So today we have the parable of the royal marriage. As in many of his parables, Jesus pictured a ridiculous situation. We don't refuse a wedding invitation from a friend. And you certainly don't say "sorry, I am busy" when you are invited to the royal palace. But if the king is an eastern potentate, and he summons you to the marriage banquet for his son, you get your head chopped off if you try making excuses for not being there.
But here we have a picture of people making excuses for not attending the wedding that God the Father has arranged for the marriage of his Son. When Jesus preached this parable it applied to Jewish people making excuses for not accepting the good news of the Gospel. "I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet." Instead "they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them."
They had property reasons. "My house needs fixing, the lawn must be cut, I should check the cottage." Business was important. "You don't realize how hard I have to work. I often put in a sixty hour week, and I need my sabbath rest." And their religious reason was that Jesus was dangerous nuisance. "All our traditions would be upset if we listened to him. Better get him out of the way before our ancient religion is wrecked for ever."
But the excuses did not save them. The inevitable result would be that "the king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city" (Matthew 22:4-7). This was a clear warning of what would happen within forty years in that generation (AD 70) when the Roman armies came to Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and set fire to the city.
Now all of us in church this morning are thinking "Thank God that does not apply to me. I am willing to come to St. James' even on this Thanksgiving week-end. I don't make light of the Gospel invitation, and I certainly don't beat up and kill the Lord's ministers."
But we need to see how the parable ends. Church gatherings are like a marriage feast, which we symbolize as we come to take the bread and wine of our communion service.
When the people who should have responded to the Gospel invitation excused themselves, the king said "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." And the servants were told to gather "both good and bad" so that "the wedding hall was filled with guests" (Matthew 22:8-10). That's how you and I ended up in church this morning.
But then Jesus added a strange twist. The king decided that for this wedding he wasn't going to give the guests a souvenir packet of matches with the name of the bride and bridegroom. They would each be given the most magnificent outfit they had ever worn. And they could take it home and wear it for any occasion. So as the motley guests arrived, they were all given a wedding robe. I imagine it was a white linen gown with embroidery round the neck and sleeves and around the bottom. It totally covered the dirty rags they had been wearing. And the result was that all the guests were dressed the same. God wanted everyone to feel at home. You couldn't tell the rich from the poor, or slave owners from their servants. There are no low class people in church. We are all accepted just as we are.
There was however one man who did not get to enjoy the banquet. "Why do I have to go in with all those bums? I refuse to wear one of those gowns - you can't tell the men from the girls. My tuxedo is the proper outfit for a wedding. I will wow them, the king will be impressed, and he will put me in charge of his treasury." So he avoided the gatekeepers, and climbed over the palace wall. That is very dangerous. There is only one way into the Kingdom of Heaven.
When the king asked him "how did you get in here without a wedding robe?" the man was speechless. So the servants were told "Bind him hand and foot, and throw him out." It was a dark night, and the fellow was thrown over the south wall of the city where he landed on the gehenna rubbish dump with the household sewage and rotting vegetables. People could not imagine anything worse than landing in that stinking mess. He certainly had a rough night with "weeping and gnashing of teeth." But Jesus was not suggesting that his Father sends people to hell to be tortured for ever. By morning the man could loosen the ropes that tied him, crawl out, and get back home. Hopefully he learned his lesson, but there was no way he would ever get in to the royal feast without the wedding robe that the king wanted to give him.
So on this thanksgiving day we are thankful that we were invited, "both
good and bad." And we were given the robe of God's kind of righteousness.
And we don't have to view others as superior or inferior. So let's enjoy