Jesus’ audience for these parables is very specific: the chief priests and the elders of the Pharisees, the church leaders of the day. These are the people committed to their church, who serve on the council, teach Sunday School, sing in the choir, lead a Bible study, mow the church lawn, and give more than10% of their income to the church. These are the insiders of church insiders, and are the types of people everyone wants as members of their church.
Yet Jesus is trying very hard to make a point with them. Since he’s being so persistent in getting those committed church people to understand something, it’s probably worth our while to listen—especially those of us who are committed church members. Jesus is speaking to us.
This parable today is a strange one. A king’s son is getting married—about the biggest event in the life of a kingdom. So the king hosts a huge wedding banquet. He’s already sent out the invitations so the guests knew it was coming, and now he’s calling them to come. He calls them twice: the first time they wouldn’t come, the second time they simply went about their own business. To say that one’s own priorities are more important than the king’s agenda is basically saying that they have no use for the king. These invited guests make their sentiments very clear by killing the servants of the king who come to bring them to the banquet.
This is not merely turning down an invitation, it is open rebellion. So the king has no real choice but to put down the rebellion—in this case by sacking the town. Then, since his original request is for the banquet for his son, he invites others to come—those on the fringe, on the edges, both “the good and the bad.”
They accept the king’s invitation, but one comes without a wedding robe. This isn’t like he got off work at 5:00 and the banquet starts at 5:30. It’s not any issue of him being poor and not having nice clothes. This guest had weeks or months to go home, clean up, put on appropriate clothing (borrowing if necessary), and still come.
This person, who accepted the king’s invitation, is still choosing to do things his own way. So he’s tossed out on his ear. He accepted the invitation and he showed up, but apparently accepting the invitation isn’t the point. Deciding to come to the banquet isn’t the most important thing. What Jesus is telling these good religious church people is that the king is going to celebrate, and do it right. Everyone is invited, and anyone can come. But the king decides what the celebration looks like.
Many are called, but few are chosen, Jesus explains. As if that clears this all up with the wedding robe and the invitations and the rebellious town.
Usually we want to make that into a self-righteous thing about how because we’ve accepted the invitation to make Jesus our Lord or because we’re pretty good people that we’re among the special ones chosen for heaven.
But that’s not it. Remember, Jesus is talking to the most religious people on the planet. People who love God and strive to obey God with their whole lives. Jesus is trying to get these religious people to understand the will of God–the reign of God–and their role in it.
Don’t be all high and mighty because you were invited to the banquet by the king, Jesus tells them. Many are called; the whole town. And don’t even lord it over others because you actually showed up in the presence of the king. Many are called; both good and bad people were dragged in off the street.
That’s not it. Everyone is called to the banquet. The wedding robe is the difference. Those in the wedding robes are those are on board with the king. They are celebrating with the king. They are participating with the king.
For many years, Linda Wheeler makes these baptismal cloths. We give one to each person who is baptized here. A white cloth. A sign of baptism, of being clothed in Christ. A celebration cloth. A wedding robe.
In baptism, we are chosen to wear the wedding robe for the king. Chosen to be part of what the king is doing. This isn’t a parable about who gets into heaven or not. This is a parable about our call to be part of God’s mission, God’s celebration.
God’s celebration is forgiveness. God has invited us to the forgiveness banquet. In baptism we are clothed with forgiveness. The church wears the robe of forgiveness in the world.
God’s celebration is mercy. God has invited us mercy banquet. In baptism we are clothed with mercy. The church wears the robe of mercy in the world.
God’s celebration is including the outcasts. God has invited us to the inclusion banquet. In baptism we are clothed in inclusion. The church wears the robe of inclusion in the world.
God’s celebration is taking care of the least in the world. God has invited us to the caring banquet. In baptism we are clothed in care. The church wears the robe of care in the world.
The feast is prepared. We have been called. And clothed in Christ at our baptism, we are chosen to celebrate with the king. Welcome to the banquet!