TRINITY XX – Omnia quae fecisti
Introit: (Dan. 3) Everything that thou hast done to us, O Lord, thou hast done in true judgement, for we have sinned against thee, and have not obeyed thy commandments: but give glory to thy Name, and deal with us according to the multitude of thy mercies. Ps. (119) Blessed are those that are undefiled in the way: and walk in the law of the Lord. Glory be … Everything that thou …
Collect: O Almighty and most merciful God, of thy bountiful goodness keep us, we beseech thee, from all things that may hurt us; that we, being ready both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things that thou wouldest have done; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars: she hath slaughtered her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table. She hath sent forth her maidens: she crieth upon the highest places of the city, Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding. (Proverbs 9.1-6)
Gradual: (Ps 145) The eyes of all wait upon thee, O Lord: and thou givest them their meat in due season. V. Thou openest thine hand: and fillest all things living with plenteousness.
Epistle: Brethren: See that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God, even the Father, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. (Ephesians 5.15-21)
Alleluia. O God, my heart is ready, my heart is ready: I will sing and give praise unto thee, my glory. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: Jesus spake unto the chief priests and Pharisees in parables, saying: The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son; and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding; and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth; and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good; and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.
(St Matthew 22.1-14)
“Many are called, but few are chosen.”
With Michaelmas, Dedication, and Thanksgiving, the Church’s gaze is focussed ahead to the goal of our Faith, as we journey through All Saints and All Souls toward Christ the King and the Final Judgement, when our Lord will return in glory to gather His Church away from death and sorrow. There, in God’s unveiled presence, will be only rejoicing and feasting. In today’s Gospel, Jesus presents the parable of the Marriage Feast. And while the feast is filled with joy, the parable contains a dire warning. Not everyone will be at the banquet. God is not a universalist. He does not force people into salvation, but neither is everyone who bears the name “Christian” going to heaven. That may be shocking and painful to hear, but it is nonetheless true. Some who are part of the outward community of the church are really just curious like Herod or Felix who found Christianity intriguing and wondered what Jesus might be able to do for them. Others like the idea of salvation or find the fellowship enjoyable, but do not want to bear the cross that inevitably comes with it, and so they remain at arm’s length, not wanting to sever ties with the world.
Today’s readings speak to us of cheerful obedience and service to God. The Epistle exhorts us to joyfulness: “be filled with the Spirit … singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.” Such joy is the source of our spiritual strength and progress in faith. This is possible for the Christian, because joy is not an emotion, but a way of living, in which Christ is at the centre of all we do. The Christian life is not one of misery or self-absorbed idleness, but of cheerful action. In the Collect we pray to be kept from all hurtful things which hinder us from service and, as the Epistle warns, from the carelessness, laziness, and self-indulgence whereby we are so often tempted, that, thus guarded and guided by God, we may accomplish the things which He would have us do, in that joyful spirit described by St Paul. This also relates to the Gospel parable of the Marriage Feast, in that the parable sets forth the joys to which we are invited, and the danger of being too much absorbed in the cares and preoccupations of the world. The invited guests refused, and even scorned, the King’s invitation, and continued blithely about their business. We thus pray that we may not be like those guests, but that we may gratefully accept Christ’s invitation to come and receive His salvation: “that we, being ready in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things that thou wouldest have done.”
Because of our human nature, we are prone to making the Scriptures say what we want to hear, concentrating on the warm fuzzy passages that make us feel good about God and good about ourselves. But we don’t much like to be confronted with the hard sayings or with things that don’t fit with the church we have constructed for ourselves. Many think of Jesus as some sort of tree-hugging hippie, preaching peace and love, who welcomes everybody into the kingdom, just as they are. We certainly don’t like to hear a Jesus talking about judgement—unless it is judgement upon those people whom we think need to be judged! And then when He starts talking about repentance, and standards of holiness, and weeping and gnashing of teeth, well, that doesn’t fit with the image of “nice Jesus,” and some even get angry because it challenges the image of Jesus they have created: “Well, my Jesus wouldn’t say that!” Today’s parable fits into this category.
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, who made a marriage feast for his son; and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding…” As twenty-first century North Americans we tend to miss the significance here. We read this, and all we think of is a royal wedding. But the priests and Pharisees recognised immediately that Jesus was drawing all this imagery from the writings of the Prophets, and they knew who the characters represented. They believed that the Messiah would come, judge Israel’s enemies, and establish his kingdom. Isaiah described the Messianic kingdom in terms of a great banquet which the Lord would prepare for His people. This is what Jesus was calling to mind when He told this story about the king’s wedding feast. Israel’s King is preparing the banquet foretold by the Prophets, but the chosen guests are refusing to come.
