Proper 23A (Pentecost #17)
Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (October 14&15-2017)
Text: Matthew 22: 1-14
Title: God PROVIDES what God REQUIRES!!
I have always thought that the most interesting thing (and, maybe the most important thing) about our Gospel reading for this 19th Sunday after Pentecost, is that it is actually two stories…two parables and not one. It is the Parable of the Wedding Feast (vs. 1-10) and it is the Parable of the Wedding Garment (vs. 11-14). The Evangelist Matthew has stitched these two stories together as if they were one, but when you listen carefully you realize that there are actually two stories which communicate two radically different messages!
The Parable of the Wedding Feast is a parable that speaks of the gracious/generous/extravagant hospitality of our God who prepares a feast of heaven and earth and extends an invitation to all of His beloved children (the good and the bad…the righteous and the unrighteous…the saints and the sinners) to come to the feast of heaven and earth…to come to the Table of Plenty! The Parable of the Wedding Garment is a serious reminder that it is not enough to accept the invitation, and to “show up” for the Feast…something more is expected…something more is required!
The Parable of the Wedding Feast is about Holy Baptism…it is about the absolutely free gift of God’s unconditional love, and is mercy and His forgiveness extended to ALL people. The Parable of the Wedding Garment is about our response to this grace freely given in Baptism…it is a powerful reminder of our obligation to live a holy life…to bear fruit worthy of repentance…to keep the sacred promises that we made (or were made for us ) at Baptism…promises beautifully expressed in the Baptismal Covenant that we reaffirm every time we have a Baptism.
The Parable of the Wedding Feast is about the Gospel of GRACE…it teaches us what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The Parable of the Wedding Garment is all about Law…it teaches us what we should do for God…or, at least that is the way it appears…but is it really???
You see, everyone who heard Jesus’ parable of the Wedding Garment for the first time (back in the first century) knew something about Jewish hospitality that most of us don’t know…they knew that Jewish hospitality required that the host of a wedding feast would always…always provide appropriate wedding garments for his guests to wear (kind of like a restaurant which requires gentlemen to wear a jacket and tie, but has a supply on hand for guests who arrived without one). You see the man in the parable was an
arrogant fool…he insisted on wearing what he wanted to wear…he stubbornly refused to wear what his host had provided for him to wear…he refused to change…he assumed it didn’t really matter what you wore as long as you showed up at the party. But he was wrong…and when he was expelled…thrown out of the party, he was “speechless”!
And friends, it is at this point where the sacred story intersects with the story of your life and mine. In Baptism we are invited to join the party…to come to the Feast of Heaven and Earth…to enter the Kingdom. The invitation is for everyone, and it is not based on merit or performance…it is based on GRACE (the unmerited/undeserved favor of God). But if we want to remain in the party…to live in God’s Grace, we must strive to live a life which is pleasing to him…we can’t live anyway we want…we need to wear the Robes of Righteousness given to us in Baptism if we want to remain in the party!
And friends, here is the surprising Good News…here is the GOSPEL in the Parable of the Wedding Garment…God gives what God requires…Like parents who give their little children money to buy their parents Christmas presents…like the King in the parable, God (the gracious host) clothes us in the “Garments of Salvation” (see Isaiah 61:10)…God provides the beautiful robes of righteousness. Not our own righteousness (to be sure)…it is a borrowed righteousness…an alien righteousness…it is the righteousness of Christ. In the end, God gives exactly what God requires…God ALWAYS gives exactly what God requires!!
It kind of reminds me of another Bible story…the story about Adam and Eve…remember, after the FALL…after they disobeyed God and were expelled from the Garden. And they were naked, and, for the first time they “knew that they were naked” and they were ashamed. And Holy Scripture records (Genesis 3:21) that the Lord God made, for Adam and Eve, garments of animal skins…and God clothed them!! God always gives what God requires…ALWAYS!!