I’ve been to a number of weddings over years. It’s always exciting to get the invitation in the mail, because it’s great to be able to celebrate as a man and woman join together in marriage. And after the wedding ceremony at the reception there is always a large amount of food – a feast of things like meat, corn, vegetables, cake. It’s a grand celebration, and the host of the occasion spends a lot of time and money on his guests, because he is happy to have them there to celebrate this important event.
Jesus’ parable in Matthew 22 is about a wedding as well. He says that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He invites and calls people to the wedding feast, but they wouldn’t come. Can you imagine how you’d feel if you invited your friends and family to your son’s wedding and they wouldn’t come? Wouldn’t they at least want to come for all the free food?
So, the king in the parable then tells his servants to go and tell those who were invited that he had prepared a great feast for them. Maybe that’ll entice them to come? But, the people paid no attention to the king’s call and instead went about their normal lives; some even abused the king’s servants who had come with this message and killed them. The people treated the king’s gracious call with contempt and refused to go to the feast, even when the king told them how great it would be.
Therefore, the king is very angry about how he and his servants were treated, and about how his gracious invitation had been spurned, so “he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” After this, the king told his servants that “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” So, the king invited everyone he could to the wedding feast. And his servants “went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding was filled with guests.”
After the guests had been called into the feast, the king came to look at them and noticed a man who had no wedding garment. He had not properly clothed himself for the wedding feast and had not availed himself of the garments freely available from the king. When the king confronted him, the man was unable to say anything – he was speechless. Then, the king had the man bound and cast “into the outer darkness” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This is the parable that Jesus told; and he concludes by saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
This week’s parable, like last week’s, speaks of the rejection of God by humanity, particularly the scribed, chief priests, and Pharisees. The King is God the Father and the Son is Jesus Christ, and the servants are those whom God sends armed with the Gospel of Christ through which the Holy Spirit calls. So, in this week’s parable we see the working of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – in calling people to the marriage feast of the Son. Many are called, but few are chosen.
Let’s think deeper about what’s happening in this parable. The Father throws a wedding feast for His Son, and invites people to it. Who would He invite first? Well, in our own weddings, we invite our friends and family, and God the Father did the same. He invited His own people – the people of Israel – to the wedding feast of His Son. They ought to have come, they ought to have rejoiced – they were God’s people and had the prophetic Word in the Scriptures. And yet, they rejected the call. Some ignored the call, others beat and killed the messengers. And this is exactly what the Jewish authorities of Jerusalem did in Jesus’ time. They rejected Christ and killed him and many of his disciples.
Following their rejection of Christ – the Son of God – the Father called others into the Church instead. He called all people, all nations – the Gentiles. As the parable says, his servants “went out into the roads and gathered whom they found, both bad and good.” And what’s more, coming into the Church does not depend on the merits of those who are gathered – for God gathered both bad and good. It was not anything in them that caused them to be worthy of receiving the call. Instead, coming into the Church depends on the call of God. He is the host of the wedding feast and is the one who does the calling. And so the initiative lies with God. Just as you don’t invite yourself to a wedding, but rather rely on the gracious invitation of the host, so too does God graciously call people into the Church.
And what is the proper response to this call? When you’re invited to a real wedding, you put on decent clothes before you go – you put on a wedding garment. If you went to the wedding without a wedding garment, you’d be considered rude. It’s as if you’re treating the host with contempt, because you don’t care enough to even properly dress yourself for the great event. So, what’s this “wedding garment” that Jesus speaks of in his parable? How come God called all people – both bad and good – and yet the man who came without a wedding garment was thrown out? How come many are called, but few are chosen?
If we consider again who is doing the calling and go from there, then we’ll get some insight into these questions. God is the one doing the calling. And He is calling people out of His grace, because He wants them to be at the marriage feast. He’s not calling them because of anything they’ve done or because they’re good people, in fact He’s even calling people considered bad, he’s calling sinners; and thankfully so, because we’re all sinners. So, what’s the proper response to this call? It’s faith. Faith is the response to God’s grace. Faith is what grasps hold of Christ’s righteousness that he won for us on his cross and through his empty tomb. Faith is what clothes us with Christ’s righteousness. So, through faith we receive Christ’s righteousness and cover our sins with it.
