Today’s Gospel reading puts to rest once for all the myth that parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings. When have things ever gone the way this parable says?
You have a king inviting people to a banquet. But instead of coming, or even just saying, “I’m too busy” the invitees abuse beat and kill the messengers. The king responds by burning their cities to the ground. That escalated quickly. What begins as a time of joy and gladness ends with death and destruction. But it is not because of the king – the people bring it on themselves by their evil conduct. Things don’t work this way in the world. People have enough sense to just throw the invitation away – or if it’s one of those you can’t refuse, you go and sit quietly. You don’t start a war over a dinner invitation – at least not a war that you will so thoroughly lose.
But this is exactly the response that God gets when he sends prophets and preachers to bring his word to the world. They are beaten, treated shamefully, and killed. We don’t need these preachers telling us what to do. Who do they think they are with their notions of right and wrong, telling us what to think. They are hypocrites, unloving, intolerant. They must be gotten rid of.
The church is the place of the wedding banquet – the place where the great king – Our Heavenly Father – prepares a wedding feast for his son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is pretty easy to figure out. And, of course, as we know, the world kills the prophets and treats those who preach the Gospel with contempt. Rather than the banquet, the feast of the heavenly kingdom, the world ends up judged.
This parable reminds us of the other parable of the wedding feast, where the people make excuses, “I have just gotten married, I have to check out my new oxen, I bought a field.” The king then says that, since the best and brightest will not come in, invite the beggars. The meaning is obvious – that God will fill his wedding hall with the weak of this world, with the poor, with sinners, rather than the perfect beautiful wealthy and powerful that turned him down. And in this parable that’s just what the king does as well. He sends his servants to find people to fill the wedding hall.
But the parable continues past that point, and it just gets stranger. The king comes into the wedding hall, and finds someone without a wedding garment.
What is that? The man is pulled off the street, and then expected to be all dressed up? That’s hardly fair. And he’s not only asked to leave the wedding hall, he’s thrown out bound hand and foot into the outer darkness. But the wedding garment is not something he would have been expected to have already, or even to go out hurriedly and buy. The master of the feast would have provided them, for people who could not have afforded their own. Hospitality is very important in the culture Jesus is speaking to. Turning someone away is one of the worst social breaches. If someone you invite wants to come to your party, but can not afford the proper attire, you provide it for him. The master would have had festive weddings garments available for people coming in. This man decided not to wear it. He was not only dishonoring the wedding feast, he was showing contempt for the king who would have provided him with a fine new outfit.
That’s why we are told that the man was speechless when asked about the wedding garment. Not because he was intimidated by the king, but because he had no excuse. He could not claim, “I couldn’t afford new clothes” “I didn’t have time to shop”. This is a garment provided by the king. You walk in, it’s handed to you, you put it on. So what’s the problem? Uhhh – He had no answer, and so he is forcibly taken out of the feast for his insult.
So, what is this, and how do we make sure we have one? Well, it’s a gift of the king. You can’t earn one. It’s not your work that does it. So what is it?
In the early church, back when most of the people were not Christian, and so most baptisms were adults, as more and more people joined the church, People would take off their old clothes, go into the water, and then put on a new baptismal garment. A white robe. The old sins, the old self, the old life, have been put off, the new has been put on, in Christ. It is his death and resurrection that save you, and so in Baptism, as you are joined to that death and resurrection, you are given a new garment for the new life Jesus gives you.
That’s what the garment is – the righteousness that Christ gives freely through Holy Baptism. Luther says it this way.
The wedding garment is Christ himself, which is put on by faith, as the Apostle says in Rom. 13 “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is easy to understand what is meant by this man’s being without a wedding garment, namely, without the new adornment in which we please God, which is faith in Christ, and therefore also without truly good works. He remains in the old rags and tatters of his own fleshly unbelief and security, without repentance and understanding of his misery. He does not from his heart seek comfort in the grace of Christ, nor betters his life by it, and looks for no more in the Gospel than what his body wants. For this wedding garment must be the new light of the heart, kindled in the heart by the knowledge of the graciousness of this bridegroom and his wedding feast. Thus the heart will cling only to Christ and, transfused by such comfort and joy, will so live and do as it knows to be pleasing to him, even as a bride towards the bridegroom.
The wedding garment is put on when you, by faith, grab hold of the promise of forgiveness life and salvation in Jesus Christ. When your sins are taken away. And then, as that faith grows in you, it produces fruit. Not fruit according to the world, flashy good works that impress others, but fruit according to Christ – simple and humble service that shows love for your neighbor. That is what we pray for in the post communion collect – which Luther also wrote, “We might be strengthened in faith toward you, and in fervent love toward one another.” That our lives would be living witnesses of the hope we have in Jesus Christ. We pray for this in the Lord’s Prayer as well. In the second petition, “They kingdom come” we pray, that “Our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy word, and lead godly lives, here in time and there in eternity.”
If you would be among those who are at the wedding banquet, you must forget all thoughts of getting there on your own efforts, and trust in Christ alone. It is his work for you on the cross that gives you the new garment, and it is his work in you that brings forth the fruits of faith in your life.
Grant this Lord, unto us all.