I love going to weddings. It is one of the last cultural things we do when people still gather together, get dressed up, and have a big party in celebration of something truly wonderful. When you get the invite in the mail you save the date on the calendar and begin to prepare. I am not saying every wedding consumes your thoughts, but you do, or at least I do, put some thought in the coming weeks to what I am going to wear. Do I buy a new tie? Do I try something different this time? And I probably speak for most men out there, one of my favorite things about going to a wedding is seeing what wonderful new outfit my wife will be wearing. Having her on my arm all dressed up is exciting to say the least. Now you may or may not like weddings, you may have more of a skeptical view of the whole endeavor, but it remains an event which everyone is familiar with. Everyone can, in some way, relate to going to a wedding celebration.
So, Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. While we may have never been to a king’s party, we still know the basics of what is going on. The invitations were sent out months ago, perhaps even the “save the date” cards before that, and all the plans have been brought to fruition. Now the time is ready, so the servants go out to call all those invited to come. “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” But the invitation is ignored. Some people just went about their old business. They seem to have no plan to join the wedding in the first place. But others were malicious. They took ahold of the king’s servants, treated them shamefully, and even killed them.
The response of the king is swift and decisive. To reject his gift is one thing and to turn their back on the invitation to the wedding feast would certainly preclude them from the blessings he was prepared to give. But to assault and murder the king’s servants, to put to death those who bear his word of invitation is to incur the king’s wrath. So, the king sends in the troops. The murderers are destroyed, and their city is burned. But when the dust settles, when vengeance is met out, there remains the issue of the wedding feast. Like the parable of the wicked tenants, there is an inevitability to the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. So, the tables are set, the decorations are in place, the food is getting cold, and the king will fill his wedding hall. “Go, therefore,” he says to his servants, “to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” The invitation now spills out to anyone who will hear the word of the king and come to celebrate the wedding of his son.
So, the servants bear this word of the king out to any and all who might hear it. The word goes forth and the hall begins to fill up. The servants were not particular about whom they called, they just brought in the good and the bad. No doubt there were honest, eager, and humble guests who were delighted to be there. And there were probably guests who came with a bit of suspicion for they knew they did not belong at such a fine gathering. They had no business being in the presence of the king and his son, but they could not pass up the wonderful invitation. Righteous and unrighteous, saints and sinners, all gather into the wedding hall. Remember, our Lord said this is an image of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding hall filled with all sorts of rabble, the good and the bad. There they sit, each and every one, only there by the invitation of the King. They are only there because they heard the Word.
You do not have to be very imaginative to see the reality of what Jesus is telling us. I mean, just look around. If this is an image of the Kingdom of Heaven, here and now, if this is the place where His gifts are given, what sort of people are here? Some of you have been here a long time. Many of you are so settled in that you know every detail about this place. You know how it runs, how it functions. You heard the Word of the Lord call to you and showed up early for the feast. Some of you are brand new, barely getting in before the doors are shut, but here you are. Some look pretty good, like they have everything together. Some of you, though, look ragged. You look like you are barely hanging on, as if you are unsure if you even belong, if you have any right to be here. I will leave it up to you to try and figure out who looks good and who looks bad, but the reality is many who look good on the outside are a complete mess on the inside and vice versa. If this is a gathering of the people of God, an assembly of those who have heard the Word, who have been invited by the King to celebrate the wedding of His Son, well, this gathering is full of sinners… sinners through and through. But this is precisely who the King chooses to fill His wedding hall with.
Of course, the Parable of the Wedding Feast does not end with a full hall of joyful and thankful guests. No, the king comes out to look over the situation, and there, standing out like a sore thumb, is a man who is not wearing a wedding garment. The king rushes to this man. “Friend,” he says, “how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” He has invited people from everywhere, good and bad, rich and poor, but this is the only one who shows up without a wedding garment. It is as if everyone one else is wearing a jacket and tie and this guy is sitting there dressed in the same clothes he was wearing while fixing his lawn mower. The man has no answer to the king’s question, no reason to explain his dress. And what does the king do? He has his servants “bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
That seems a bit harsh, does it not? Quite an overreaction. But again, if this is about the Kingdom of Heaven, then certainly there is more to this wedding garment than some sort of confusion about a dress code. There has been a lot of speculation about this verse over the years, it certainly cannot be about his good works or a measure of his righteousness, for we already know the wedding hall is full of all sorts of people both good and bad. Perhaps then the issue is how this man who has received an invite by the king, has entered the king’s hall, and is ready to drink to the health of the son of the king believes he can be there as he is, on his own terms, dressed however he wants, with no concern for whose presence he is sitting before.
If this is the invitation to the Kingdom of Heaven, to the blessing of eternal life, how are you going to show up before the King? Are you going to show up however you want, on your own terms? Well, this is who I am, this is what I have to offer, this is how I look, take it, or leave it. Do you sit there as if you deserve to sit there? If you stand before the King of Heaven and Earth, if you dare to sit in the wedding hall on your own terms, doing it your own way, what will stop the King from binding you up and tossing you outside where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? No, to be in the wedding hall means to wear the wedding garments. Good or bad, young or old, everyone must have a wedding garment. But that garment is not something of our own doing, it is not made by our hands, and it certainly is not our work or our desire or our good intentions.
Saint Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” To be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is to be clothed in the righteous garments of Jesus Christ. The wedding garment itself is a gift. It is the promise that all of your life, the good and the bad, the struggle and the victory, the hurt and the triumph, all of it is covered in these waters, covered in these garments, covered in the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of the King.