Scripture: Matthew 22:1-14
Like most young children Graham Day was counting down the days until his birthday. To celebrate turning eight he was having a birthday party neighborhood kids and classmates were all invited, the cake was made, and the boxes of pizza were delivered. However, no one came. To make it worse, this was not the first time this had happened to Graham. He went through the exact same experience when he turned six. Understandably the child was crushed, and the parents were distressed. They called neighbors and family to make sure people had not forgotten or might still be available at the last minute, but it was not working. After nothing seemed to come together, they finally tried calling the police. Graham wanted to be a police officer, so they were hoping that the officer on station could at least stop by to wish him a happy birthday. In response to this request, the entire police force and fire department of Hurst, Texas showed up for the birthday party of Graham Day. They came with all of their police cruisers and fire trucks and lined the street around his house. In a, newspaper article about the event, Graham’s mom was quoted saying, “By the end of it he had forgotten his friends did not come over for his birthday. He was so happy.”
On that particular day, for that particular family the Hurst, Texas police force saved the day. Now I am not a police officer, but I imagine that it is rare for them to get cake for saving the day. It is a good thing that the police came through for Graham Day, but it is sad that he found himself at an empty birthday party in the first place. Unfortunately, this kind of thing seems to be increasing. I personally know a couple of parents who have gone through this, and judging by the number of posts on mommy blogs about this topic, it seems to not be an uncommon experience. The thought to why this is increasing is two-fold. The first is that kids today are more scheduled than they have ever been, and if a child is serious about any sort of sport then Saturdays (and too often Sundays) are dedicated to that sport or extra-curricular activity. The second is that we live in a culture that increasingly devalues commitment. People just do not RSVP anymore. It is becoming more common not to commit to something so the option to do something better if it comes up is always available. Occasionally these two factors can combine in a perfect way to leave a child devastated when no one comes to their birthday party. It must be heartbreaking as a parent, to see your child hurt in that way. I can sympathize with the parents of Graham Day and I understand why they wanted to find some way to alleviate the pain their son felt. This morning scripture lets us know that God understands this same pain. In response to the rejection of no one coming, the Days invited the police department. God, however went and invited everyone.
In the gospel narrative, this morning’s scripture comes during the last week of Jesus’ life. It is just days before his arrest, and he is at the temple courts teaching. However, this parable comes from a section where Jesus is engaged in debate with the Jewish religious leaders they came to challenge him and test him. Jesus engages with them, and even tells a couple of stories, like the one found in this morning’s scripture, focused squarely on them.
The parable begins with “The kingdom of heaven is like”, whenever Jesus uses this it means we are in for an analogy of what God’s future kingdom is going to be like or how God’s kingdom is going to begin to be realized in the here and now. Through these parables we get glimpses of what is to come but we also learn about this world should be.
According to this parable the kingdom of heaven is going to be like a party celebrating the Son. Not only is it going to be a party, it is going to be a wedding party. In first century Judea, wedding parties were THE parties. They could last for days and were the most lavish parties that the majority of people would experience in their lifetime. To turn down an invitation to a wedding party, would have been unheard of. Yet that is exactly what happened in this scripture. Worse, the people who turned down the invitation were rude and violent the second time the invitation. This would have gotten the attention of the original audience, but I have to wonder if they knew Jesus was talking about them?
Remember, when Jesus told this parable he was directly engaging with the religious leaders of his day. It is commonly understood that he was directing this parable right at them. As the religious leaders it would have made sense that they be invited to God’s big party. However, they were completely focused on their own agendas, preferences, and business. This is intentionally illustrated throughout Matthew’s gospel. The gospel of Matthew goes out of its way to show how Jesus was the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies. The religious leaders, the ones who knew the most about the law and the prophets, should have been able to pick up on it. Yet they were oblivious or chose not to see what was right in front of them. Matthew also shows the violence that the religious leaders showed to the messengers. John the Baptist came before Jesus to invite people to the party, but the religious leaders had him arrested and eventually executed. Perhaps the gospel of John best summarizes the relationship Jesus had with the Jewish leaders. John 1:11 states, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”
The Jewish religious leaders had never fully responded to God’s invitation, so God opened the invite up. God allowed anyone to come in. Verse 10 states “So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all of the people they could find, the bad as well as the good.” The sinners, the lost causes, and the non-churched; all were invited. There was no pre-requisite to accepting the invitation all were invited, they simply needed to respond.
