Summary: Jesus’ parable of the Wedding shows God’s judgment on those who refuse his invitation, and his grace on those who do.
Dressing for the Wedding
Today when you enter various restaurants, you are confronted by a sign that says “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” A sign like this is also a sign of the time, I suppose, for it would not be necessary to post such a sign, except that there are a number of people who will enter restaurants these days wearing no shirt and no shoes. We’re not talking about people who are so poor that they cannot afford shoes or cannot afford shirts. If they were indeed that poor, I question whether they would be entering a restaurant in the first place, since shoes and shirts that would satisfy the requirement cost less than the food they can buy in the restaurant.
So, no, it’s not the poor that the sign has in mind: it’s those who don’t care for the standards of the owner or his guests.
This kind of sign isn’t the only version, of course. There are restaurants or clubs where the dress code requires coat and tie, and a sign at the entrance will tell you this. Perhaps you have been invited to a formal occasion – a wedding, or wedding reception, for example, where the required dress is formal, or black tie. Again, guests at such an affair are expected to comply with the standards of the host.
We have something like this going on in the parable found in today’s gospel lesson. The parable which Jesus tells is fairly clear, and I dare say his immediate audience – the Pharisees and Sadducees – didn’t miss his point. We, however, might miss the point about that wedding guest who shows up without the proper attire. On one hand, “proper attire” for a wedding is not alien to our way of thinking; on the other hand, what is Jesus’ point of mentioning this in the parable?
Before attempting to answer that question, let’s look over the first elements of the parable as Jesus unfolds it.
Jesus sets up the parable with these words: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, 3 and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. “
By this time in Jesus ministry, there can be no question about what these elements in the parable mean. Jesus has been preaching the gospel of the kingdom of heaven for almost three years now. No one – particularly the religious leadership of Israel – has any question that as Jesus tells the parable, the King in the parable is God, the Son is Jesus himself, and the invited guests are the chosen people, the Jews. The Messianic age, in the Old Testament, was often compared to a grand feast. We saw this in the lesson from the Old Testament that we heard read a while ago. In Isaiah 5:7, we read, “6 And in this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, Of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees.”
So, here is a great King, sending out invitations to the wedding of His Son. And what do those invited say? Well, Jesus says they were not willing to come.
So, what does the king do? Jesus tells us: “4 Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ 5 But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. “
Again, I suspect that Jesus’ audience here knows exactly what he means by this part of the parable. For, before Jesus began his ministry, John the Baptist was preaching the coming of the Kingdom. And, once Jesus had begun his ministry, he had sent out his disciples to preaching the good news of the Kingdom of heaven. And, their fate was the same as those servants in the parable Jesus is telling: they were ignored, or they were treated spitefully, and John the Baptist was killed.
If Jesus had stopped here, he would have done a thorough job of recapitulating his previous ministry and the reception it had received from the religious leadership of Israel. But, at this point in the parable, the meaning of the parable turns away from representing the past in parabolic form, and instead begins to look to the future.
Jesus continued with these words, “But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.” What, do you suppose, this is talking about? I submit that it is not talking about something that has already happened. Rather, Jesus is telling those who are plotting to kill him what God is going to do to those murderers. He is going to send out his armies and , destroy those murderers and burn up their city. And, of course, this is exactly what happened about 40 years after Jesus spoke these words. God raised up the Roman army – just as He had raised up gentile army after gentile army in the past – to judge his own people. And, Jesus is telling his opponents here that this is going to happen to them and to Jerusalem.