The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 22:1-14

TODAY’S GOSPEL IS A CONTINUATION OF A SERIES OF PARABLES OF JESUS PROCLAIMED BEFORE THE TEMPLE LEADERS ON THE DAY AFTER HE WIPED THE MONEY CHANGERS OUT OF THE TEMPLE. IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT THE QUESTION OF THE TEMPLE LEADERS WHICH PROMPTED THESE PARABLES WAS, “BY WHAT AUTHORITY ARE YOUR DOING THESE THINGS, AND WHO GAVE YOU THAT AUTHORITY?” JESUS SAID HE WOULD TELL THEM IF THEY WOULD TELL HIM WHERE THE AUTHORITY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST CAME FROM. WHEN THEY COULD NOT ANSWER, JESUS REFUSED TO TELL THEM; INSTEAD, HE TOLD THEM THE PARABLE OF THE TWO SONS, THE PARABLE OF THE TENANTS WHO TRIED TO SEIZE THE VINEYARD FOR THEMSELVES, AND, NOW, THIS SOMEWHAT DARK PARABLE OF THE WEDDING FEAST.

WHEN JESUS SAID, “THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN MAY BE COMPARED TO A HUMAN KING WHO GAVE A WEDDING FEAST FOR HIS SON,” THE EFFECT ON THE TEMPLE LEADERS, THE DISCIPLES, AND THE CROWD MUST HAVE BEEN STUNNING. THE POLITICAL AND THEOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS OF WHATEVER JESUS WAS ABOUT TO SAY MUST HAVE FRIGHTENED THE TEMPLE LEADERS AND ENERGIZED THE CROWD. HEROD ANTIPAS, WHO HAD NO LEGITIMATE CLAIM TO KINGSHIP, WAS ON THE THRONE OF JUDAH SOLELY BECAUSE OF THE POWER OF ROME. ANY MENTION OF KINGSHIP MIGHT UPSET THE PRECARIOUS RELATIONSHIP OF THE TEMPLE LEADERS WITH THE POLITICAL POWERS, WHICH MIGHT LEAD TO A REVOLUTION FOR WHICH THE PEOPLE WERE HOPING. TO THE PEOPLE, AND THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS, THE MENTION OF A KING IMMEDIATELY SUGGESTED THIS PARABLE WAS ABOUT GOD, AND THE INCLUSION OF THE SON LINKED IT TO THE MESSIANIC HOPE OF ISRAEL. IN ONE SENTENCE, JESUS THREW DOWN THE GAUNTLET OF CHALLENGE IN THE FACE OF THE TEMPLE LEADERS.

ONE COULD NOT HEAR THE WORDS “WEDDING FEAST” WITHOUT THINKING OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. THE MOST PERSISTENT IMAGE OF THE HEAVENLY KINGDOM THROUGHOUT SCRIPTURE WAS THAT OF THE WEDDING FEAST. ISRAEL UNDERSTOOD ITSELF TO BE MARRIED TO GOD, IN THAT THE COVENANT BETWEEN GOD AND ISRAEL WAS ECHOED IN THE COVENANT OF MARRIAGE BETWEEN MAN AND WOMAN. THIS IS WHY THE PROPHETS CONDEMNED ANY BREAK IN THE COVENANT BY ISRAEL AS ADULTERY; AND IT IS ALSO WHY THE FIRST ACT OF THE MINISTRY OF JESUS OCCURRED AT THE WEDDING FEAST AT CANA.

WHEN THE KING SENDS OUT THE INVITATIONS TO THE WEDDING FEAST OF HIS SON, THE INVITATIONS ARE A POLITE ROYAL COMMAND. WITHOUT GETTING TOO ALLEGORICAL IN THE INTERPRETATION OF THE PARABLE, THE REJECTION OF THE KING’S INVITATION IS A REJECTION OF THE KING’S AUTHORITY OVER THOSE WHO ARE HIS SUBJECTS. INSTEAD OF REJOICING WITH THEIR SOVEREIGN AT THE MARRIAGE OF HIS SON, HIS SUBJECTS DISMISS HIS INTERFERENCE IN THEIR LIVES, AND EVEN KILL THOSE SENT TO ENCOURAGE THEIR LOYALTY. THE COVENANT BETWEEN THE KING AND HIS PEOPLE IS BROKEN BY THIS REJECTION OF HIS AUTHORITY, AND SO THE KING RESPONDS BY TREATING THEM AS NOT HIS PEOPLE WHO ARE INFECTING HIS KINGDOM. THE PARABLE TAKES ON BOTH ESCHATOLOGICAL AND PROPHETIC OVERTONES, AS IT IS CLEARLY ABOUT THE RESTORATION OF THE KINGSHIP OF GOD, AND A FORESHADOWING OF THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE IN A.D. 70.