In parable form, Jesus was explaining the grace that he was about to make wide open. In the guise of a story, Jesus was explaining what he was going to do on the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus opened up the invitation. It was on the cross that the grace of God became available to all, that God offered reconciliation to all of creation, and that we, through the blood of Jesus, are adopted into God’s family. The kingdom of heaven is like a party, and thanks to Jesus Christ we are all invited.
We are invited to God’s party is a high note to end on. Honestly, a lot of people would probably prefer it Jesus stopped the parable right there. God invites everyone, all are saved, end of story. That is not where the parable ends though. It was like Jesus anticipated this, and even continues with a “but. . . “ The king came to see the wedding guests who had come to his party and finds someone not wearing the wedding clothes, this man who was caught is thrown outside where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. There is a lot of debate among scholars and biblical commentators about what exactly the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” really means. What is extremely clear though is that being thrown out of the party is not something anyone wants, and being outside where it is dark is a fairly miserable place to be. The middle of this parable comes to such a high note and then this happens. It is a bit of a downer and causes us to ask just what is going on?
Given how long ago Jesus lived and given the state of written records of that time, there is a lot we do not know about the everyday customs. There is not any other ancient document that makes reference to wedding clothes. Yet Jesus did not have to explain it in the parable, so clearly the original hearers knew what he was talking about. Remember, a first century wedding was a big and expensive deal. The thought is that the invited guests were given some sort of garment to wear to identify them as invited guests, this would be to keep wedding crashers out. If this is the case, then it makes little sense why someone would be roaming around the party without the appropriate clothes. It was an open invitation, and the wedding clothes for freely provided. The only reason why the man would be without the wedding clothes is because he made the conscious choice not to clothe himself in these provided garments. Likely in the first century culture this would have been deeply insulting to the host which is why he was thrown out.
In one of his epistles Paul actually adds depth and context to this parable. In Galatians Paul wrote, “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew, nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” God has invited us to the eternal party of heaven, where we are reconciled to God and forever in God’s loving presence. The party has been set, the invitation has already been made, and all are invited.
We are invited to the party, but an invitation is not enough, we have to come and we have to clothe ourselves in Christ Jesus. We do this by accepting Jesus as our Lord and savior. Jesus is not a cheap Halloween costume. To clothe ourselves in Christ means we seek to live like Christ, loving God with all of our being and having compassion and love for our neighbors. Just playing church, attending a house of worship and going through the motions that make us comfortable is not the same as accepting the invitation. When we do that we are like the man who did not take the wedding clothes. All have been invited, but when we get right down to it there are only two types of people in this world: Those who have RSVP’d and those who have not. Which one are you?
According to this parable, the kingdom of heaven is like a party, and the party has already begun. We already have great cause to celebrate because Jesus has already won the victory. Our savior forever has already sought us and bought us with his redeeming blood. This gives us reason to celebrate! No matter what else we face in this world we can have a joy that can be overcome, a contentment that cannot be shaken, and an excitement that cannot be contained because if we have RSVP’d to the invitation and clothed ourselves in Christ then we know the joy of salvation. Not only that, but we know the best is yet to come. The party has started, but it has not really gotten going yet. If the kingdom of heaven is like a party, then perhaps we can compare it to a modern wedding reception. The party starts right after the ceremony, but it does not really get going until the bride and groom arrive. The kingdom of heaven’s party is still waiting for Jesus to come back and really get it started. Until that time, the invitation is open for all to RSVP.
Have you responded to the invitation? If you have not, then I pray that you do so. If there is a reason why you are not ready, then I respect that. If that is true for you then, I would love to sit down with you and hear your story. If that is you, then know that the kingdom of heaven is like a party and you, no matter who you and no matter what you have done, you have been personally invited by the Creator of the universe. If you have already RSVP’d and if you have already donned the wedding clothes, then may you be able to live like you are at a party. May the joy and happiness that comes from knowing Jesus has won the victory be clearly evident in your life. May you remember that the invitation is open, and may you be quick to share that invitation with others. May we all be quick to share the old, old story of how a savior came from glory so that the party in God’s kingdom is truly the biggest party ever.