“So again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them who are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are butchered, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage feast. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise…” Now it might not seem like such a big deal to turn down a wedding invitation today, but in their world, it was a very different matter. To refuse such an invitation, especially from the king, was the gravest of insults. It was a slap in the face—a blatant rejection of both the king and his son. “…While the rest took his servants, and treated them spitefully, and slew them.” And that is what has been happening throughout Jesus’ ministry. Surely, the people liked His miracles, but many didn’t like His message. When He preached in the synagogue in His home town of Nazareth, the people became so angry that they tried to throw Him off a cliff and stone Him. And now here, in the middle of Holy Week, it is not just the country hicks who are rejecting Him, but the religious leaders—Jerusalem herself. And in rejecting Jesus, they are rejecting God. He has sent His Messiah, but they don’t want Him. He is not doing what they expected, not saying the things they want to hear, so they determine to destroy Him, just as their forefathers had killed the prophets. They have rejected God and His Messiah. Their own business, their own agenda, is far more important. This was, in essence, a retelling of the parable He had just presented about the wicked tenants in the vineyard. In the imagery of that parable, His audience viewed themselves as good tenants whom the Lord should reward. Likewise, here, they were the chosen invitees who ought to have places of honour at the banquet. But in these stories Jesus was painting them as the villains. “I am the son, and you have rejected me. You are those wicked tenants; you are those unworthy guests.” And they were furious! But this is us, as well. We want to claim God’s promises, but few want to take up the responsibilities. But Jesus warns that there are consequences. “When the king heard thereof, he was wroth; and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.”
“Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they who were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good; and the wedding was furnished with guests.” The Lord’s banquet will be enjoyed. The chosen had refused His invitation, so He sent His messengers to the outsiders. And they came in droves: the tax collectors, the prostitutes, lepers and demoniacs, shepherds and fishermen, even Gentiles. They brought in, says St Matthew, all kinds of people, both good and bad.
Again, here is the image of Jesus everyone likes. His love has thrown the doors wide open, and everyone is invited in. We hear His come-as-you-are and whosoever-will invitation, but we twist it to mean that Jesus is fine with our enjoying the banquet while staying just as we came. “God loves us just the way we are,” we often say, but we usually use this to justify certain types of behaviour, as an excuse to conform to the values of the world. But the Gospel continually calls us to repentance and transformation. When the lepers and the blind came to Jesus, He didn’t assure them they were fine just as they were, and then leave them blind and leprous. The whole reason they came to Him in the first place was because of His promise of deliverance and healing. When prostitutes and sinners came, He didn’t say, “You’re fine as you are. God loves you.” That just cheapens the love of God. He said, “Go, and sin no more.” Yes, God loves sinners—so much that He sent His own Son to die for our sin and to rise again for our justification. He loves us so much that He would not have us remain subject to the bondage of sin and death. So now Jesus, in His ineffable love, calls to us sinners: “Come, for all things are now ready. Repent, be transformed, and enter the kingdom.” Thus there is another parable within this parable.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is the part we balk at. This doesn’t sound like the nice Jesus anymore. Why did He throw the man out? Where did all those other people get their fancy wedding clothes at the last minute? Why doesn’t this fellow have them, and how is that his fault? But that is precisely the point. They didn’t bring any fancy clothes, either. The king gave them to them when they arrived. This was the custom of the day. It might sound strange, but it was actually very practical. Not only can the king thereby ensure that everyone is well dressed, but no one can tell who is rich or who is poor. Everyone is provided for, everyone is equal, and so everyone can just enjoy the party. The question was not “Why aren’t you wearing a wedding garment?” but “How did you get in here without one?” For whatever reason, this chap had rejected the king’s gracious gift, thinking he was fine just as he was. Maybe he thought he had a really nice outfit, and wanted it to stand out and to be praised for it; perhaps he thought it was just as good as anything the King could provide. But something else was necessary for that individual, and that was the transformation of his life in order for him to be a welcome guest. He had brazenly refused, and so was cast out.
