Last week, we began an eight-week message series called, More Than Lip Service: Living Out An Uncomfortable Religion. Many people think of prayer as just something we speak using our tongues and mouths. However, true prayer is more than lip service. It is a call to live in the way we pray and to pray based on the way we live. And that can be just a little uncomfortable to think about, if we’re not living as we should. Over the next eight weeks leading up to Advent, we will examine some of the rather unsettling statements made by Jesus in the gospel readings.
This week, Jesus tells his disciples a parable about a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son (Matthew 22:1-14). Many had been invited, but they refused to attend or, when the time came, found a number of excuses to stay away. They even mistreated and killed the king’s servants, who had announced the arrival of the great feast. In response, the king burned the city and sent his servants out to the “main roads” to invite anyone they found, “the bad and good alike.”
God the Father is the king, the Son is Jesus, and the feast is the heavenly wedding banquet. The servants are the prophets, who were mistreated and killed by the Jewish religious leaders like the scribes and Pharisees, who rejected Jesus and his ministry. The burning of the city most likely refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, which eliminated Jewish temple worship ever since. Since God’s chosen people refused the invitation, the king will gather people from all walks of life, including those of no account, notorious sinners, and the Gentiles from outside Israel, who will experience salvation.
The second part of the story, however, is not as encouraging. One man arrives to the banquet without a wedding garment and therefore is thrown into the “outer darkness.” The garment most likely represents the righteousness that comes from repentance and the fruitfulness that results from the conversion of our lives ever more deeply to the Lord.
The point is that we all are called to the kingdom, but not all of us will be found worthy of the invitation. Some will turn it down outright and exclude themselves, while others will accept the invitation but fail to follow through on its demands to put their lives in the service of the Gospel. That also is uncomfortable to think about.
However, there is hope. As some scholars have pointed out, there was a practice in Jewish antiquity of providing wedding garments for guests. Therefore, the harsh sentence meted out to the man in the parable most likely was based on his complete cluelessness about showing up to the party in what effectively was jeans and a dirty T-shirt. To the extent that we are willing to take even the smallest amount of time to reflect on our need to repent, I believe that Christ the bridegroom will be the first to hand us that beautiful white garment, covering the dirtiness of our sins with his redemption. We simply need to take it in hand.
Father Roger Gustafson