“Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth’. Many are invited but few are chosen” (Matthew 22: 8- 14; Full reading – Matthew 22: 1- 14)
I have always been fascinated with this parable. First of all, though it is meant as another warning to the Jewish leaders, it is also one of the most beautiful images of the Kingdom of God that we have been given: The kingdom of God is a wedding banquet and everyone, absolutely everyone, is invited. I like what William Barclay said about this parable:
“It reminds us that the invitation of God is to a feast as joyous as a wedding feast. His invitation is to joy. To think of Christianity as a gloomy giving up of everything which brings laughter and sunshine and happy fellowship is to mistake its whole nature. It is to joy that the Christian is invited; and it is joy he misses, if he refuses the invitation.” (Matthew, p. 267)
Second, I am fascinated by the little “parable within a parable”, the part about the one guest showing up at the banquet without the proper attire and being ejected. It is obvious he had presumed upon the gracious invitation of his host and his impudence was not well received. What in the world does this mean?
From earliest days the Church has taken the wedding garment to be either true repentance or the good works that accompany true faith and, actually, there is not much difference between the two. Both imply a change of life which is the only appropriate response to accepting the invitation so freely and graciously given. This, then, is an antidote to all who would say, “God loves me and accepts me just as I am” and who presume to use that as an excuse to stay just as they are. Here that is seen as an insult to God and will not be allowed. The invitation and the banquet are all grace, but there must be an appropriate response.
Isn’t this reality, this little parable, what we act out every Sunday at the Eucharistic celebration? The Eucharist is the foretaste of the heavenly banquet but we would not presume to come to that table without putting on the attire of repentance at the very beginning of the liturgy: “I confess to almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have gravely sinned…”. The old Anglican and Methodist invitation to holy communion captures this thought eloquently: “Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, are in love and charity with your neighbor, and intend to lead a new life following the commandments of God and walking from henceforth in his holy ways, draw near with faith, take this Sacrament to your comfort, and make your humble confession to almighty God.”
In other words, “Please come to the banquet! Its free! Its for you! But you must come appropriately dressed.”
I began this meditation with a quote from William Barclay. I would like to end it with one from him as well. It is found in his commentary on Matthew just a few paragraphs down from the first. He says all this better than I ever could (I especially love his last sentence):
“It is true that the door is open to all men, but when they come they must bring a life which seeks to fit the love that has been given them. Grace is not only a gift; it is a grave responsibility. A man cannot go on living the life he lived before he met Jesus Christ. He must be clothed in a new purity and a new holiness and a new goodness. The door is open, but the door is not open for the sinner to come and remain a sinner, but for the sinner to come and become a saint.”
You and I have been invited to a banquet! Let us make sure we dress appropriately for it by lives lived in the pursuit of true repentance and holiness!
Fred Durham is the President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.