Isaiah 25.1-9, Matthew 22.1-14
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today’s readings have one thing in common – they all talk about the great heavenly banquet, the promise of an eternal life where there is no more hungry or thirst, no more pain, but a joyful welcome to the Lord’s Table, a foretaste of which we receive here in this life at Holy Communion.
Isaiah passage, which is later referenced heavily in the Book of Revelation, links this “feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines” (Isa 25.6) with how God will swallow up death for ever. In Psalm 23 the Shepherd who walks through the valley of the shadow of death brings a table and overflowing cup to the weary traveller. And in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus tells the parable of the Wedding Banquet, where those who refuse to come the party are replaced with others who will come.
(It is worth mentioning that this parable comes immediately after the Parable of the Tenants, and would have been a powerful link to those listening who rejected Jesus’ teachings in his day.)
But then we get to the final part of the passage and suddenly it feels uncomfortable. One minute everything sounds good – we are invited to the party. Others have rejected God, but we’re okay, because now the doors are open to us. So why is this person being bound and thrown out into the outer darkness (Mt 22.13)? He didn’t even know he was going to a wedding, how could he expect to know to wear the right clothes?
And this is where being a follower of Christ becomes more challenging than sometimes people expect. Jesus is very clear about what God expects from people – he gave us the Beatitudes, taught on money, anger, caring for the vulnerable, behaviour towards God and turning away from sin. He was very clear about what was required from our hearts – he didn’t water down his message, and eventually it got him killed.
And that’s the problem. Not many people want to hear that message. What would be much more popular is a nice, comfy, Jesus-is-my-friend message, that doesn’t require any change.
I don’t think of Jesus as being “nice”. He was kind, he was loving and compassionate; but he wasn’t “nice”. Likewise Jesus was good, but loving goodness can be a frightening, for it won’t accept bad behaviour and so Jesus didn’t tone down his message, and he wasn’t afraid to challenge. When people came to Jesus, he loved them as they were, but he expected them to change. Because he knew that each and every person needed to change – whether it was through healing or transforming lifestyles. As Tom Wright put it, “His love reached them where they were, but his love refused to let them stay as they were. Love wants the best for the beloved.” (‘Matthew For Everyone, p84)
So yes, this is an uncomfortable parable, because it stops us being complacent. It makes us ask the question, ‘Am I dressed in the right clothes for heaven?’ We know what we should be dressed in, the fruits of the spirits: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, & Self-Control.
We do everyone a disservice if we pretend anything different. A person can choose to turn away from Christ, and live a life that rejects these virtues. There is always the chance that when the time comes to give to God an account of their life and actions, they can throw themselves on his mercy and he will be merciful, but that isn’t how God calls us to be.
Instead listen to Jesus’ words, take them seriously, and live a life fit for the heavenly banquet and everlasting life.
(Artwork: ‘The Wedding Feast’ by Sir John Everett Millais)