This is not to say, though, that faith is a work whereby we earn God’s favor. Remember that He calls all people – both bad and good – into the kingdom of heaven; so He issues the invitation before we’ve done anything. But, the garment that makes us acceptable in His sight is Christ’s righteousness; this is the wedding garment. And this garment is put on through faith. For without faith, we are not covered over with Christ’s righteousness; instead, we are naked before God. So like the man in the parable who had no wedding garment, we too would stand as naked sinners before the Lord, unable to utter a word at His righteous accusations against us through His Law. And we too would be thrown into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Without Christ’s righteousness that God gives to us through faith, we would be lost.
And even this faith is a work of God. Like ancient kings who provided wedding garments for their guests, God provides us with this garment as well. God works faith in us through His Word, just as we learn to trust others through their word. But, God’s Word is much more powerful than our words – for His Word comes to us through oral, written, and sacramental means and has the power of God through the working of the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith in Him through Christ. This is a faith which trusts that in Christ’s death and resurrection we have the forgiveness of all our sins and eternal life with God.
So, we see that God calls all people to the marriage feast and that we are properly clothed for this feast by putting on Christ’s righteousness through faith. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Galatians where he writes: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).
So, through Baptism, God has made you His family and clothed you with Christ and His righteousness, and you behold this promise through faith. Faith is your wedding garment; it enables you to enter into the marriage feast properly clothed with Christ’s righteousness. But, what exactly is this marriage feast?
I started today by talking about marriage in the earthly sense – man and woman joining together as one. And this is God’s will for us, as He said in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Man and woman marry and become one body. Now, we are sinners and fallen creatures, and so earthly marriage fails to live up to this ideal. Our marriages are always flawed, sometimes they fail. And yet, this coming together of two as one is God’s design and will for us, precisely because it points to something that is perfect and ideal.
Earthly marriage points to the relationship that Christ has with his Church, because the Church is the bride of Christ and his body. St. Paul points to this mystery in his letter to the Ephesians where he exhorts wives and husbands to love each other (Ephesians 5:22-33). Paul’s point is that husband and wife should love each other as they do themselves, because they are one body. And what’s more, Paul is saying that this earthly marriage between man and woman refers to Christ and the Church. It is a symbol and representation of the relationship between Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride.
The Church submits to Christ precisely because Christ gave himself up for her. Christ died so that he might present his bride – the Church – before himself in perfection and beautiful splendor. Christ washed his bride clean of all her sins with his blood so that he may present her as perfect before his Father, clothed with the wedding garment of his righteousness which he credits to her and she receives through faith. And maybe, just maybe, in earthly marriage, if we glimpse hard enough, we can see at times this self-sacrificial love and forgiveness of sins between husbands and wives; for that is how it is meant to be.
So, the marriage feast is the celebration of Christ’s joining with the Church. It is where the two become one. We have a foretaste of that feast here and now in the Church. For, the Father has prepared a table for us. He has given us the body and blood of the Lord already under bread and wine; and so we commune with the Lord and with each other as one body. But, this feast, as great as it is, is pointing to something greater. For here and now on this earth we have the incarnate Lord with bread and wine. But, the day is coming when we will behold the Lord in person. And we will be at the marriage feast, not simply as guests, but as the very bride of Christ, for we are the Church.
And that day is coming. That day when Christ returns to raise us up to be with him. And there will be no more sorrow or trials or tribulations. For the Lord “… will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth…” (Isaiah 25:8). The Church – the bride of Christ – will stand before him, washed pure by his blood and adorned with her white wedding garment of Christ’s righteousness, and the reproach of her sins will be no more. And Christ and His Church will be joined together forever. Christ loves his bride, you, too much to allow sin or death to separate you from him, so he has defeated these enemies on the cross and is returning to cast them out forever.
The apostle John got a glimpse of this day. The Lord revealed it to him, and John wrote about it in the book of Revelation. He wrote:
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.’
And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God’” (Revelation 19:6-9).
You are those whom John saw and heard. He saw you there, clothed with the righteousness of Christ that is credited to the saints – and you are saints. For you have been redeemed by Christ, and the reproach of your sins have been taken away from you, and the Lord has swallowed up death forever. And so you will live forever with Christ in the kingdom of heaven, along with the rest of the Church. On that day, Christ and His bride – the Church – you – will be united together for all eternity at the marriage feast of the lamb, and you will live in the presence of the Almighty Lord God forever. Amen.
(Image: Parable of the Wedding Feast. 2014. Canvas, oil. 110 x 170. Artist A.N. Mironov. By Andrey Mironov – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33179209 )