19th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who invites us to the banquet. Amen
So, we’ve got another fun parable this week.
It’s the third and final in this series of parables
that Matthew has Jesus tell
about the kingdom of heaven
and it is all at once outrageous, unbelievable
and at first read presents a depiction of God
that we are unused to and I am at least a little uncomfortable with.
We have a king giving a wedding banquet for his son,
he sends out an invitation early on,
and then when the day arrives
sends his servants out as was the custom
to call the people who had rsvp’d to come to the party.
And these people don’t come.
So the King sends out another round of servants
to tell the guests that the banquet has been prepared,
it’s going to be a good party, everything is ready, come on.
And this time some of the guests intentionally go to their places of business,
while the rest attack the servants.
The makes the king mad,
so he sends his troops to destroy his former guests and their city
and I suppose that makes him feel better
except that he has this lavish banquet all prepared
and no one to eat it,
so he tells his servants
to go out into the streets
and invite anyone they can find,
good or bad he doesn’t care
he just wants the banquet hall filled with guests.
And they do this,
and the king comes in to make sure the hall is filled
and he spots a guy not wearing a wedding robe,
he questions him
and when the man has no answer for why he is not dressed appropriately
has him thrown out into the outer darkness
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And that’s the end of the story
except for the summary line.
For many are called but few are chosen.
What is going on here?
Most scholars agree
that the action in this story
represents the history of God and the people.
The King is God,
the first people invited are the people of Israel,
the first round of servants that go to invite them
are Israel’s prophets, who they ignore.
The second round of servants are Christian missionaries
who are also ignored.
The odd bit about the king destroying the city
represents the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 CE.
And the last part
is the expansion of the mission to gentiles
where everyone is invited to the party
and I think this all makes sense
but then we come to the last scene
with the king and the man without the wedding robe,
which is Matthew’s particular addition to this parable
and is less realistic than most parables,
the man was pulled off the street,
he would not have been expected to have a wedding robe
but Matthew is not thinking realistically,
he’s thinking about the ultimate banquet in the kingdom of heaven.
In the early Church,
the new identity that people assumed
when they converted to Christianity
was often represented by a new set of clothes,
accounts of early baptisms
tell of the newly baptized
being clothed in new robes after they emerged from the font,
and of course this new identity
was accompanied by a new way of life,
one that followed the teachings of Jesus,
shared the good news
and worked to make the kingdom of heaven a reality on earth.
The man at the banquet without a robe
represents those who take the name Christian
but do not accompany that with the corresponding way of life.
Matthew’s ultimate point
is that it is not enough
to merely accept the invitation and show up
something more is called for,
the living of a new way of life covered in the mercy of Christ.
Matthew envisions that at the last judgment
those who just showed up
will be questioned
and when they have no answer
they will be thrown out
because while many are invited
only a few will respond by living out their faith in deeds of love and justice.
Just showing up isn’t good enough.
In Matthew’s understanding,
accepting the invitation to Jesus’ banquet
is a call to action,
there’s more that needs to happen
This reminds me of the distinction
that theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer made
between cheap grace and costly grace.
In his book The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer says this: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
Just showing up isn’t good enough
Thoughts and prayers alone aren’t good enough anymore,
they have to be paired with action, a way of life
so that in the end when we are questioned we will have an answer for God.
And if this is hard to hear,
it means it is exactly the message we need to hear.
If we find ourselves making excuses
for the man without a robe,
perhaps what we are doing
is making excuses for ourselves,
for all the reasons we have for showing up without putting on the robe,
without putting on Christ.
And it is at this point
that we need to remember one more outrageous aspect of this parable,
the sheer number of invitations that are extended to the banquet,
again and again
even after being harshly rebuffed
the king sends out his servants
to bring the guests in,
giving them chance after chance
to accept the invitation,
calling all to fill the banquet hall,
both good and bad are invited and given a seat at the table.
Again and again in life
God extends to us an invitation to come to the banquet
even as God has already claimed us
as God’s own in the waters of baptism.
The baptismal life,
is a daily dying to sin and rising to Christ.
Each new day is another invitation from God,
another chance to put on the wedding robe,
to live into the costly grace of the gift of God, Jesus Christ. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.