“And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless.” (Matthew 22:12)
This week, I have to admit that I hate nametags. I’m often invited to an event to speak and I will, along with everyone else that attends, be handed a nametag to wear around my neck. I’ve spent some time trying to figure out what the big deal is. I mean, what is this aversion to nametag wearing? What is it that internally kicks and screams every time, refusing to allow me to hang this around my neck?
To the best of my understanding, I think there is something broken inside of me that always craves being different. If everyone else is doing something, I’m not interested. My kids are the same way. They will either love something before it becomes popular or when it ceases to be so, but they will never love something when everyone else is doing it too.
Okay, enough of this invasive introspection; I want us to consider this week a story in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus tells the chief priests and Pharisees.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: “Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.”‘ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
There is much that could be said on this story, but the last thing I want to do is turn this into another commentary. What I’d rather do is simply point out a few statements in this story for your contemplation and see if Jesus doesn’t show you the same thing he showed me here recently.
The first part, no doubt, is a prophetic warning concerning the fate that was looming before Jerusalem if her path was not altered. What happens next in the story though, is an affront to all of us.
“Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready . . . Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.'”
Everyone? Everyone gets invited? Yep, the story is too pointed to evade. Jesus purposefully makes sure to add, “both good and bad.”
What happens next we don’t want to encounter. We’ll come up with any convoluted and complicated theological exposition of what the wedding garment is to evade what Jesus is saying here, rather than letting the story speak to us.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless.”
Don’t define the garment to have some spiritual application that allows you to evade the story’s point. The question I want to ask you this week is why did this guest refused to wear a garment? What was it about wearing that garment, along with all those “bad people,” that caused something inside of him to kick and scream in resistance, not permitting him to bring himself to wear it?
A friend of mine wrote a response to last week’s eSight/podcast on Jesus’ radical inclusivity, which I believe captures what was going on inside our guest this week most eloquently.
“[Last week’s eSight] is the Magna Carta. It should be the 95 Theses nailed to the front of every church in North America. It will be rejected, however. If history tells us anything, the world will hate it, reject it, blame it—and destroy it. We are in love with exclusive offers, private clubs, the top of ladders and those that are good at climbing them . . . [This is] the perspective that we must carry as our light burden—the cross we carry on the trail he has given us. But hard dang work. Thanks for putting it all together. And then Spirit, to figure out how to apply it, and strength to keep it, against the inevitable tide that is coming.”
What I love most about this statement is the keen perception that we are addicted to systems rooted in exclusivity rather than inclusivity. This is true of us whether we are speaking politically, religiously, or economically. What Jesus is whispering to the religious exclusivists of his day is that if any are lost at last, it will not be because they did not accept the invitation themselves. It will be because they could not accept those who were also “let in.” They could not accept the absence of distinction between them and the other guests. The rejection of the king’s garments by this guest is not a rejection of the garment for himself. It is a rejection of the garment for all of those in the room that he feels should be excluded, a radical inclusivity that he will have no part in. This is not a rejection of “clothes.” This is an inability to accept those whom we feel should be excluded. It’s as if this guest is saying, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to where the same thing as them!” (Think of the words of the prophet Jonah.)
“Where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Gnashing of teeth is not torture. It’s anger. (See Luke 13:28; Job 16:9; Psalms 35:16; Psalms 37:12; Psalms 112:10; Lamentations 2:16; Acts 7:54, cf. Matthew 8:12; Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 24:51; Matthew 25:30.) It’s anger that someone you thought should be excluded is actually included. And anger that for all your smug assurance that your place at the table was secure, you find yourself outside looking in through the window at those you feel are morally inferior to yourself while they are enjoying the feast and you are not. It is the ability to accept the invitation for oneself in one hand while holding on with the other to an inability to accept that someone you feel should be excluded was not merely invited, but is enjoying the party instead of you.
The exclusion that this man sought to stand up for backfires against himself. This man could have been simply protecting the purity of the “wedding feast,” standing up for what he felt was right, doing something he considered to be expected of him, but in the end, the only one that ends up being left outside is himself.
This is the older brother of the prodigal. This is the Jonah that would rather be dead than in a world alongside those Ninevites. (Jonah 4:2-3) It is the “The Pharisee, standing by himself . . . praying ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11)
The holidays are coming, and as we looked at last week, we are all children of the same Divine Parents. As we look around this world, we see our fellow siblings. And we are all going to have to learn what it means to sit side by side around the same family table once again.
The parable of Matthew 22 was not about a man’s rejection of a garment. It was about a man’s refusal to wear a garment along side of the others in the room who were wearing it as well. Clothing wasn’t being rejected . . . people were. If any are cast out in the end, it will not be because they didn’t accept the invitation themselves. The guest accepted the invitation for himself and showed up. But once he got to the party, he couldn’t stomach the lack of distinction made between himself and the kind of people who were his fellow guests (“Both good and bad”). If any are cast out in the end, it won’t be because of a failure to accept an invitation for themselves, it will be because they could not embrace the acceptance of someone else whom they felt shouldn’t have been invited along side of themself.
1. This week, I want you to spend some time in quiet contemplation within this story. Who is it that if you looked around the wedding hall and saw standing there dressed just like you, would make you take off your wedding garment? Is it someone from your past? Is it a group of people in our present? Is it someone who has hurt you, from which you still need Jesus to bring healing? Is it someone who maybe hasn’t hurt you, but is someone who has committed atrocities toward others? Think deep. Is it someone different than you? A political persuasion? Economic philosophy? Ethical standard? Or religious belief? Is it someone of a different color, gender, status, or orientation? Who is it, in this world, that to see them included would send you over the edge?
2. Now take that person and sit with them and with Jesus during prayer each day this week and ask Jesus to show you what they look like from His eyes. Journal what He shows you.
3. If you can, please share with your HeartGroup this upcoming week what Jesus did in your heart this week.
Till the only world that remains, is a world where love reigns.
I love you guys.
See you next week