At the beginning of the football season, the University of Kentucky’s Athletics Department sent out a notice about the biggest game of the year. Strangely, no one responded to the department’s announcement. Not a single ticket was sold for the game. The Athletics Department wasn’t too worried. They figured that once the big game arrived that it would be a sell out.
A week before the game the Athletics Department sent out another round of advertisements for the upcoming big game. This time they focused on the players, what would happen if Kentucky won, and how amazing a fan would have if they attended the game. Again, no one bought a ticket. Not a single ticket was sold for the game. Everyone responded back that they had better things to do. Some said they wanted to go to Simpsonville to the new outlet mall. Some preferred to stay home and watch another game. Some others were upset basketball tickets were not sale.
The Athletics Department was upset. They wanted a sold out game. In response to not being able to sell a single ticket the Athletics Department did the only thing they knew to do. They gave them away. School officials went out to Nicholasville Road and gave away free tickets to anyone who would take them. All 60,000 tickets were eventually given away. Now, among those who received a free ticket was an unsuspecting West Virginia fan from Salvisa. He decided to take the ticket figuring he had never seen a live Kentucky football game.
On gameday, the West Virginia fan was excited to attend and made his way to Commonwealth Stadium dressed in his best Gold and Blue gear. It was the only football-appropriate clothing he owned. This caused a problem when he arrived at the game. School officials refused to let him into the game, because he was not dressed in the proper attire for the game. Disappointed, the West Virginia fan went home and the game went on.
This is a strange antidote. Nothing about the story makes sense or is even plausible. Never would a football game have that much trouble selling out, nor would a ticket office throw someone out of a stadium for not wearing a certain team’s clothing. What this humorous story does is it gives us a localized way of looking at this confusing and difficult story from Matthew 22:1-14. A king invites guests to a wedding and people refused to attend. New people were invited and they celebrated at the wedding feast, yet one person comes unprepared and is thrown out.
It is an uncomfortable story and one we might find difficult to understand. Why does Jesus teach this parable and what are we to take from it? The story is so difficult and challenging that we may miss Jesus’ answers to these questions. However, when we are willing to engage the difficult and challenging passages of Scripture we often find Jesus speaking something important to us. This passage is no different. As we walk through this passage, we will find Jesus speaking something to us about the Lord’s grace and what it means to live in response to God’s love.
We need to set the context for why Jesus speaks this parable before we can move forward. Remember a parable is a story used to convey a greater message that often exists within the symbols found in the story. In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus is confronting the religious elites in Jerusalem. It is the week of the Passover, the same Passover where Jesus would give his life for our sins, and Jesus has been confronting the religious leaders on their understanding of what it means to follow God’s desires. He has already delivered two parables to the religious leaders that challenged their views of grace and who could receive it.
Jesus gives this third parable to continue this line of teaching. He does so in order to expand our understanding of the kingdom of God. Jesus describes God’s kingdom as something like a wedding banquet. A great feast of celebration that will take place at Jesus’ final victory when he returns. The parable anticipates what will that heavenly banquet will look like.
He says the kingdom of God is like a great feast thrown by a king for his son. In this analogy the king represents God and the son, of course, is Jesus. Invitations to celebrate at this feast were given out, but no one wanted to come. A second invitation was given and people still refused to accept. They came up with every reason why no to come and, even, challenged those who offered the invitations to them. In response, Jesus says, the king extended an invitation to anyone who would accept it. The king sends his messengers out to the streets and find anyone who wants to come to the wedding feast.
Now, let’s unpack what Jesus may be saying in this section of the parable. It is a word to the religious leaders, and even to us, reminding them that God is the one who offers the invitation to the great feast. It is not for the religious leaders to judge who is invited or not. God determines. God declares that all are invited to attend the wedding feast of God’s kingdom. No one is excluded. The invitation is available to all people. Paul builds on this with his great illustration in Galatians 3:28 of how the kingdom of God knows none of the definitions that we often use to limit access to certain things. To accept the invitation means to accept Jesus and to receive his grace of salvation. The free invitation allows us to experience the celebration of God’s reign that is established through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The kingdom is not limited, but is welcomed to all people on the offer of grace and acceptance of this free gift.
At this point, it is tempting to leave the parable with that glorious picture of God’s kingdom. Unfortunately, the parable continues with a description of something that takes place at the feast. Someone comes not wearing the proper attire, which causes the king to be upset. This seems to us as odd. The same king who was upset that no one was coming to the feast is now disappointed that someone did not come properly dressed. It is possible the king would have provided the proper wedding attire for the new guests. With that understanding this guest perhaps discarded the garment and believed that they were good enough to get in.
What is going on here and why does Jesus offer this at the conclusion of this parable? This concluding story comes to us as a word of caution. It is a word spoken directly to those who have accepted the invitation to the wedding feast through faith in Jesus. What Jesus says is that there are expectations for those who accept God’s invitation to the wedding feast. It is not enough to merely show up and accept the invitation to the heavenly banquet. Our lives must reflect Jesus’ life and teaching
In this way, then, we must clothe ourselves for the wedding feast to come by clothing ourselves in Christ-likeness. Our lives must reflect Christ’s life and love. Those who seek to follow Christ are called to be daily renewed and transformed by God’s desires for us. We are to live our lives in such a way that everything about us is inspired and driven by our faith in God. We are to be known by the righteousness of God and to be known by the love, grace, hope, and peace of Jesus Christ in everything that we are and everything we seek to be. To accept God’s invitation to the wedding banquet, Jesus says, means to seek to grow daily in Christ likeness as we await for the kingdom to come.
It is not enough to say we believe in Christ. Our faith must be lived out through our day-to-day actions. Our faith, then, cannot be like how I once treated my Stanley Cup Championship glass. I am a huge Carolina Hurricanes fan and I lived in the Raleigh-Durham area when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006. On the day of the championship celebration I took off work early to attend and to be one of the first to receive a commemorative glass. For years, that glass stayed on my bookshelf. It was just something to look at and appreciate, but it was not doing what it was intended to do and that is to contain nice, cold, delicious Diet Coke.
For many of us, how I treated that commemorative glass is how we have responded to our faith in Christ. It is something we look at from afar and have on our mantle. It is not something that influences our daily lives. Faith, by this measure, is only about “getting us into heaven” and not about making heaven made real in how we live and share Christ’s love in our communities.
This is not how Jesus desires us to respond to our faith. Faith is not to take up dust. It is to be an active, living, moving reality that affects everything about us and everything we desire. James writes in James 2:22 that our faith and actions work together to make our life in Christ complete. Our faith and acceptance of God’s grace must lead us to allow the love of Christ to change us and the world around us.
There is no easy way out when we accept God’s invitation to the wedding banquet. There are no exceptions to God’s desires. Accepting the invitation means we must come dressed for the party by how we respond to God’s grace. If we accept the gift of grace, then God desires that we put our faith in the Lord into action in ways that transforms us into the people Christ desires us to be. No one is exempt from this.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, used to ask, “How is it with your soul?” So, let me ask you this today: How is it with your faith? Is your faith leading you to be clothed in the garment of Christ’s righteousness or is your faith collecting dust on the mantle?