The Wrong Righteousness

By Paul Koch

It has occurred to me that I have been to more weddings than the average person. I’ve been behind the scenes. I’ve been to visit the bride in that quiet moment before the service begins to ask for God’s blessing upon their union. I’ve instructed both young and old men how to properly button their rented tuxes. Though I’m not great at it, in a pinch I have learned how to pin on a boutonniere. There is a lot that goes on at a wedding. Lots of little details that everyone is running around worried about. Of course, a wedding doesn’t have to be complex and extravagant, but I’ve found that even the most modest and simplest wedding still has important details that are a part of it. And the vast majority of those details center around what people are wearing.

If you read our Lord’s parable from Matthew 22:1-14, you are left with the sense that perhaps being concerned about how one is dressed, especially at a wedding, is worthy of our time and attention. This text is as powerful as it is unsettling. Imagine, telling this text to a group of young people today getting ready for a wedding. They are all nervously awaiting the big moment that all the planning and preparation has been leading up to. As they’re tugging at their uncomfortable clothes and shifting around in unused shoes, you have a few moments. So you say, “Hey did you hear the parable about the king who threw a wedding feast for his son?”

This king sends out his servants to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast. They went out into the towns and nearby villages where all the guests lived to make the proclamation that the feast was ready; now is the time to come celebrate with the king. But they don’t come. The king is a bit upset, and rightly so. But he is not deterred. He is going to throw the greatest wedding feast ever in the land and it will be full. So, he sends out other servants saying, “Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, the BBQ is ready, the wine is flowing. Come to the wedding feast.” But the people ignore the king’s servants. They just go back to work. They insult his generosity and kindness and even worse. Some of those who had been invited began to take ahold of the king’s servants and mistreat them. They ridicule and mock them and even rough them up a bit. In fact, a few people even go so far as to kill the king’s servants.

Upon learning about this, the king is enraged. His anger burns against these vile people and his punishment is severe. He doesn’t just throw them in prison or tax them into oblivion. No, he sends out his army and he destroys those murderers and burns down their city as a warning to all others about the wrath of the king.

But the king’s feast remains empty. So, he calls some more servants and says, “Listen you need to go out and bring in some more people. Don’t go to those who were previously called but go out into the highways and byways and invite as many as you find.” And that is exactly what they do. They go and gather in all sorts of people. People you might not expect to find at such a fancy event. They called not only the good people, the ones that make a nice appearance and clean up well. No, they invited bad people as well; blatant sinners who usually would never find themselves sitting at a feast in the king’s court. But these servants do their job well and they fill up that feast. The king comes out to see all his guests and he is most pleased. Finally, the day of feasting and celebration can go forward.

But then something catches his eye. Out of the whole crowd of both good and bad people all invited to this feast, the king sees one guy that is not wearing a wedding garment. He is not dressed for the feast and the king again is angry. He rushes to this man grabs ahold of him and says, “How did you get in here without a wedding garment?” The man is speechless. He has no excuse. So the king has his servants tie up his hands and feet and throw him out into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Now at this point, if the wedding party is still listening to you tell this story they are going to think that perhaps this king is a little unstable and reactionary. But their looks of disgust and confusion will get even worse when you inform them that this parable is actually telling us something about the Kingdom of Heaven. For when our Lord tells it he begins by saying that the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to this king.

So, we need to unpack it a little bit. We know that from the proclamation of John the Baptist onward that the Kingdom of Heaven goes where Jesus goes. Therefore, when Jesus shows up, John declares, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And so, this calling of the people who were invited to come to the feast must correspond to the arrival of our Lord himself and the way in which he was treated by his own people. The feast is ready. Christ has come, come to the feast, but they won’t come. They reject him and mock him and even put him to death. In rejecting the Son of the King you incur the wrath of the Father. They are not just neutral, they are in opposition to the gracious working of God, and so there will be punishment. The burning of their cities may indeed refer to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but it all points to an eternal punishment to come.

But the feast of God was still ready and he would not be deterred from seeing his banquet hall filled. So, the Word of the Lord continued to go out, go out to the highways and the byways, go out to those who were not previously called, go out to the likes of you and me. You were called. You were invited to come and celebrate at the feast of the King. You have been invited to dine in his presence and celebrate the eternal joys of God and so you’ve come. And one day you will enter into that place. You will take your seat and rejoice in the blessings of God. And it turns out that how you dress in that moment matters.

What clothes are you going to wear as you sit in the presence of God?

Now we are not given all the details regarding what this guy was or wasn’t wearing or for that matter, what was expected. All that we are given to know in the text was that he was not wearing wedding garments, whatever he was wearing he thought it was good enough and no one would notice. But he is noticed immediately. Now there are a lot of theories about how in our Lord’s day kings would provide the wedding garments for their guests but perhaps this is much simpler – this man thought his clothing was adequate to sit at the eternal feast of God.

His garments, his workings, his efforts. They were good enough, holy enough, faithful enough. By his own reason or strength or moral superiority he came into the wedding hall. He would celebrate with everyone else as he was clothed in a righteousness of his own making.   A righteousness born perhaps even from his faith, from his trust in that invitation and call of the King. I think maybe everyone else there would have been impressed with his garments, how good a man he really was. I mean, sure, he wasn’t perfect, but he was most likely better than many who were sitting in that place. Maybe he didn’t drink or cuss or tell lies. A model citizen comfy in the clothes he created for himself.

But it turns out that a righteousness that flows from the actions of mankind is thin and ugly and inappropriate in the presence of God. In fact, though it may impress one another it is offensive to God. The only righteousness that will allow us to remain in the eternal glory of God is a righteousness not of our own doing, not our own making, not or our own effort. It is the freely given righteousness of Christ that we wear to the feast. It is his garments of holiness that pleases the eye of the Father.

This shocking story of the working of the kingdom of heaven is a story of receiving the blessing of God. It is trusting in the garments that Christ himself has given each and every on of you. For he clothes you with his love, with his perfection, with his righteousness and holiness and blessedness. And when the King comes out to see his gathered guests, he rejoices for he sees in you his own Son. For in Christ you are now the forgiven, the loved, and righteous guests gathered into his kingdom.