Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
Ephesians 5: 15-21 and Matthew 22:1-14
"My friend," He said, "how is it that you came in here not properly dressed?" The man had nothing to say. The king then said to the attendants, "Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the night to wail and grind his teeth. The invited are many; the elected are few."
My friends, today we hear the parable of the king who gave a wedding feast for his son. Each of the synoptic Gospels - Matthew, Mark and Luke - contains this story and yet Matthew gives it a very different spin than either Mark or Luke. First, it is a king that is doing all of this. Secondly, Matthew adds a parable on top of a parable. He could have ended his parable with all of the people who were brought into the wedding feast after the others had refused to come, and everybody would have been happy. Instead, Matthew added another little parable about the man who did not wear the proper wedding attire.
Why is it that Matthew would write this rather harsh parable? Remember that all of the Gospels were not written in a vacuum, but in the context of the first century Church that was struggling for its own identity. This Church was still not quite sure in what direction the Lord was leading them. We might think that the Church after Pentecost had everything perfectly in order. That really is not true. Read the Acts of the Apostles, and you will read about one controversy after another that faced that primitive community.
Matthew wrote his Gospel around the year 85 A.D. A cataclysmic event had happened some fifteen years before, hat event was the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army. Not one stone was left upon another, just as Jesus had predicted. The Jewish people had been scattered. The army chased the remnant of the nation south from Jerusalem into the Judean hills. Eventually, they dealt with them at a place called Masada, overlooking the Dead Sea.
The Jewish nation was no more. The people who had been converts from Judaism to Christianity knew this. They questioned what had happened; who they were and what they were. Are they a branch of Judaism? A sect of Judaism? Matthew is saying very simply, "No. We are something very special; something very different."
The parable in today's Gospel addresses that very fact. It was a king that gave a banquet for his son. He sent out his messengers and they were ignored. God sent His prophets to Israel and they were ignored. He sent others, says the parable, and they were killed. God sent other prophets to Israel and they were murdered. The king, according to the parable, became angry and sent an army and destroyed their city and scattered them. That had a real bite to a people who had seen their beloved Israel destroyed by the armies of Rome.
They were different. They were the people that had been gathered from the highways and hedges. They were the Gentiles to whom the Church had turned now to bring into this community of believers. They brought in, says St. Matthew, all kinds of people both good and bad. The parable would have us understand that within the Church there is an invitation to which many people respond, but respond for a variety of reasons.
Not all of those reasons are pristine. Some of those reasons are quite selfish. It's the place to be. "I am a member of the Church because they give good parties. The food is good there." "I am a member of this community because I am enamored of brick and mortar." "They have excellent bridge clubs in that church." All kinds of reasons why people would be gathered together in a community. They're not bad, but they're woefully incomplete. The wrong reasons can change individuals into thinking that as long as they are members, everything is perfectly all right.
Sometimes, church members can be terribly petty. This does not mean that the laity alone are petty. Sometimes it's the clergy. Sometimes, God forbid, it's even the bishops, who can espouse all kinds of crazy, nonsensical teachings. Some want it to be an exclusive, pristine club. We saw that even in our own traditional Anglican Church within the past few years. Squabbles and fights broke out within our church that were absolutely not of God, squabbles and fights that had nothing to do with the spread of the Gospel. There are individual bishops who have their own little fiefdoms and can be big frogs in little ponds. The parable warns us of this.
Part two of today's parable dealt with the individual without a proper wedding garment. In the anteroom to the great hall, they could put on a wedding garment. It was available, hanging there for them to put on. But this individual preferred to come in dressed in jeans and tennis shoes. Mere attendance, says Jesus, wasn't enough.
Something else had to happen to that individual and that was the transformation of his life in order for him to be a welcome guest. As a Christian people, you and I realize that first and foremost the Church is about salvation. You and I stand in need of God's saving grace for us personally, individually. It is necessary that you and I receive this grace and be grateful for what God has done for us; inviting us to the banquet of life. If we would say, "Well, my mere presence is enough," that second parable within the parable today should be fair warning. There has to be conversion, a change of heart, a turning away from sin to God and only to God.
If there is any problem that the Church faces these days, it is a problem of identity as a people; a people in need of God's grace; a people who would be grateful for that grace. A people who would acknowledge their sinfulness before God and reject it in order to embrace God. To put on that wedding garment is to put on salvation. I means to accept Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Saviour. There is no other way. This morning when we gather for Eucharist there cannot be a more perfect way in which we express who and what we are as a people. It was in this way that the Church of the first century knew who it was. "One bread," says St. Paul, "makes us one body in Christ." As we receive Eucharist this morning, it is a sign of our unity in Christ. It is a sign of our being "Church" and it brings about that unity wondrously and mysteriously.
This is the wedding banquet of the Lord to which He has invited each and every one of us. How are we dressed? With gratefulness? With an acknowledgment that we need the grace of God? Or are we dressed merely by saying, "I'm here and God should be very grateful that I am here?" In a beautiful prophecy in the Book of Isaiah, we have a foretaste of what this Messianic banquet truly is, what Jesus was talking about in the parable. In the 25th chapter we read this:
On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure choice wines. On this mountain He will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations. He will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces. The reproach of His people He will remove from the whole earth. For the Lord has spoken. On that day it will be said, "Behold our God to whom we look to save us. This is the Lord for whom we looked. Let us be rejoice and be glad that He has saved us."
Let us celebrate Eucharist in that light. This is the God who has saved us. Clothed in the garment of salvation, we celebrate Jesus' victory over death, over everything that is not of God.
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania