How do you react when you get an invitation to a wedding? Do you feel honoured? Have you ever had to decline an invitation to a wedding because of other commitments? Weddings are overwhelmingly joyful occasions. Yet they seem to bring out the worst in some guests or participants. Those invited might behave themselves in church, but sometimes alcohol loosens manners to breaking point at the reception. A wedding can bring out bad behaviour because the happiness of the bride and groom can make some guests jealous and make them realise they’re not as happy as that. They hope that alcohol will drown their unhappiness.
In today’s Gospel reading, we have no ordinary wedding celebration. We have all the extraordinary magnificence of a royal wedding banquet. The king is putting on the greatest wedding feast ever for his son, in honour of his son. He wants to honour his son by having the banquet hall full of guests. So he sends his servants to remind those who had already been invited that it’s time to come. But can you believe it? They refuse to attend, even though to do so would be viewed as a gesture of disloyalty to the royal household.
But the king won’t be deterred. He patiently persists in sending more servants out with the added information that he has meticulously prepared an awesome banquet for them, hoping this will act as an incentive to come. In the words “everything is ready, come to the wedding banquet”, the king demonstrates the depth of his generosity and kindness to his potential guests. Still they pay no attention. Their occupations have become dangerous pre-occupations. They won’t let anything interrupt their “business as usual”. They stay away from the royal celebration for mundane and selfish reasons. They are even hostile towards the king’s messengers: reminiscent of the aggressive anti-Christian sentiments we’re increasingly hearing over our media. There are powerful anti-Christian voices seeking to drown out the Christian stand on important moral questions like abortion and euthanasia. For us, the life that’s “life indeed” means putting God first.
We can be so busy making a living that we fail to make a life. Satan wants us to respond to God’s invitation to spend time with His Son by saying “later on when I have more time. How I use my time is my own business and no one else’s.” When it comes to practising our faith, delay is deadly. Tomorrow may be too late. You need God most of all when you are busiest. God wants you now, just when your schedules and timetables clash with His priorities for you. God multiplies the time you devote to Him with endless blessing.
God refuses to let those who say “no” to Him spoil the Banquet He’s preparing in honour of His Son. God doesn’t want empty seats at Jesus’ Banquet. When the “high and mighty” of this world fail to show up, God invites the “nobodies” of this world to come. God welcomes those who’ve made a mess of their lives, those ashamed of their past, those who cannot understand what God sees in them. The fact is that God cannot see anything in them, but God makes something of them. God makes them His beloved sons and daughters. At Christ’s Banquet, there will be lots of folk who never ever dreamed they’d be invited.
So there they will be, all enjoying the heavenly festivities, poor wretches whom no one took seriously, ex-criminals and ex-prostitutes, and those who could never get it all right. The most comforting words of all in Jesus parable are: “and the wedding was filled with guests!”
Then the king appeared. This is the main thing – to see the king and be able to thank him for the invitation. Heaven isn’t so much about what you and I might get, but rather about what we will “be” – with God our Maker and Jesus Christ, His celebrated Son, forever and ever.
With the king’s appearance, Jesus’ parable takes a dramatic turn. The king sees a guest without a wedding robe that he has specially supplied for the occasion. As the only one without such a garment, this person stands out like a sore thumb. The king is deeply offended by such an insult.
The man no doubt thought that what he had already was good enough. He felt he didn’t need the king’s gift. He’s a self-sufficient, self-satisfied kind of guy, who saw no need to change, a change that’s symbolised by dressing appropriately for the festive occasion. In order to give this potential participant an opportunity to justify himself, the king addresses him in a friendly manner. He gently calls him “dear friend” and assumes he has a good excuse for what he’s done. He wants to put the best construction on his actions. “Dear friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe (v12)?” What a beautiful picture of love to the last possible moment. The man was speechless. In the face of such a lavish expression of grace, his action is indefensible, inexcusable.
What then is the meaning of this robe? To be sure, we’re invited to come to our Heavenly Father’s House just as we are. We needn’t be ashamed of the hedges and highways from which we have come. But we need to leave the past behind and let Jesus Christ transform us by His gift of righteousness. Our Lord compared the time of His coming, the Messianic Age, to a new garment. To be clothed with His new garment is a symbol of belonging to His community of salvation. He compared forgiveness with the best robe put onto the prodigal son when he returned to his father’s house.
Isaiah is overwhelmed with joy at the Lord’s gift of a robe of righteousness. “I am overwhelmed”, Isaiah says, “with joy in the Lord my God! For He has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).”
The hymn writer, von Zinzendorf, shares Isaiah’s joy. He sings:
1: Jesus, your blood and righteousness
my beauty are, my glorious dress!
mid flaming worlds, in these arrayed
with joy shall I lift up my head.
3: This stainless robe its beauty wears
when all else fades with passing years;
no age can change its glorious hue –
the robe of Christ is ever new.
5: O let the dead now hear your voice,
let those once lost in sin rejoice!
their beauty this, their glorious dress:
Jesus, your blood and righteousness.
We need to guard against taking this gift of God’s grace for granted, or taking it in a flippant fashion. This is why we confess our sins and promise “to live as in God’s presence” before we receive Holy Communion. This is comparable to our putting on the wedding garment. Is it a sacrifice and burden to change into one’s best clothes to attend a wedding that has been looked forward to for weeks? No! This preparation for the celebration is itself part of the celebration and is full of eager anticipation.
So too, the joy of heaven over one sinner who repents makes our confession of sins an act of joy. Repentance is not a dismal renunciation of things that still mean a lot to us; it is a joyful homecoming to that place where certain things no longer have any importance for us. The joy of confessing our sins and repenting of them can never come too soon. Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount concludes with a warning to take care to not forfeit Christ’s gift of salvation that He gives us through His Word. But first, Jesus begins many times with “blessed” meaning “great joy”. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” or in other words, “O the joy of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for God will satisfy them.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” – already in the here and now.
We understand and experience the secret of the Christian life when we experience its joy, the sheer bliss of hearing those welcome words: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.” Those who treasure and embrace the robe of our Lord’s righteousness may be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; they may be poor, yet make others rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing everything (2 Corinthians 6:10).”
In Christ alone, we have everything worth having that will last forever. Amen.