Pentecost +17

Hello friends. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Friend. Strangely, it’s been “pointed out that in (the Gospel according to) Matthew, it’s never a good thing to be addressed as “Friend.” Every time someone is called a friend (in Matthew’s Gospel), what follows is not pleasant! The single most poignant instance may well come near the end of the gospel when, having been kissed by the traitor Judas, Jesus asks him, “Friend, what have you come for?” But a close second to that devastating use of “friend” may well be here in Matthew 22 when a hapless wedding guest is addressed as “Friend” right before being most definitively thrown out on his ear.”1

This parable, the Parable of the Great Banquet, is in so many ways horribly sad. Having been married not so long ago, I can still feel the excitement and anticipation my parents felt leading up to the wedding. My wife and my in-laws were excited as well, but they were also tasked with much of the preparation work, which was not inconsiderable. I just can’t imagine what it would have been like, after all that work and all that excitement (and yes, all that tension), if nobody showed up. Considering the time and expense and the personal investment we had in the whole affair, if all the people we invited seemingly had something better to do, that wouldn’t just be a disappointment, that would be a betrayal.

The crazy thing is, the king in this parable who is giving the feast for his son’s wedding, didn’t even get off with just a betrayal. The guests the king invited, presumably friends and close acquaintances, not only blow off the invitation but also kill the messengers; the postman rang once and never got to ring again. And so the king, understandably perturbed, does what you would expect a king to do: he gives the guest list over to his best general, with orders to execute the king’s scorched earth policy.

But then the king does something no one would expect a king to do: he throws protocol out the window. He puts the word on the streets that anyone can come to the party, anyone at all. The king said that today everyone is invited, anyone can be made worthy to get past the velvet rope, anyone and everyone can be my friend.

Oh, but to be God’s friend. It would have been a much nicer story if Jesus had ended it with all the beggars and hookers and ruffians hanging out at the party. But Jesus went on: “But when the king came in to see the guests,” Jesus said, “he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

What’s up with that? Is God’s Kingdom like a snooty restaurant that will throw you out if you’re not wearing the right clothes? No, it’s not, but Heaven does seem to have a Jacket Required policy.

The bad news is that not everyone thinks they need the jacket. There’s a lot at stake here, because when God offers us a place at His table, refusing His offer has consequences. If you offer someone a chocolate chip cookie and he turns it down, no big deal, right? If you offer someone your kidney to save his life and he spits in your face, well, that’s a different kind of thing altogether. If you cannot be moved by God’s grace, if you look at what God is offering and find it less interesting than other things that are occupying your heart and mind and life, then the result cannot be a simple shrug of the divine shoulders.2 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The good news is that Jesus has a jacket ready for everybody. God invites us to His big, jazzy, everlasting party, He invites everyone, and there’s no entrance fee, per se; the fee was weighty and involved a Cross. God has graciously paid the entrance fee Himself. That’s called grace, and it’s only by the grace of God that we get our jacket, our wedding garment.

Our duty, our Christian duty, is first and foremost to do everything we can to let people know about the grace of God in Christ Jesus. In our baptism and in living faithful lives, we wear our wedding garments, our dinner jackets, around with us all the time. Who do you know who hasn’t heard or responded to God’s invitation? Are you willing to let them get to the party without their jacket?

1Scott Hoezee, This Week.

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