Come to the Feast!
Matthew 22:1-14 20th Sunday After Pentecost
A few weeks ago, we reflected on how the religious leaders tried to trick Jesus into condemning himself by asking Him by whose authority John performed baptisms. It’s near the end of his ministry. Tensions are mounting; hate is increasing. And it’s clear that the religious establishment of God’s own people has rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Immediately before this text, we’re told that the chief priests and Pharisees were seeking to arrest Jesus (21:45–46). And immediately after, we’re told that they went and plotted again how to entangle Jesus in His own words.
But Jesus isn’t finished yet. He tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven—not eternity, but God’s kingdom as it exists already here on earth. It’s as if Jesus were speaking from the perspective of Judgment Day and looking back over the history of God’s people. He likens it to a king (God the Father), who prepared a wedding banquet (eternal life in heaven). And God’s kingdom on earth is compared to all that happens in between. The king sends his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet (the Old Testament people of God, the children of Abraham, in the first instance)—to tell them that all was ready and that they should now come.
But they refused. Those invited refused to come to the banquet because they are sinners with minds to follow their wills, not God’ will for them.
But the king doesn’t give up just because those He has called don’t want to listen. He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15). He sends some more servants and says to them, “Tell those who are invited, ‘See, I have prepared my dinner’” (v. 4). Give them more details about my lavish dinner. Tell them that several of my finest cattle have been prepared. There is rich food, aged wine, the best of meats, and the finest of wines (Isaiah 25:6). Everything is prepared to perfection! Come to my wedding banquet!
Nevertheless, again—even after this second summons—the guests in our parable refused.
This time their refusal was varied: in some cases, plausible and seemingly polite; in others, violent and crass. One went to his field. Another went to his business. Their excuses are reminiscent of St. Paul’s description of the enemies of the cross of Christ whose “god is their belly, . . . with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).
Those were the polite ones. Still others who were invited seized the servants, roughed them up, and finally killed them! Is there any doubt that many of God’s prophets, apostles, and preachers have been treated the same throughout the centuries? And it’s still happening today in many parts of the world.
So the king was enraged. Time had run out on his mercy and grace. Now remember, the king is the Lord Almighty. And there is such a thing as God’s righteous anger. They lie who tell you that our loving God could never become angry or punish or kill. Just read the Bible to see otherwise! The king was enraged. And he sent his army to destroy those murderers.
Meanwhile, the king’s banquet hall was not yet filled. His grace and generosity are still available for others. So he turns his attention to a new group of people (which will include both Jews and Gentiles). The king tells his servants to go to into the roads and invite anyone they find—“both bad and good,” Jesus says (v. 10).
I’m reminded here of the many community Thanksgiving feasts that take place all across this country every year in shelters and rescue missions. I’ve always been amazed and humbled that, while most of us are enjoying a lavish, intimate, and cozy feast with our closest friends and family, the good Samaritans who put on these community feasts are giving up their holiday time and serving anyone and everyone in need.
Remember that Jesus said, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31). And so finally the banquet hall was filled.
But the parable isn’t over. On first hearing it, this last part sounds totally unfair! When the king came in to see his guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper wedding garment. Now it’s not that this man was merely poor and being discriminated against for his lack of a fine garment. No, this man had apparently refused to put on the robe provided by the king for each of his guests. Remember, it was a last-minute invitation to this last group invited in the parable. The food was piping hot. They had no time to run home and get dressed up. Besides, it was the custom in that day for the very rich to provide even the proper clothing for a spectacular banquet. And so this man’s refusal was an insult to the king. It was as if this man were saying, “I’ll do it my way!” But the king said, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” (v. 12). And the man had nothing to say. There was no excuse.
“Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen” (vv. 13–14).
Jesus is speaking in this parable not only to the religious leaders of Israel but also to you and me. Are you the one who has been invited by the Lord to his eternal banquet but goes to his field instead? Are you the one who prefers his earthly business to eternal life in heaven? Are you the one whose god is his stomach and whose mind is on earthly things? “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:2). “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21). “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt 6:33).
There is only one way to be found at the end of the age, at the end of your life, and even today and every day. It is to be found in the banquet hall—in the kingdom of heaven—having heeded His invitation. And it is to be found wearing the robe of Christ’s righteousness, by virtue of believing in Jesus Christ and Him crucified for your sins.
The Scriptures say of the Lord (Isaiah 61:10), “He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” And all this God the Father offers to give you for the sake of his only Son, who gave his life so that his righteousness could be yours. All your materialism, your earthly-mindedness, your choosing the ways of this world rather than the kingdom of God—it’s all paid for, covered over by the robe of Christ’s righteousness, which he first gave you in Holy Baptism.
And today God’s mercy continues. While there is still time before the Lord’s return, he continues urgently to invite you and all people into his banquet hall. Through the preaching and teaching of his Holy Word, by the mouths of his modern-day messengers, through the ministry of his Holy Church, he invites you to trust in him for your salvation. He invites you to experience here on earth a foretaste of his eternal banquet in heaven, as you come each Lord’s Day to the Lord’s Table and sit at the wedding banquet of his Son. For Jesus is the heavenly Bridegroom, and the Church is the Bride of Christ. And what is life but a rehearsal for the never-ending feast of heaven?
This is the day the Lord has made! He has prepared a table for you! Today your Savior kindly calls, “Come to the feast!” So let us put on Christ’s robe of righteousness. Let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation forever. Amen.