It is only to those who humbly receive the king’s invitation and His preparation of You by water and the Word who will be joyfully seated at the banquet of salvation in eternity.