Weddings in the ancient world were a little bit different than ours.
Weddings were still expensive – like they are for us. And still a time when friends and family gather to celebrate. And people wear the best clothes – and everyone puts on a happy face. All of these things are the same. But weddings in the ancient world were even bigger. They were often week-long or month-long parties. People traveled great distances and would take up residence in the house of the host – or in the inns nearby – or sometimes even would set up camp outside the house. And the host didn’t actually know how long it was going to last. Just that they were responsible for feeding people until they left. And providing wine – and water – and good food to make everyone happy. Sometimes – whether you were invited or not was a bit of a status symbol. The more distinguished the guest – the more distinguished the host.
So you can imagine – thinking about all this – that turning down the invitation to a wedding was a huge insult. Huge. In our Gospel story – the first two rounds of guests turn down the invitation. Completely seem to ignore it, actually. They’re too busy to go. To busy to participate in this great festive occasion. Instead they’re distracted by other things – earthly things.
So a third time – the father sends people out – this time saying – invite everyone. Bring everyone in to join in the festivities – And partake of my hospitality. And this time – the slaves gather everyone they meet. Both good and bad. No distinction is made between people – for their class – for who they are – for what they’ve done in the past – Or even along some of the other important lines of the day – Good and bad here could refer to tax collectors – and prostitutes – and sinners. Everyone was invited. Everyone was welcome. And they came. This round of people came to the wedding.
Sounds good, right? We can make sense of this. God invites everyone – because we’re all both good and bad. And because we know that God doesn’t make distinctions in terms of welcome – and hospitality – based on who we are – or what we’ve done. God’s love is for everyone. It’s right here in the text. So then what do you do with this part at the end? When – instead of this welcome – that we believe in – we get something very different?
Have you ever heard someone say that they believe in the God of Jesus? The God of the New Testament – instead of the God of the Hebrew scriptures? Have you heard people say they believe in a God of peace and love – instead of a God who is described as being angry and jealous? Hard to reconcile that with this text, isn’t it? It seems a lot more like this God – is the same God that we find in Hebrew Scriptures. So how do we reconcile these two very different images of God?
First – we get to admit to ourselves that we are made in the image of God. So just like we have many faces – just like there are moments when we are good and bad – moments when we are calm – and others when we are angry. Just like we are complicated – so, too, is God complicated. God is not someone we can put in a box – and label – and say okay – well, glad we got that all figured out! God is God. And God is love. And God is good. And God is many other things – but there is much more to God than we are ever going to know here on earth.
But we do know that the God we meet in this parable is very much like the God of Hebrew Scriptures. This God expects something of us. I think – in this parable – that the reason this person is thrown out of the wedding party is because he didn’t buy in. He didn’t choose to participate.
You see – when you went to a wedding like this, often the host would provide even the wedding garments for the guests. So that everyone wore clean – often lovely, even beautiful wedding garments – depending on the generosity of the host. And we can imagine – that because God is so generous – that these were some beautiful garments. It seems in the parable that everyone else put on their robe. They probably came to the party – performed the rituals for purity – washed their hands, and prepared themselves to eat and celebrate as good, faithful Jewish people would. And then – they put on the garment that the host provided. They participated in the custom. They joined the community. They did what was expected of them. And prepared themselves for the celebration.
This fellow – did not. He accepted the invitation only on the surface level. He came to the party – perhaps looking for dinner – or for fun. But instead of really participating – instead of buying in – instead of doing what the rest of the community did – and really investing in the event – and in the community – He was either distracted and forgot Or he willfully chose to do his own thing. And in both cases – the host – was offended. His hospitality rejected. And the whole experience – of celebrating with a community – of participating in a feast – of bearing witness to the lives of his neighbors – Was something he would miss out on – completely. As he was taken and thrown out into the darkness. Into empty streets.
Many, many people were invited to the wedding. Just like many, many people are invited to participate in the kingdom of heaven. To know that they have been saved by Jesus Christ. To experience the healing love of God. To participate in a deep, meaningful experience of community – and faithfulness – that can only happen when we do it together. Some – just don’t hear the invitation. Some don’t want to hear the invitation. Some find it to be inconvenient – and they’re too busy with whatever it is that distracts them. So they don’t come.
But what this parable tells us – is that if you do come to the wedding – if you do decide to participate – there is something very real that is expected of you. It’s not enough to make a superficial commitment. And it’s not enough to just show up. God expects that we participate – this guy in the parable. There’s a buy-in that has to happen somewhere along the line. When we put on the clothing of Christ – as Paul would say. Clothing that is lovely – and beautiful – because it makes part of a community – that expects us to be more than we are. That expects us to live like Jesus.
Paul tells us a lot about what that looks like when he says keep on doing these things… Come to the party. Buy in. Participate. And keep participating. And work at it – work at being of the same mind. Enjoy the work – and the celebrations together – not in a superficial way. Not in a casual way. But in a way that truly allows us to experience the peace of Christ together.
A buy-in that takes up space – and takes priority – in the way that you think about your heart – and your love – but also in the way that you think about how you spend your time and who you spend it with. Buy-in also includes our money– and our talent – and the gifts that God has given each one of us to work for the kingdom of heaven. Put on the garment of Christ. So that we can rejoice together – because the Lord is near. So that we can live together – in gentleness – and peace. All of us are invited to the party. All of us – are invited by Christ – to do many things – to be many things. And sometimes we are too distracted to accept these invitations. And sometimes we know we ought to accept them – so we accept them in the way that this fellow did in the parable. Verbally – or superficially – without any real intention to participate in all the ways we need to. To what is God inviting you – that you must accept with all your heart? Put on the wedding garment.
Poke your head through – and reach your arms out – and feel the safety of the rich fabric – of the love of God wrap around you. Accept with all your heart – so that you too can wear the clothing of Christ – so that you can be part of the fabric of a community – and know the God of peace. Amen.