This is not a you’re-already-good-enough and everyone-come-in-your-own-way event. God makes all the preparations. God decides what is on the menu, and who will sit where. God issues the invitations. Everything is provided – even the proper attire – because we don’t have any of what is needed. And that is what rankles. Our Old Adam is affronted by the notion that we cannot simply waltz into the kingdom of heaven just as we are and on our own terms. We want to believe and do what we please, and expect God to accept that. And so we are shocked and offended by the king’s response in this parable. “How could he do such a thing? How dare he …?” We suddenly become fiercely defensive of our own righteousness. Like Adam and Eve, the excuses and justifications and deflections start flying. Yes, God’s Word and the Holy Sacraments are important, but you can’t expect me to put them before EVERYTHING else! What about my farm? What about my merchandise? And how about my own elegant garment? We twist and contort ourselves to try to slip around God’s Word. We try to brush it off as just someone’s opinion or interpretation. Suddenly we are no longer poor, unworthy sinners; we are “good people,” unjustly attacked, who deserve admiration and an apology.
But the only way to accept the King’s invitation is to admit that we should not have been invited to the feast in the first place—to confess that there is nothing whatsoever in us to merit our receiving the invitation. “It is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (II Cor 10.18). You must be deflated and humbled by God if you would be commended by Him. And those who will confess this reality, not just in word, but in heart, in will, and in deed, will receive the invitation with joy. “Who, me? The King has invited me to sit at His table?” There will be nothing more important that needs minding. Indeed, everything else becomes rubbish in comparison. There is nothing that will not be sacrificed by the one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, because nothing but God’s mercy can satisfy – not wealth, not wisdom, not popularity, not power … These are but empty shadows. You cannot enter the feast without the proper wedding garment which God has provided. You must be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. You may fool the world, and they may think that you are a wonderful person. You may fool yourself and truly believe that you have worked hard and are a righteous-enough person that God should reward you. You may even fool the Church by saying all the right words, participating in the sacraments, and going through all the motions. But you cannot fool God. He sees the heart. He knows what we truly love and wherein we trust.
God has provided us the proper garment. It is a free gift to those who desire it, and those who desire it are those who know that they do not deserve it, receiving it with humility and joy and thanksgiving. Without Christ’s righteousness as our hope and as the centre of our faith, we will be cast out into the outer darkness. There is no other righteousness, no other garment, that covers our sin and makes us presentable. That is what the King in this parable is offering. God the Father is hosting the wedding of God the Son where He gives Himself and all He has to His Church. The Love that is the cornerstone of all that is of real and lasting value is freely offered to all.
No thanks, say some, I have work to do. I have a field to till. I have goods to sell. They see God’s Kingdom as a threat to their freedom—if freedom it is, for this version of freedom requires no sacrifice, no surrender; it is inward-looking, not self-giving, and thus leads to bondage rather than liberty. For what do we do when we choose to make honour, power, pleasure or wealth the aim of our life? We place ourselves at the centre. Our own ego, our own pride, is the aim of these choices. But none of these will be sacrificing itself for us. We may believe that we are freely choosing them, but we are in fact steadily sacrificing and surrendering all that we have in pursuit of a mirage. We end up “bound hand and foot,” enslaved to nothingness.
We all stand in need of God’s saving grace. It is necessary that we receive this grace and be grateful for what God has done for us. This parable is designed to make us think, to shake us out of our torpor and spur us into action. It is meant to unsettle us so that God can resettle us in the right place. If we are unsure whether we are among the elect, we will be challenged to examine our faith more closely. Our mere presence is not enough. There must be conversion, a change of heart, a turning away from sin and to God. The wedding garments we put on for the Lord’s great banquet are those Christian virtues like prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, faith, hope, and charity. These are what St Paul speaks of when he tells us to put off the old and put on the new: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh” (Rom 13.14); “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col 3.12). These are the wedding garments which Jesus Himself gives us so that we may enter His marriage feast. They are right there at the door. He offers them freely. Put them on, be transformed, and join the feast. But if you try to sneak in another way, if you refuse to put them on, you are really rejecting the King and His Son, just as those priests and scribes and Pharisees did, just as Pilate and the throngs on Good Friday did. Those who reject the King’s invitation have already pronounced judgement upon themselves. They are bound hand and foot with their own devices and have consigned themselves to the darkness without. But the Good News is that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for those humble enough to turn aside from our old ways and be clothed in His righteousness. In Him we find true freedom and true joy, by yielding ourselves entirely to the One who created us with one aim: eternal love. The complete happiness and fulfilment which we crave comes from surrendering to the love of the One who surrendered His life for us: the God who is Love. “All things are ready; come unto the marriage.”
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” (Isa 61.10)
Collect: O Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household in continual godliness: that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace, may ever be defended by thy protection; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.