Today’s Gospel follows on the heels of Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. After entering Jerusalem, He began to teach. More specifically, He began to confront the Pharisees for their rejection of the Kingdom of God. They had been graciously invited, gave the façade of belief, but rejected the invitation. It’s damning because it’s not as if they were on the fence about who Jesus was and why He came. They knew exactly who He was. They proved that in John 1 when they sent a delegation to interview John the Baptist. They knew what was going on, but they didn’t like it. So they spent the next three years trying to trap Him, trying to eliminate Him. When today’s Parable was first preached, they thought they were finally on the verge of winning, but Jesus knew it was the opposite. That’s why, just a few verses before today’s Parable began, Jesus said: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Mt. 21:43). What Jesus shows is that His Kingdom isn’t concerned about appearances, but the condition of the heart. While this condition may not be visible to everyone at first glance, Our Lord knows those who are His, whom He has clothed with the garments of salvation.
The Parable in today’s Gospel represents the invitation that has been chiming and calling since Genesis 3. In each generation the Lord has graciously extended the invitation: “Come to the feast!” Or, in the words of Isaiah: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” As gracious as the invitation is, it is rejected in every generation. People spit on the invitation. “How good is it if it’s being given away for free,” they ask. “It’s too ordinary,” they say. They do not believe that Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is the King or that He has power. They think He is just like every other historical figure, wasting away in the grave, or a fairy tale on par with the Easter Bunny or leprechauns with pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. Satan uses the magnitude of the gracious invitation against us. He whispers: “That’s just nonsense. Men can’t forgive sins. They can’t raise the dead. They can’t promise eternal life.” So people reject the invitation in vain ignorance. They assume God is powerless at worst, or, at best, that they can lie to Him and make amends later in life when it’s more convenient. And because God’s invitation is always there, they think that He can be ignored, that what He’s offering just isn’t worth it. They think what they have is better, that they can enter the Kingdom on their own, apart from faith and God’s gracious invitation and giving. Today’s Parable reveals that neither of those things are true. The end will come. One day God will no longer extend His grace. And on that day, the only hope you have is to be clothed in His righteousness, to be found wearing the garments of salvation.
And that requires more than simply going to church. This is not merely an external righteousness, the appearance of salvation. Even the Pharisees had that. They looked wonderful. They looked like they were very concerned with the things of God. But remember what Jesus called them previously: whitewashed tombs, full of dead men’s bones. In the Parable, the reason the one without the wedding garment was able to exist at the feast for so long without being spotted is because the wedding garment isn’t necessarily something we can see one another wearing. Each of us looks wonderfully pious, good Christians doing what good Christians do on Sunday.
Simply being present at the feast doesn’t count. Remember what I told you Jesus said just before this Parable: “The kingdom of God will be…given to a people producing its fruits.” Today Jesus tells us to examine our fruits. Isaiah told us: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” St. Paul told us “Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” So, what fruits are you producing? Are you living the life of one clothed with the wedding garment, or one trying to look like you’re properly clothed?
And we all know the answer to that. None of us can have a Pharisaic retort, “I thank You, God, that I am not like other men.” This man cast into the outer darkness describes us all. Not one of us is free from sin and the desire to sin. None of us produce those fruits befitting the Kingdom of God. None of us are completely righteous, able to attend the Lord’s feast on our own merits. We have rejected the invitation. We have preferred to go about our own business, living however we pleased. We feel that we can live in our sin, enjoying it now, and repenting when we’re ready to settle down and lead a good Christian life. Do not be fooled. Just as the Parable revealed, the invitation to repentance and faith will not go out forever. One day God’s grace will end, and on that day you do not want to be found rejecting God’s gifts, preferring your own over what He gives.
Do not fear. The King is still inviting. The good and the bad, the greatest and least, sinners all, come to the feast. He is a King without discretion. He is no respecter of persons. He wants you. It does not matter how bad you have been, what you have done, what you have said, who you have hurt, or how many times you have spat on this invitation in the past. Now is the hour of salvation. He loves you. He wants you. Rich or poor, young or old: it doesn’t matter. He will fill the banquet hall, and He wants you there. Everything is ready. There is nothing for you to do. Come, eat and drink a food better than that of the kings, the Body and Blood of God laid before you in the humble means of bread and wine, hidden from those will not believe, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ given and shed for you to unite you to Him and forgive all your sins. Come, eat and drink, without money and without price.
In Christ Jesus you clothed, given the garments necessary to ender the feast. God provides His own righteousness for you. He covers all your iniquities, all your shame and guilt. You are pure, without blemish, spot, or stain. His Name rests upon you. You have been washed and clothed with Him. You are His beloved, in whom He is well-pleased. He has shown His love for you in the cross. He has taken up your flesh and made a Sacrifice of Himself to rescue you from the outer darkness, from the weeping and gnashing of teeth.
You were called out of that darkness and damnation by name. And still today He calls, comes to you, and gives to you. He gives you what Isaiah was talking about—priceless food from heaven. You are the King’s guest at the most lavishly spread table. Here He feeds you with Himself for the forgiveness of sins, as a foretaste of what is to come. You are clothed for this banquet with the only garment that matters: the righteousness of Christ made yours today and for all eternity.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.