“The Importance of the Wedding Invitation”
Sharing Christ’s Love Special Worship Series
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
October 15, 2023
In the ancient Near East, a wedding celebration was a big deal for the entire village. Everyone in the bride’s village would know about the wedding and would greatly anticipate the celebration, which could last for days.
A grand wedding feast would become a public occasion for the whole neighborhood. In our parable for today, inexplicably, some of the villagers made light of the invitation! They chose not to come. Some even mistreated and killed the messengers. Another “friend” showed up for the wedding feast but he did not come prepared. He made light of the event itself and made light of his host by not dressing appropriately!
Our parable is situated in the Gospel of Matthew not long after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The whole city was in turmoil as the Passover approached. The streets were as crowded as the streets of Athens, Georgia on game day. Jesus has gone to the Temple Mount to drive out all those buying and selling in the temple courtyard. The tension between Jesus and the chief priests and elders had begun to grow.
The unsettled crowds of the city are regarding Jesus as a prophet, and they gather around him in droves to hear the next story that he will tell. Today’s verses represent the third parable of judgment against the religious elite of the day.
In the parable, Jesus is referring to the celebration of the great Messianic banquet to be experienced in the presence of God and all God’s people. Unlike John the Baptist who lived in the wilderness and spoke of impending doom with the coming kingdom, Jesus lived among the people, sharing their daily life and seasonal celebrations. Jesus came “eating and drinking”, the gospels report, and referring time and again that the prophetic vision of the messianic banquet had arrived with his presence. Matthew warns elite religious insiders to stop making excuses for not participating in what God is doing!
In Matthew, the insiders are failing to set aside their family concerns and their business concerns in order to show up! for heaven’s sake! to celebrate with the King.
Hear the Word of God from Matthew 22:1-14.
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying,
“Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.”
But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.
Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?”
And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The wedding invitation itself is important.
Many of you know this. You are aware that an invitation to any party, whether a wedding or some other event, whether an online invitation or a printed invitation, communicates volumes to those who have understanding.
When you understand how to read an invitation, you “get” things. Many will say yes, you “get” the time and place and that this event is a shower or wedding or whatever. Others of you will say, yes, you notice these basic details, but far more to the trained eye. Some will notice the paper the invitation is printed on; they will make note of the font of the writing; they will comment on any artwork or color on the page… how the invitation is worded is to be considered…. all of these things communicate volumes to those who have understanding.
Based on the invitation, if it is done well, a trained guest knows not only when to show up, but what to wear, whether to bring a gift, how long it will last, and whether you can bring a significant other.
One of the great travesties of life is when someone refuses to show up for a joyful celebration. You know what I am talking about. You may know someone who is physically present at a party, but refuses to dance even when everyone else at the wedding is dancing.
Or you may know someone who refuses to sing even when everyone else in the entire room is singing. Granted, that person might be uncomfortable; they may feel awkward; they may not trust their voice or their body, but so often, they are missing out on the joy.
No matter how hard you might try to encourage them, they seem determined not to have fun. Now, they may have other ways of having fun, but at least on the surface of things, they seem determined not to enjoy the grace of living.
William Purkey began his career as a beloved public school teacher. He had a passion for teaching and for leadership and became a tenured professor at the University of Florida, writing numerous articles and books, particularly on leadership. A popular quote that has been attributed to Purkey: “You’ve gotta dance like nobody’s watching, Love like you’ll never be hurt, Sing like nobody’s listening, And live like it’s heaven on earth.”
What Jesus was saying in his parable is that his presence, his incarnation, his arrival as the Promised One, was and is! an occasion for celebration, for joy. This is the time, he was proclaiming, to live like it’s heaven on earth!
When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, he said the kingdom is like a fantastic wedding feast. He said that the coming Kingdom of God will be like a king throwing a joyful banquet for his beloved son and his bride, when all the peoples of the world would gather together in God’s presence, be welcome, be at peace, and be well-fed.
This weekend, Melanie’s brother and his daughter, our niece, are in town, along with our niece’s husband and their four month old baby. Several years ago, I had the good privilege of officiating at our niece’s wedding in Indianapolis. Last night, Melanie’s sister was hosting a dinner, and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. We weren’t going to sit at home and do house projects instead. We weren’t going to make light of their being in town for the weekend. We were going to be there to catch up with these beloved family members who live 9 hours away. We were going to be there to see precious four month old Mara, who fell asleep in my arms after dinner, and I had little taste of the kingdom of heaven.
This violence in Israel and Gaza – that is not what God intends for human life. God intends for all of God’s children to sit at table together, to rejoice in the wonder and beauty of creation, to celebrate the birth of children, to experience the wonder of reconciliation with ancient enemies.
When innocents are mistreated and when people are caged and even killed, the cycle of violence continues. Matthew’s parable includes the sending of the servants to burn the city and destroy the murderers, most likely referring here to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Roman army, less than 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.
The Book of Acts and the early church proclaim that, no matter the response of those who took the invitation lightly, the banquet hall will ultimately be filled. When those who received the invitation do not come, the king will send his servants into the streets and throughout the world to invite all whom they meet. It does not matter if the guests are lame or blind or disabled, homeless or poor or of a different race or country. What matters is that there are seats in the banquet hall to be filled and a grand feast to be shared!
