Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
17. October 2010
Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
“The Banquet of Grace”
In the parable of the wedding feast, Christ our Lord teaches the Christian Church about his free and gracious call, first to the Jew and then to the Gentile. This is invitation or call is the Gospel proclamation that your sins are forgiven freely for Christ’s sake. Yet, Jesus teaches us how this call to all people is not universally accepted. Not all will accept His invitation. Many will ignore, others will deny, and yet others will seek to do violence to the invitation and its messengers.
Their actions are not without consequence. On the last day, all will be judged. Those who rejected the call and who are thus not found worthy of calling to which they have been called will be left outside the banquet hall. Those who receive the call but reject the gift of the wedding garment will be bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness.
But for those who received this gracious call from our Lord and persisted in their God-given trust in the promise will be welcomed to the heavenly feast, to dine on the fattened calves and oxen. They will dine with the bridegroom, the son of the King for all eternity.
1. Season of Judgment
It is noteworthy to note that we are entering into the final weeks of the church year. In these “gray and latter days,” we ponder the final days of our earthly experience and consider the final days of this sin-corrupted creation. It might be easy for us to get distracted by all the talk of doom-and-gloom. Yet, it is wise for us to hear again about how God views our sin, to hear about how the wicked and just will be judged, one to heaven and one to the fires of hell, and finally to hear of the return of Christ upon the earth. Many congregations hold errant views about this last judgment. Christ, the Word incarnate, will remind us in these final days about the truth.
The Gospel text for today is one such reading. Jesus is in his final week in Jerusalem before His crucifixion. He has entered triumphantly as the king on Palm Sunday. Now, he is discoursing with the chief priests and Pharisees about their rejection of him. We are not surprised at the content of His parables, since they are wicked tenants who will kill the son of the vineyard. Jesus is God incarnate, omniscient (all-knowing) and knew the wicked thoughts of their heart. Jesus takes this opportunity to teach them about their eternal fate but also warn us of the consequence for rejection of His free and gracious Gospel promise.
2. A word about parables
A word must be said about the parables and their interpretation. Parables are not fables. Their aim is not to teach a moral truth. When Jesus tells a parable, He does not teach about the Tortoise and Hare, the Fox and the Grapes, or the Boy who cried Wolf. These moral stories are helpful for children.
Jesus’ parables are given to teach Christians about the church, the world, and the eternal God. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus teaches us the purpose of these parables, namely, to give us knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:10-17). Jesus says to His disciples and to us, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (Matthew 13:16).
As Christians, we have been given new eyes and ears to hear these parables, thus knowing and understanding what they describe. Through the parables, we see and hear what the prophets of old longed to know. As Isaiah said, this seeing and hearing of the kingdom of heaven brings understanding to our heart and in turn, Jesus heals us (Isaiah 6:9-10).
Parables are not shrouded in mystery. We are not Pharisees whose vision is clouded from generations of new legalism. We are able to peer into the eternal mystery of heaven with greater clarity because we know the Scriptures, with its word of spiritual song in the Psalms, prophecy, of Law, and of the promise of the savior. We have the New Testament to enlighten our minds to the truth. These sacred texts interpret the parable for us, serving like a decoder ring to teach the proper understanding of the story.
When we hear of the King and the Son, we know from the Scriptures that the parable is describing God the Father and His incarnate Son Jesus (Deut. 10:17; 1 Tim 6:15; Job 41:11). When we hear of a heavenly banquet, we think of the eternal banquet of the Lamb that will never end. We think of the foretaste of the feast to come, the Holy Communion of our Lord’s body and blood at the altar. When we hear of the denial of our Father’s gracious call to the banquet, we consider the rejection of Jesus by the Hebrews and by our friends and family. When we hear of the judgment of the guest at the end of the text, we know this is the final judgment that Jesus taught about on many occasions, when the sheep and goats will be separated. When we hear of the wedding garment, we consider the priestly garments of the patriarchs and the robe of righteousness granted by our Lord in Holy Baptism.
3. God’s Call to the Elect
Now that we understand how to faithfully interpret the parable, let us consider Christ’s words in greater detail. His conclusion “for many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14) summarizes the parable and provides two divisions. In the first division, the King graciously called the invited to His feast. He “sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come” (Matt. 22:3). This is grace because they neither deserve to be invited nor have they earned their meal pass. The invitation into the heavenly banquet hall is a free gift of God.
He called the invited ones. These are His chosen race of old. At first, they simply ignored his call. They refused to hear the Word of their Lord. So the King sent yet other servants saying “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready” (Matt. 22:4). This time some continued to ignore the call, returning to their work and their farm. The rest treated the servants shamefully and killed them.
