This past week at Concordia, we were blessed to have over 1300 children on our campus for our "Crocodile Dock" Vacation Bible School. The good times, the big smiles, and the memorable moments were priceless. Children from all over San Antonio and even beyond learned about God's love for them in Jesus Christ. And not only did we have hundreds of children descending on our campus, we had hundreds of volunteers watching out for these hundreds of children. 668 to be precise. It was a truly great week!
Because we had so many people on campus all at once, we put our highest priority on safety. To that end, we vigorously enforced our hard and fast VBS rule from years past: no nametag, no access. Everyone - and I do mean everyone - had to have a nametag to get in to certain events or do certain things. Even a guest who just wanted to check things out had to be properly registered and accounted for.
In our reading for today from Matthew 22, we read of a monarch who prepares a wedding banquet for his son. He excitedly puts together his guest list, makes his preparations, and then the big day arrives - the day of the feast. But this king's guests respond not only with apathy to his invitations, they respond with hostility and seize the king's servants, who would have delivered the invitations, and even kill them (cf. verse 6).
In this day, to refuse the invitation of a king would have been a heinous offense. Indeed, it was incumbent upon any subject to attend such an event. As the second century BC Jewish book Sirach informs us, "When an influential person invites you... do not be forward, or you may be rebuffed; do not stand aloof, or you will be forgotten" (Sirach 13:9-10). A person was never to "stand aloof" of a king's invitation. But these invitees do exactly that.
Understandably, this king, furious with rage, invites indiscriminately those he knows will come to his feast. He instructs his servants: "'The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests" (verses 8-10). I've always loved this line from verse 10 about the kinds of guests who are now invited to this feast: they are both "good and bad." In other words, the social standing, the ritual purity, and the rigor with which these guests pursue their righteousness makes no difference to this king. Everyone is invited.
But, like our VBS, even though everyone is invited, if you're going to be on the campus of this king, you have to have a proper name tag, or, in this case, a proper wedding garment: "But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth'" (verses 11-13).
In the ancient world, kings would often provide clothing for feasts and other events such as this one so that guests could be properly dressed (cf. Genesis 45:22, Esther 6:8-9). This most certainly would have been the case in this instance since the king invited the poor from the streets (cf. verse 9). Thus, this man who is rebuffed by the king had the clothes he needed from the king, he simply refused to put them on.
This parable, of course, is a parable about our Sovereign King, God Almighty, and the invitation which he extends to us is to attend the wedding feast of his Son, Jesus Christ. As John writes, "Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 17:9)! And just like in Jesus' parable, our God even gives us the proper clothes to wear: "Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints)" (Revelation 17:8). The question is: Will we receive the invitation and the clothing, or will we reject them? If we reject them, the consequences are devastating. For we will be thrown off of God's heavenly campus and incur God's eternal wrath. But for those who receive the invitation and the gift of God's robe of righteousness, we can count on good times, big smiles, and memorable moments in the eternal kingdom of God. And it will be priceless. I can't wait.