Proper 23A 2005 Mt 22:1-14
“And once more Jesus spoke to his questioners in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to
a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”
Weddings are wonderful events in the lives of a couple and their families. Family and friends gather to celebrate. Weddings
also involve a lot of work and effort and energy – and most of all, patience. In many cases weddings can bring out
the worst in people. Sometimes, the tensions within a family erupt during wedding preparations and the wedding itself. Tensions
simmering just below the surface, tensions that are coped with in normal times, can burst forth during the pressure of bringing
a wedding into being. It wasn’t too long ago that the saga of the runaway bride was carried in the newspapers and channel
news. She left on the eve of her 600 guest wedding.
One young woman decided to call off her wedding twelve days before the event and her parents knew they’d be stuck with
the bill, so they decided to have a party anyway and invited the homeless. Residents of the Interfaith Family Shelter, housed
in a former convent across from the church where the wedding had been scheduled, attended the bash thrown by the bride and
The shelter manager told the press afterward, “They had a DJ and really good music. It was a warm, friendly atmosphere.
The food was delicious. I t was a nice break with people not worrying about anything for one night. Toward the end of the
evening, they packed up all the leftover food and we got to bring it back to the shelter.”
One homeless woman got her son out of a wheelchair, “took that child out on the dance floor and picked him up and
danced with him. It was a beautiful sight.” (1)
No matter how carefully every detail of a wedding is planned, something unexpected inevitably happens. Perfection escapes
us. In the Gospels, however, weddings seem plagued with more than their share of mishaps. At Cana the hosts run out of wine
and Jesus had to make more. At the wedding with ten bridesmaids the bridegroom is delayed until midnight. And the wedding
Jesus describes today certainly redefines “social disaster.” In the end, the feast goes on—not as the exclusive
event of the season, but as a very different celebration. Anyone able to attend is more than welcome. But there was one exception
to that welcome: the poor fellow who showed up without a wedding garment. He was not likely to make that mistake again.
It simply wasn’t fair. Nervous father of the groom or not, powerful king or not, he had no right to single out the
one person who didn’t wear the right shirt to the wedding feast. The punishment certainly didn’t fit the offense.
And what’s more, the invitation to the banquet came suddenly, without notice. The king’s servants appeared out
of nowhere and demanded his presence. Who could have anticipated such an invitation? Who would have been foolish enough
to refuse the king – no one of the lower classes dared say no to the king.
So the man stopped what he was doing and came to the banquet. But no sooner had he arrived than the king noticed his shirt
and condemned him to the outer darkness.
It wasn’t fair. The poor man had stopped what he was doing to comply with the orders of the king – the king who
had not even invited him in the first group. The poor man forgot about his plans and work for the day, ignored the fact that
he was not a first choice, and immediately followed his king’s orders to come to the banquet. It wasn’t fair
But the king looked at it differently. The problem was not that the man had no costly garments or rich robes to wear. The
problem was that the man didn’t come in clean clothes as custom dictated for weddings. The man may not even have washed
his face and hands or changed his dirty shirt for a clean one before he came. He may even have reeked of sweat and dirt.
And so he was cast into the outer darkness.
We might have a little sympathy for the king is we consider our reaction if someone were to show up at the wedding of one
of our children in bib overalls and reeking of cow manure or were covered with oil or grease. We might very well feel insulted.
After all, we are people who dress up to come to church every Sunday, despite efforts to relax the dress code in summer.
We may not consider ourselves sticklers about dress and appearance, but we would like to have some explanation for the bib
overalls. But the poor man in the parable was speechless; he couldn’t or wouldn’t explain.
We can and do tolerate great diversity and wide varieties of styles and fashions – but we expect people at least to
be clean. We expect people to do something to prepare themselves to come to the banquet. Anything less insults everyone
else who is present.
This parable of the wedding banquet is not a lesson on etiquette or personal hygiene, however. Rather, it’s a parable
about the spread of the kingdom of heaven. The parable makes the point that all of us are invited into a relationship with
the God who loves us. The ministry and sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross makes this relationship available to everyone.
And the shirts we wear to do our part in this relationship are our metaphor.
We are like those guests gathered in from the main streets. We, both good and bad, have received gracious and open invitations
to enter into this relationship, to come to the banquet. We might be smug about NOT being among those who have rejected the
invitation – but we shouldn’t be. For God may ask us how clean our own shirts actually are, or even perhaps why
they are so clean if the work he requires of us involves rolling up our sleeves and getting a little dirty and sweaty. He
might ask us whether we have taken our presence here at the table for granted and too casually. While a relationship with
the God who loves us is freely given and joyfully bestowed, we are expected to do something with it.
God’s call to a relationship with him and to be part of the life of a worshiping community is gracious and freely given.
But that doesn’t give us license to come to the banquet without some preparation. At the very least we can put on the
right shirt. The right shirts come in a variety of colors, sizes, and styles.
We take the right shirt from the closet when we tend to our private devotions and prayers during the week. We put on the
right shirt when we give prayerful reflection to stewardship, financial and otherwise. We put on the right shirt when we
accept offices and responsibilities because they provide opportunities for growth in our relationship with the Lord who loves
us. Even putting on a brand new clean shirt for Sunday morning does not make us spotless or perfect – but it does indicate
that we have taken our relationship with God seriously – that we have given some thought and preparation for our part
in the worship.
And in a mysterious and grace filled way, putting on the right shirts help us through the full impact of the difficult times
and events that don’t seem fair but come to all of us in one form or another.
There’s a story of a monastery on the top of a high mountain with a sheer drop on all sides. A large basket drawn up
and down by a single rope provided the only access to this monastery. A visitor being taken up in the basket noticed that
the rope looked frayed.
He asked the monk who was with him, “How often do you replace the rope?”
Replied the monk, “Every time it breaks.”
Far better to have the habit of wearing the right shirts at every moment of our lives rather than searching frantically for
it when the rope breaks and we fall, battered and broken against the rocks of life’s tragedies.
In this parable Jesus tells us across the centuries that every one is invited to the banquet hall of faith, practice, and
the worshiping community: those in the center of the communities’ life and service and those on the distant thoroughfares
and dirt roads, both the good and the bad. Jesus tells us the invitation is free and grace filled. But free doesn’t
mean that nothing is asked of us. We can at least recognize the honor and significance of being asked. We can at least put
on the right shirt, roll up our sleeves, and get on with it.
1. Synthesis for Proper 23A 2005