Knowing the narrative of Scripture, we know that the prophets of old leading up to St. John the Baptist suffered under their proclamation of the Law and the Gospel. The people rejected them, cursed them, and even killed them. Despite their message of freedom from sin in the promised Messiah, they returned to their idolatry, caring more of themselves and less of God. The consequence for their rejection of God’s call was their continual invasion and destruction, always with the aim of returning the people to the Lord in repentance.
Even after the people reject him, the King does not cease calling. He preached first to the Jew and then to the Gentile. When the fullness of time had come, the King called now the whole world, as many as His servants could find. This is the universal call of our Lord to the wedding feast of His Son. Despite their lack of invitation, now too the call has been even more graciously extended to those who do not deserve it, the good and the evil. The invited were were found not worthy because they refused to attend the banquet.
4. The Banquet of Grace
What is most amazing to us, with our eyes of faith, is why anyone would reject our Lord’s free gift of an eternal banquet with His son? Here, our Lord has prepared for us a great feast, mercifully giving to us his prepared sacrifice. Who doesn’t like a feast? Who doesn’t like a party? Better yet, who would reject the invite to dine with nobility? To sit at the high places with God himself? There’s no need to worry or to cower in fear. The King has prepared everything. The hall is ready.
In the second division, we learn that despite the call of many, only a few will be God’s elect. Some will ignore our Lord’s invitation. Some will go about their idols of work or farm, house or leisure. They will be busy in their own little kingdoms and ignore the invitation to the kingdom of heaven. They will dine on their fast-food religiosity and ignore the real spiritual meat of God’s Word and His Holy Sacraments. They wear their soiled rags of sinful works rather than receive the beautiful white garment of salvation. These so-called believers will find their Lord saying to them, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” and will be left speechless (Matthew 22:12). The outer darkness is not the feast.
Others will do far worse. They too, having heard God’s call, will mock the Lord. They will create kingdoms of hatred towards God. These kingdoms aren’t places for them to hide. They are the hideous beasts of Babylon that rise up to consume the little ones who believe and trust in the promise of the feast. They will shout their blasphemies from the pulpits, from the classrooms, from the media outlets, and from the public stage. Their message will be persuasive, leading many into despair and unbelief. But on that final day, the King will send his troops and destroy these murderers. Their city will be razed, burned utterly to the ground.
Christian, hear the Lord. You are his chosen few, his elect. He has prepared the feast. His gracious invitation is proclaimed to you. He even provides for your a silken white wedding apparel, suits for the men and dresses for the ladies. They are adorned with jewels and interwoven with gold. As Christians, we know that our Lord has adorned us with His own righteousness. His own Son’s perfect obedience has been given to us because we are in Christ. The king will see the perfect obedience of our Lord when He looks upon us. Even when we have soiled this perfect righteousness, Christ’s blood again washed it clean, preparing us for the feast. We may enter, well-prepared and dine into eternity.
Still, for us, today’s lesson is a hard lesson. “For many will be called, but few chosen.” Our Lord desires that His messengers, His angels, His pastors, His church proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven that all might believe. We are to cast the seed recklessly in our homes, our community, and our world. But their hardness of heart, their infertile soil, might resist this persistent call. Their wicked heart be unwilling to hear the Word of invitation, to be clothed in Christ’s robe of righteousness and dine with the King and His son at the eternal banquet. Few will be the elect, the chosen, in whom the Word takes root, the hardness of heart is softened, and the faith is kindled.
This election is part of the eternal foreknowledge of God. God calls all to saving faith and He only knows who will reject Him. We are not given to know who and where this Gospel will be take root. We go about proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the earth, to Jew and Gentile, to Muslim and Hindu, to atheist and agnostic. We know that we cannot force the many to enter the wedding hall. We pray that the Holy Spirit will work faith in their hearts, making fertile their soul for the salvation of God. We pray the gift of grace, the invitation to dine at the banquet, will not be rejected so that they may be numbered among the few, the elect.
We ought not get too caught up in judgment, wringing our hands with doubt. We are baptized and believe. We gladly hear God’s Word and hold close to our hearts. Our Lord continually forgives our sins, He restores us with the medicine of His true body and blood with the Sacrament. We can be confident for the sake of this faith and trust in Him, we are saved unto eternity.
Our Lord has invited us by His Word to hear it in this place. He has clothed us for the wedding feast of the Lamb in Holy Baptism. He has sacrificed the choicest of meats, the unblemished lamb for us to dine upon. Even now, before the final day, our Lord has found us worthy and brought us into His eternal fellowship with His son. Even now, we will dine with our Lord, where He is butler, guest, and the meal. Our Lord’s servants have found us, the bad and the good, and have brought us to His heavenly banquet hall. May the Lord keep us in His gracious presence, ever-prepared with the robe of righteousness and the food of forgiveness for the kingdom of heaven into eternity. Amen.