There is a King to be honored and a Son and his bride to celebrate!
Now, regarding the end of the parable.
Appended to this story of the great inclusion of outsiders in the Messianic feast, Matthew offers from the mouth of Jesus a parable of the harsh exclusion of a particular “friend” who showed up at the wedding banquet not wearing the appropriate attire.
I wish this parable of the Wedding Robe had not been included. To be honest, this is one of those scripture texts that I do not like very much, especially since this addended parable has been greatly misused to make people feel unwelcome or less than in a worship service.
Many scholars will argue that it was added later, or that maybe Jesus originally offered this parable in a different setting. Nevertheless, here it is, and so we must deal with it. Remember that the wedding banquet of a King’s son is an event of tremendous hospitality. Such an event would be an important celebration for any middle eastern village. Everyone would have planned their attire for weeks or months in advance, cleaned themselves up as much as possible, and come dressed “to the nines”.
The parable reminds me of Nicaraguan children who dress up for worship on Sundays. Many in the village of Los Robles live in small huts with dirt floors, with no closets or electric irons or clothes washers,but when they show up for worship, they are smiling. Their hair is combed and their white shirts are pressed and clean. They appear before God and others looking as best they can.
They have a sense of reverence and take personal pride in being prepared and ready. In Matthew’s parable, one guest is found without a wedding robe. We do not know why he was not dressed as the others. We do not know if he could have afforded the wedding robe.
We do not know if he refused to wear wedding garments that may have been handed out at the door.
All we know is that the grand celebration is happening and he appears unprepared and disrespectful.
When asked by the king, he gives no excuse. He remains silent and does not defend himself.
In biblical references, clothes are often symbolic of one’s character.
Did this man have no sense of propriety? Was he neglectful of even the basic courtesy? Was he rude and uncouth in the manner in which he showed up?
At first glance, this appended parable seems so unlike the welcoming Jesus. To toss out a man caught without the wedding robe seems so unlike the Christian gospel of grace and hospitality.
And yet, here this parable lies, offered from the mouth of Jesus. While others made light of the invitation and did not show up, this man made light of the invitation even with his presence.
He was physically present, yet not thoughtful or sincere, not participatory in the occasion. He made light of the wedding feast and of the king himself.
Imagine if the one dressed so poorly had been the bride or the groom? Then, we might understand further the force of the parable. Can you imagine a groom showing up for his wedding in his yard clothes?
“Here I am”, he might say. “I just got the grass cut and didn’t have time for a shower. Let’s get married!” Needless to say, his bride would not be happy! She would feel unloved and dishonored. The king, as host, would feel disrespected. What if a bride showed up for her wedding in her gym clothes – no shower, no make up, no wedding dress – unthinkable right?
We dress a certain way, we show up at a certain time, we prepare our hearts and minds because we love and honor and respect the event and the host.
Perhaps the man without a robe thought too much of himself, or perhaps he thought too little of himself. Whatever the case, he appeared before the King at the wedding of the King’s son without a robe, without reverence, without respect for the king nor for the other guests.
As a result, the ushers tossed him into the alleyway where there was no light, where there was no longer the privilege of being in the presence of the king. He had taken lightly his audience with the King and suddenly, he found that he was shut out.
Our text for today ends, ‘For many are called, but few are chosen.’ This verse hearkens back to Matthew 7:13-14.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.
For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.“
The judgment of the “insiders” in the Gospel of Matthew is unsettling. It is unsettling because we are challenged to locate ourselves within the parable. The invitation to participate in the joyful kingdom of God has been offered. Surely we are not those who make light of the invitation. Surely we are not those who show up unprepared to meet the King, unprepared for the joy of the celebration?
The Church, let alone the world, seems to have never fully understood the joy that Jesus intends for humankind. Certainly, Jesus bore heavy sorrows and untold burdens, and he shed tears of anguish in the garden of Gethsemane, but Jesus also knew wonderful times of joy as he ushered in the kingdom of God.
One of my favorite renderings of Jesus, which sits on a shelf in my office, is of Jesus standing on a fishing boat laughing and smiling with his disciples. I imagine that Jesus spent many days smiling, laughing, and enjoying the wonder and beauty of creation. Jesus knew the joy of cooking breakfast on a beach over an open fire. He knew the joy of hiking to the top of Mount Arbel, a nearby cliff that overlooks the Sea of Galilee, which offers spectacular views.
Jesus knew the joy of celebrating weddings, like the wedding at Cana, that he attended with his family members – cousins and aunts and uncles – as well as with his disciples. That particular wedding was so much fun that the host ran out of wine!
The Christian faith has been viewed by some as a religion that requires them to do all kinds of things they don’t want to do and to give up all kinds of things they would like to do.
This is not exactly the way of Jesus!
The way of Jesus is not like the old hermits in the wilderness who denied themselves every good thing. The way of Jesus is not the way of those who always say “no” with a stern face and never say “yes” with a smile. Jesus was not a gloomy person. Jesus was a joyful, loving, laughing person whom children adored and whom crowds flocked to see and hear.
Someone once said that an “unhappy Christian is a contradiction in terms.” To be a Christian, to be a follower of Jesus, is to know his joy, to feel his love, to be well in one’s soul, even in the midst of trial and tribulation.
God has invited us to the glorious feast of the people of God. May we never take our invitation for granted.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church