Dressed For The Banquet?

[]This parable seems to be about whether one is dressed appropriately for a wedding banquet. Have any of you been to a wedding and felt that your attire didn't quite match up to others around you? That would be a common experience for any of us who are hastily invited someplace but find ourselves inappropriately dressed for the occasion. That seems to be, on the surface, what this story is about, those who has found themselves unprepared and inappropriately dressed. Last evening, I was at a wedding and saw several people who we might say were inappropriately dressed as guests for a wedding. Of course, there are reasons why people are unable to dress appropriately for an occasion, whether it is a hasty invitation or simply not having those types of clothes to wear. And in this church, we rely on grace to realize that we all present our full selves before God who sees through our clothing and into our hearts.

In this parable, it's important for us to remember that Matthew is telling a much larger story. This is the third and concluding story in a series of parables. The first was about a man who asked his two sons to work in the vineyard. The first son says, "No, I won't," and the other son said, "Yes, I will." Last week, it was about a landowner who planted a vineyard and had servants working the fields. The servants he sent to gather the produce were mistreated and killed. In the end, he sent his son and they even killed his son, the heir. Today's is the third in that series.

In Matthew's Gospel, he is presenting a story of Jesus' parable in a way that was convicting of the Pharisees. He draws them into the story with, "It's not just a wedding banquet, it's the king's wedding banquet." Have any of you been invited to a wedding banquet of a king? Or, in our country, a President? I haven't. I've been to some where I had to wear a tuxedo, but this is the king. So he draws them into this story because they know how one would need to be appropriately dressed for such an occasion, for not to do so would be an offense to the king and a snub to the king's son who was getting married.

In this story, the people have already been invited. Invitations have gone out. But it was also common in those days to send out a reminder on the day of the wedding so that people who might have forgotten would have a chance to hastily get ready and come. So the king sends out his servants to remind the people, but they do not listen. In the end, they mistreat and even kill some of those servants after a second attempt to invite them in. The king who is so hostile to these folks decides to kill them, burn their city, and invite people out in the streets to the banquet.

For those of us with sensibilities, we think that's pretty harsh, that the king would burn the city and kill those who didn't come to the wedding. That is a harsh judgment. But then we see this king invite people from the street, anyone who will come in. And so the justice in us says, "Well, that's nice, he's going to invite everyone else who wasn't invited before probably because they weren't nobility." So the other people come. And yet when the king arrives, he finds fault with one person who was just invited in off the street because he's not dressed appropriately. So the king says to 'bind him hand and foot, and throw him out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

Not a very nice king, would you agree with me? Pretty harsh. Here this man on the street was just invited in and then he is thrown out into the outer darkness, not knowing how to even respond when asked, "Where is your wedding robe?" We might translate 'wedding robe' to be the formal attire that we might wear when we're invited to such an event. But to look at all these things on the surface would not do justice to the story. Matthew is telling this story to Christians who were following the Scriptures that he gave to them, and he was setting forth a larger story. In that larger story, it's Jesus who is in conversation with these chief priests and Pharisees who were seen as the opposition to Jesus. When Jesus speaks those words that 'many will be called, but few will be chosen,' it's sort of a dig when we consider the question, "Who are God's chosen people?" The Israelites! So on the surface, it seems like a dig to the Pharisees, the Scribes and the chief priests, that many will be called, but few will be chosen, implying that they themselves may not be chosen. Rather than talking about appropriate dress for a wedding, Matthew's Jesus is really speaking about putting on the clothing of righteousness, putting on the clothing of Christ. Not literal clothing, but spiritual clothing. Having oneself renewed, rejecting sin, being reborn in who they are, and putting on the clothing of Christ, that is what Matthew is talking about.

So was this supposed to be encouragement then for the Christians and ammunition or fodder for them to talk with the others? Again, it seems that way. But when we get to the end of Matthew's Gospel where he talks about few being chosen, and not wearing the correct attire, not finding oneself ready, it was really speaking to Matthew's community, that even they may not find themselves ready. One can hide in formal attire, but even the king in this particular situation was able to see through the people. Are they really clothed in Christ or are they just saying they are?

So, in a way, these parables that Matthew puts together are really talking about his own Christian community. He is putting them on notice and giving them warning that even though they think they have on the clothing of Christ, they may not. It may be window dressing in their lives, that though they come to worship, their hearts may not be changed at all. Matthew's Jesus is one who is warning the people about that, that in the end times, in the eschatological ending times, in the 'parousia,' when the judgment comes, few will be chosen. And God will see through whatever outer clothing one wears. Those who will be able to enter into the eternal banquet, which is really what's being talked about here, will be few, only those whose entire lives have been reclothed in Christ.

So that is Matthew's message to his community, couched in a wedding banquet which would be familiar to everyone, couched in a king inviting the nobility and chief priests and Scribes. And then, through the back door, he is really talking to his own community about their waywardness, about their misperceptions of the faith, and he is giving them warning.

How about us, do we give ourselves enough warning? Do we put on the fullness of being clothed in Christ or could it simply be window dressing? Many of us can probably say, "I know people for whom it's window dressing." We all can see that in others; it's harder to see it in ourselves. We can be a faithful people. We are to be putting on the clothing of Christ, not our Sunday clothes, but renewing our hearts in what God has taught us through Christ. If we need a reminder of what that means, we can look at this morning's epistle. How does one put on Christ? Paul says, "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things and keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. And the God of peace will be with you."

It's no coincidence that this particular passage was paired with our Gospel lesson for today, a reminder not only to the early Christian community, but to the modern-day Christian community for us to be fully clothed in Christ, to be faithful in doing God's will as Christ has taught us. That's putting on the clothing of Christ, having the Spirit of Christ within you in your daily decisions, in making time for personal prayer, and in realizing that each moment you spend in preparing yourself to be a better Christian and a better child of God, the more of God's peace you will sense in your hearts, even in the midst of the greatest turmoil…not being in a place of doubt, but being in a place of hope where joy can be experienced even in the midst of tragedies.

October 12, 2008

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