THIS ESCHATOLOGICAL AND PROPHETIC TURN IN THE PARABLE CONTINUES IN THE PARABLE WITHIN THE PARABLE. IF HIS OWN PEOPLE REJECT HIM, THEN THE KING WILL CREATE A NEW PEOPLE WHO WILL BE SUBJECT TO HIS AUTHORITY. HE SENDS HIS SOLDIERS OUT TO THE LIMITS OF HIS KINGDOM TO BRING IN ALL, BOTH RIGHTEOUS AND UNRIGHTEOUS, TO SHARE IN HIS JOY AT THE MARRIAGE OF HIS SON. THROUGHOUT MATTHEW’S GOSPEL, THE MOST HEBRAIC OF THE FOUR, JESUS HAS BEEN GIVING HINTS THAT THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN WILL EXTEND BEYOND THE REMNANTS OF JUDAH, BUT THIS CLEAR IMPLICATION THAT GOD WILL CALL OTHERS TO THE FEAST MUST HAVE SET ON FIRE THE HAIR OF THE TEMPLE LEADERS.

AT A WEDDING FEAST IN A POOR VILLAGE, EVERYONE WOULD DON THEIR BEST ROBES TO HONOR THE HOST AND THE MARRIED COUPLE. A RICH MAN, AND CERTAINLY A KING, WOULD PROVIDE A WHITE ROBE AS A GIFT FOR HIS GUESTS. EVERYONE WOULD BE DRESSED THE SAME, ACCEPTING THE GIFT OF THE KING WHICH COVERED THEIR TRAVEL STAINED GARMENTS, SO THAT ALL WOULD BE EQUAL IN THEIR JOYOUS CELEBRATION. WHEN THE KING, MAKING THE ROUNDS OF HIS GUESTS, FOUND ONE WITHOUT A ROBE, HE ASKED, SARCASTICALLY, “FRIEND, HOW DID YOU GET IN HERE WITHOUT A WEDDING ROBE?” THE QUESTION IS RHETORICAL, OF COURSE; THE ONLY WAY HE COULD HAVE NOT BEEN IN A ROBE WAS TO REJECT IT BEFORE ENTERING. WHAT DOES ONE SAY TO A KING WHEN YOU HAVE REJECTED HIS GIFT? ONE CAN SAY NOTHING; WHICH IS WHY THE MAN WAS SPEECHLESS. SO THE KING HAD HIM BOUND AND CAST OUT INTO THE OUTER DARKNESS.

THE PROBLEM IS NOT THAT THE UNNAMED GUEST IS FORGETFUL; IT IS THAT HE IS DISMISSIVE OF THE JOY OF THE KING, AND HAS COME FOR HIS OWN SELFISH REASONS. HIS REFUSAL TO DON THE GIFT OF THE ROBE IS A SLIGHT TO THE ONE WHO HAS GIVEN HIM THE GIFT. AS THE GREAT THEOLOGIAN KARL BARTH WROTE, “IN THE LAST RESORT, IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO THE FACT THAT THE INVITATION IS TO A FEAST, AND THAT HE WHO DOES NOT OBEY AND COME ACCORDINGLY, AND THEREFORE FESTIVELY, DECLINES AND SPURNS THE INVITATION NO LESS THAN THOSE WHO ARE UNWILLING TO OBEY AND APPEAR AT ALL”.

THE INVITATION TO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO ALL OF US THROUGH THE LIFE, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD JESUS. THROUGH GREAT EFFORT AND UNIMAGINABLE COST, GOD HAS INVITED US TO THE WEDDING FEAST, OF WHICH WE HAVE A FORETASTE NOW EACH TIME WE PARTAKE OF THE BODY AND BLOOD WHICH PAID FOR THE HEAVENLY BANQUET, AND WHICH WE WILL SHARE FOREVER IN THE ETERNAL KINGDOM. JUST SHOWING UP IS NOT ENOUGH; WE MUST WILLINGLY PUT ON THE ROBES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS GIVEN TO US BY GOD’S GRACE IN JESUS, AND WE MUST WILLINGLY PARTICIPATE FULLY IN THE JOYS OF THE KINGDOM. WHEN WE ACCEPT THE INVITATION OF GOD THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS, WE ARE ACCEPTING THE FULL AUTHORITY OF GOD OVER ALL ASPECTS OF OUR LIFE. WHEN OUR HEAVENLY KING SAYS “COME,” WE MUST WILLINGLY COME. WHEN HE SAYS “GO,” WE MUST WILLINGLY GO. WHEN HE SAYS “SERVE,” WE MUST WILLINGLY SERVE. THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO A FULL AND WILLING PARTICIPATION IN THE HEAVENLY BANQUET; WE ARE EITHER COMPLETELY IN OR COMPLETELY OUT.

PUT ON THE WHITE ROBES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS WASHED IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB, AND PARTICIPATE FULLY IN THE CELEBRATION OF LIFE IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, BECAUSE IT IS ONLY BY OUR COMPLETE COMMITMENT TO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN CAN WE KNOW THE JOY AND PEACE IT BRINGS. ONLY THEN CAN WE ENTER INTO THE JOY OF THE FATHER. WE GOT THE INVITATION; NOW, LET’S GET INVOLVED IN THE CELEBRATION.
AMEN
1. KARL BARTH, CHURCH DOGMATICS, 11/2 (EDINBURGH: T. & T. CLARK, 1957), 588.

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