Lord God, heavenly Father, we thank You for Your abundant mercy and steadfast love in inviting us through Your dear Word to come to the glad wedding feast, and by Your Son forgiving us all our sins. But because daily tribulations, offenses, and dangers are so numerous, and we for our part are very weak and inclined to sin, we beseech You by Your Holy Spirit graciously to keep us from all calamity. But should we fall and defile our garments which Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, put on us, graciously restore us, lead us to genuine repentance and true faith in Your mercy, and never let us fail. Amen. [LPC #118]
God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Christians now may think more frequently about heaven than we did a couple years ago. It’s not only the fear, anxiety, or depression that have beset many people in the world, or the economic and political turmoil. A combination of factors layered upon the brokenness that exists in a fallen world tends to pull the thoughts of God’s people toward heaven. But what is it? What is heaven like? That’s what Jesus teaches in many parables like today’s Gospel.
The strange thing about many of these parables concerning heaven is that they don’t tell us much about what many would call “the afterlife.” Instead, heaven is first God’s actions in this life. Our idea of heaven is not the same as what Jesus means by it. We think of a place containing endless pleasures and no suffering. Jesus is thinking of the state where we get to live in God’s presence and receive His blessings forever. That is described in our Gospel. This kingdom of heaven begins with His invitation.
Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as a wedding feast. That’s a joyous time filled with promise. But right away He includes an odd detail. The king “sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.” Does that sound like heaven? It’s conflict, strife. Right at the start!
Not exactly at the start. The first thing was the invitation, the “call” of the servants to those who were invited. Taken by itself, that call is a beautiful and fitting thing. God populates heaven by calling people through the mouths of His servants.
The word “call” in the Greek language is the root word of something related to the kingdom of heaven: the church. The Greek word for church means the “assembly” or “gathering,” but centuries before the NT was written, it seems to have been coined from the idea that certain people were called together from the larger masses. And here, Jesus begins His parable of the kingdom of heaven with a call, an invitation. That corresponds with the message: a promise of sins forgiven and peace restored. Beautiful.
But those invited would not come. Why not? Was it that they didn’t like the catch that came with the invitation? They didn’t like the conditions of the call? No. There is no catch. There are no conditions. They simply would not come to the feast on the basis of that invitation. They were stiff-necked and hard-hearted. Their will was set against the invitation. Even the second time the messengers went out, telling the delights to be found at the feast, those invited despised the invitation. Some turned against the messengers.
How is this heaven? Again it’s in the king’s invitation, the call, the gospel. But at this point in the parable it’s only been rejected. From Jesus’ perspective, the kingdom of heaven exists even now, anywhere His messengers have extended the call. It’s not the same thing as a paradise of pleasures, because the invitation can be despised by hearts are committed to earthly things: farm, business, their own desires.
Even now, anyone who speaks His invitation and calls a person into His kingdom risks rejection and violence. But the kingdom persists. It exists in the call.
Jesus includes this stark warning for anyone with a tendency to despise the invitation: the king destroyed the murderers and burnt their city. Jerusalem rejected Jesus, then burned forty years later. This world will also burn after the Last Day, and those who rejected Jesus will receive their final judgment. Our Catechism explains: We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Why? The Word is the invitation, the call into the kingdom. It’s our lifeline, our only path to heaven.
That’s the central issue in today’s Gospel. Those first called to the feast despised the invitation and eventually lost everything. This is what’s at stake for ourselves, our families, our neighbors in this commandment. Despising the call containing the free gift of eternal life means missing the kingdom of heaven. Those who choose to stand before God on their own wisdom have chosen to despise the call. May He preserve us from putting the concerns of earthly life and our own ideas ahead of His Word.
But it’s too late already, isn’t it? Even those here in person today, we’ve all misplaced our priorities, even if not this moment. You have invited God’s wrath. You are not worthy of this invitation. I know, because I have the same problem. Wandering thoughts, wandering eyes, wandering feet, itching ears, reckless tongues, knees slow to bend, necks slow to bow, hands weary of doing good, and hearts attached more to this world than to God’s promises. Are we also doomed?
The parable answers the question when the King sent His messengers to gather in both the good and the bad, every one. The Greek word is the same: to call them in, the root word for “church.” And the word used for “gather” is the word “synagogue.” In other words, Jesus is telling a story not only about the kingdom of heaven, but about His Church, about how He finally forms it from the people in the world. He says that the messengers “gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” How can this be? How can His Church be filled with both good and bad? Can this mean that even sinners like us can still receive the call into the kingdom? The answer is in the last part of the parable, in the curious account of the wedding garment.
“When the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.”. The King confronted him, and he had no defense, so he was cast out. This explains the bad and the good, because it would have covered the man and made him worthy.
These are not garments brought in by the guests. They are provided by the king, who provided all things for the feast. The garments covered the stained and torn street clothes of those who had been traveling on the highways. They hid and effectively erased all the stains and tears, turning the travelers into worthy guests of the royal wedding feast.
I admit that in the past I’ve taken the phrase “the bad and the good” to mean that some of these guests were bad and others good. It works with the grammar, but another meaning works better with Scripture’s teaching about the members of the Christian Church on earth: that we are at the same time both saints and sinners, both bad and good. Your sinful flesh with its twisted desires, habits, and attractions still clings to you, but God has also created you anew.
God provides you His forgiveness, and He clothes you with the righteousness of Jesus in holy baptism. That “means that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts; and that a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” With the invitation comes the wedding garment, and by these things you belong even now to the everlasting kingdom of heaven.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
Matthew 22:1-14 (ESV)
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by your truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.