Isaiah 25: 1-9 Revelation 7:1-17 Matthew 22: 1-14
A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning – maybe many heavenly meanings. It is like a riddle or a puzzle. A parable uses things we are familiar with, but those things are hints that point beyond themselves to give us amazing insights into what God is doing in our midst.
Today’s Gospel lesson is another parable Jesus told: this one about a great party that a king planned for the marriage of his son. If we don’t see a hidden meaning right off, all we have to do is look to Revelation. What is the Great Banquet of heaven but a marriage feast? The Bridegroom is Jesus, the Son of the God the King. The Bride of Christ is the church.
So, the message goes out and those who were invited have other priorities than honoring their king. One man was more interested in his own business profits and another preferred to hoe weeds — he might as well have said, “Sorry got to wash my hair tonight!”
Other fools mistreated and killed the messengers – and we know by now that the messengers of the king stand for the prophets sent by God. Just like in the parable of the wicked tenants in the vineyard, those unworthy, murdering rebels not only lost their wedding invitation but also lost their lives and their city. But now, the parable goes a step further. The king sends out new invitations to everyone who can be found that will listen and trust the invitation is for real.
So, out go the servants and they bring in simply everybody – good and bad alike. I find that part to be especially awesome. The servants don’t bring in just the worthy and beautiful people in town – it is anyone who will believe. Jew or Greek – slave or free, young or old, male or female, saint or sinner – this is the great “Ya’ll Come!” of the Bible.
Now, to understand the next part – and it is a critical point – you have to know about wedding customs among the Jews when Jesus lived. In those days, and especially at a royal wedding, the king didn’t leave things to chance. He had just told his servants to bring in anyone who would come. Surely, he expected the poor and crippled. The maimed and the lepers and the paralyzed guests brought in on backboards by their friends – these would not own wedding robes fit for a king’s reception!
So, royal wedding robes would be handed out to all the guests from the king’s own resources. It would not matter how shabby you came to that banquet – your garments would be supplied! This gift would be a joy for the king. I know this because when I was married to my husband, I wanted certain bridesmaids and not a one of them could afford a bridesmaid’s gown. So, I bought the gowns and gave them as gifts to my friends so they could stand next to me. Having them there meant a great deal to me and that gift was a joy – so I know it is God’s greater joy to offer me what I need to cover my shabby life when I enter God’s great feast in Heaven.
So, now – in Jesus’ parable – the king sees one man without a wedding garment. He asks: “How did you get in here without a wedding robe?” The man is silent. Of course he is silent. Obviously, that man thought his own garments were good enough for the king’s party and, in his pride, refused to cover himself with what the King provided.
When we stop to remember that the King is God and the party is heaven, the riddle is solved. When God made us in Eden we were perfect and naked before God. Sin led us to the need to cover ourselves because the naked truth is that we are no longer clean. Nothing we can make of ourselves is as good as what Jesus can make of us.
To have robes washed in the Blood of the Lamb is another way to speak of baptism. There is a great crowd before God in the book of Revelation. Twelve thousand believers each from the twelve tribes of the Jews are there. I tend to think of that as a poetic rather than a literal number, but what matters is that no one who trusts God is missing! I think the next verses confirm this when they speak of the great multitude which no man could number standing there in their white robes.
These are those who trust, not in themselves, but in God. They don’t trust their own accomplishments; rather, they dare to trust God and Jesus. The rich and the proud often only trust themselves. Some churches are like exclusive clubs where only those who follow their tight rules have hope for heaven. But those prideful souls are like the man trusting in his own wedding garments and not taking what the king offers for everyone.
Isaiah said God would remove the veil that covers all peoples – and the veil that divided the Holy of holies in the Temple was ripped in two by an earthquake the night Jesus died. There were several courtyards to the Temple – an outer court for Gentiles, one nearer the center for Jewish women, one even nearer for Jewish men, a court for the levities and priests, and one tiny room behind a heavy veil in which the Ark of the Covenant was kept. The ark that held a pot of manna, Aaron’s rod, and the stone on which the Ten Commandments were first written – the holy of holies: a place people were sure God would always be.
But only the High priest could go in there. Before he did, he would splash his face with incense to make his eyes water so he would not accidentally see God. A rope would be tied around him—so, if he died in God’s presence, his body could be removed without any unauthorized person having to go in there. The veil of that room was what was torn in two when Jesus died.
A veil makes things indistinct and distant. Our knowledge is imperfect and we see and know in part. When the perfect comes, 1 Corinthians 13 teaches, the imperfect shall pass away and we will know fully, even as we have been fully known.
God wants no veil and no distance between you and His love. Heaven will destroy death forever and end all tears and every shame. In heaven, the former things of sickness and weakness, and sin and death have passed away. We will never hunger or thirst again; neither the sun nor scorching wind will ever plague us because the Lamb who is at the throne – the Lamb who will be our husband on this, our wedding day – will lead us to springs of living water and God will wipe all tears from our eyes.
Only God can do this. Isaiah 25: 9 says, “That day, it will be said, “See, this is our God in whom we hoped for salvation.” Those are not the words of people whose priorities are their own business or farms and who pride themselves that their own lives make them good enough to crash the gates at Jesus’ bridal party.
Jesus’ parable ends with the words: “many are called but few are chosen.” In fact, only One is chosen. Only One is worthy and that is Jesus. Without His life to cover our nakedness, we have no hope – which is why He bled and died for us! It is not that few are chosen but that so few choose!
So, the choice has come to us today again. God, the King calls us without regard to how good or bad we are so that His house might be full and His Son honored. Forget any other business. Forget your pain. Forget your achievements. Forget your fear. Most of all, forget your unworthiness. You can forget your sin – God has.
Cover yourself with what God offers you: faith, hope and love. And surely, goodness and mercy shall follow after us. And we will dwell in God’s House forever.