Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Who doesn’t love stories? Some of my fondest memories as a child are the stories that we would read as a family. We resonate with stories, don’t we? They allow us to relate to specific characters, to see what they saw, to feel what they felt. The thing with stories is, there tends to be certain moments that you remember because of the vivid imagery of the moment or the significance that moment held in the larger narrative. And the thing is, good storytellers know how to tell stories in such a way that you walk away remembering a very specific moment or moments in the story that they want you to remember. For example, one of those such moments in JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit is that iconic moment where the dragon Smaug is flying over Laketown decimating and destroying the city and its people.
But then Bard the Bowman fires an arrow into the one weak spot in Smaug’s armor-like scales. Smaug is defeated and Laketown is saved! This is a moment in the story that the reader can’t help but remember. Another example of that kind of moment is in CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. There’s that unforgettable moment after Aslan sacrifices his own life to save Edmund and his body lies lifeless on the Stone Table. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a group of mice come and begin to chew through the ropes binding Aslan. It’s a strange, yet significant moment in the story—one that the author most certainly intends you to remember. Good storytellers, like Tolkien and Lewis, tell these stories in such a way that you remember these specific moments because it’s in these types of moments that the significance of the story can be found.
2. As we come to Jesus’ strange Parable of the Wedding Feast, my assertion to you is that Jesus is a very good storyteller. The fact that you may walk away from this parable a bit puzzled means that you have latched on to the specific moments that Jesus wants you to remember from this parable. There are two such moments in our parable for today. And I believe that if we pay careful attention to these two moments, we’ll discover what Jesus really intends to communicate.
3. First, we need to keep in mind that this is the third in a series of parables Jesus tells on the Monday of Holy Week. And the meaning of this parable is tied very closely with the parable we heard last week: The Parable of the Tenants. The question this parable seeks to answer is: How should the rejection of God’s reign in Jesus be rightly understood? So, Jesus introduces the parable by saying: The kingdom of heaven may be compared to… Or, maybe more precisely, The kingdom of heaven has become like a king who gave a wedding feast for his son (Matthew 22:2). In other words, the Kingdom of Heaven has become as Jesus describes in this parable because Israel’s religious leaders have rejected Jesus. But, back to the parable, this king has his servants generously invite many people to this feast. But these people don’t just reject the invitation, they respond with an almost unthinkable act of shaming and insulting the king and his son. As a result, Jesus says, The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city (Matthew 22:7). Let’s be honest—this is a bit disturbing. This is one of those two moments in the parable that causes us to pause and wonder what in the world is going on because the reaction seems so extreme. But, keep in mind, Jesus has a tendency to use hyperbolic, exaggerated elements in his Kingdom of Heaven Parables to make a point. So, don’t get too caught up in the details of the response—the point is to get your attention and show you how harshly the king responds to those who dishonor his son.
4. The parable continues with the king sending out his servants again, this time to invite anyone who will come to the feast. And so, the wedding hall is filled with guests. But then, the second strange and memorable moment happens in the parable. The king sees one of the guests who is not wearing a wedding garment. He asks the man why he isn’t wearing a wedding garment, and the man is speechless. The king then says to 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 (Matthew 22:13). If that first moment seemed extreme, this one seems unthinkably severe and unnecessary. But, again, don’t get too caught up in details of the response. The response is extreme, but once again, the point is to get your attention and show you how harshly the king responds to those who dishonor his son, in this case by not wearing the proper wedding attire.
5. If you’ve hung on this long, then I don’t think that understanding the meaning of this parable is what’s truly challenging. What’s truly challenging about this parable is thinking about what it means for our lives. See, the question this parable is challenging you to ask of yourself is, “Am I dishonoring the son of the king (that is, Jesus) in my life?” As good Lutherans, we know the answer: “Yes, I dishonor Jesus with my life, but he died to forgive me.” We saw that last week in the Gospel Reading—he’s the suffering son who died to forgive our sins. Okay, true, but that still begs the question, “Am I dishonoring Jesus in my life?” Just because I’m forgiven—just because I’ve been let into the feast—doesn’t mean I’m not dishonoring Jesus. See, as a forgiven child of God, we dishonor Jesus when we fail to treasure the forgiveness that he has won for us on the cross. We dishonor Jesus when we say, “Jesus, I know you died to forgive my sins, but I want to keep living in all of these sins because they’re comfortable. I’d rather keep living in my sins than live in the new life you’ve won for me.” This is a serious reality. Choosing to live this way and dishonor Jesus has dire consequences. But, my friends, it’s never too late to embrace the new life Jesus won for you. It’s never too late to stop and treasure the forgiveness Jesus has won for you by asking the Spirit of God to help you to change your ways and begin honoring Jesus with your life. It’s never too late to begin honoring Jesus by your thoughts, words, and actions. Yes, our salvation is won by Jesus alone on the cross, but there’s this strange, paradoxical reality that the way we live our lives on earth also effects our eternal destiny. God the Father invites you to honor his son and by doing so experience the new life that he has for you in Jesus.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.