This is the third parable about the kingdom given in reply to questions about Jesus authority. It deals with the rejection of the ministry of Jesus, and the disciples; and the question of how inclusive, or exclusive, the church should be. Like many of the parables this one has had a long history before being used by Matthew in his Gospel. Luke has a version of the parable in Luke 14 that is much more simple and basic, and its the one that we all know, where people are invited to the feast and everyone makes excuses. One said he had bought a piece of land, another had bought a yoke of oxen, and a third had just married a wife, and they all apologised and said "I cannot come to the banquet".
Matthews version of the parable consists of two parts. First there are the invitations to the wedding banquet, and the alternate strategy to make up the numbers when so many guests decline the invitation. And secondly there is the part about the badly dressed guest being evicted from the feast. As Matthew tells it, "The Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a King who invites guests to a feast for his sons wedding. But they refuse to come for all sorts of reasons. So he sends other servants to invite them again, but they still refuse to come and ill-treat and kill the servants. So the king sends in his army and burns the city; and then sends his servants out to the streets and back alleys to find other guests, as many as they can find, both good and bad so the wedding hall was filled with people.
Then in the second part Matthew expands the parable to put the spotlight on those who have turned up at the feast. The King makes a grand entrance, looks around the crowd of his newly invited guests, sees a man without the proper wedding garment and has him thrown out of the feast. I think we have to understand that Matthew is writing for his church at a time of rapid growth in membership, where whole families and servants were baptised from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds and a variety of pagan religions. And the burning question at the time was, "How inclusive or exclusive should the church be"? Is any life style permissible as long as people profess faith? Does anything go, or are there standards, and the expectation of changed lives as people grow in a relation with Jesus?
So what is Matthew saying to the church of his day and to us, in all of this?
First of all he is saying that the church must be inclusive. The King said, "Go out into the streets and invite everyone that you find". So Jesus wants us to reach out to the world around us; - more than just keeping the church doors open for any brave outsider who might pluck up courage to take a look inside. Its a pro-active outreach that Jesus is speaking of, that welcomes people across the barriers of race, class, colour and belief. People for example with a gambling habit and various addictions, demoralised aborigines or refugees, the unemployed, people who have been abused, misfits and hard to love people should all be made to feel welcome to share in the feast with Christ the King. After all Jesus did say "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance". The parable points us to the inclusiveness of Gods love. And Ive got to say that I do like the welcoming words on the front of our Notice sheet. Wherever you are on your faith journey, wherever you have come from, and wherever you are going to, whatever you believe, whatever you do not believe, you are welcome here.
Secondly Matthew is saying that Mission or Evangelism is not just an option for hyperactive Christians. The King says in verse 9 "Go out to the streets and invite everyone that you find to the wedding banquet". The message of the New Testament is that Christ hands on his task of ministry to the whole church, and we are all in the ministry, we all have a place, there are things that we can all do. The question is how can we best undertake mission or evangelism? How can we best share the good news of Jesus with the community around us in 2014 and on?
Thirdly Matthew is saying that all are invited, but you cant have Christianity and your old worldly values. There is an expectation that when people know the love of Jesus in their lives, it should gradually produce a change in values and actions. The love and worship of God should lead to love of neighbour, and living the qualities of the kingdom in a way that reveals the presence of God in our lives. However we must tread very carefully before deciding that someone has no wedding garment. Remember that it was the King who evicted the man from the feast, and It is God who does the judging in Gods good time.
Finally Matthew is saying to us dont get complacent. Just because we are at the party doesnt necessarily mean that we have the right clothes on. The wedding garment that we must wear is the "New life in Christ", and what must be seen is the loving caring qualities that grow out of our relationship with him, like loving our neighbour, and doing for others what we would like them to do for us. Matthew is saying that we must put on Christ; we must wear, or live a Christ-like life. And through love and friendship we must continue his work of inviting people to the feast. This church our church has a real future, a great future, but it depends on us, on you and me. We are all part of the continuing ministry of Christ. So if through love and friendship, at some time we are all able to bring another person to church, we would be extending Gods invitation to the feast. It could bring new life, and show that we are wearing the right clothes. Amen.