The parable isn’t about a meal, not even a wedding feast for the king’s son, if you read St. Matthew’s account. It’s not about a host upset by the bad manners of those who RSVPed and backed out at the last minute. But as much as it’s not about those things, it’s also not about us sitting here confident and smug because we’re in church and all of those heathen are out walking the highway to hell. It does not empower us to look down at those people out there who have rejected Jesus, who have ignored the Holy Spirit’s urging to hear the Word and feast on Christ in His Body and Blood. It’s not about shaking your head at the people lining up for brunch, going for a run, or sleeping in at the lake whose church attendance has dropped off now that summer is officially in full swing. Jesus’ Parable is, however, about what happens to anyone who decides that the things of the flesh are more entertaining, that God will totally understand why you chose material possessions over your faith. He does not, and He will not on the Last Day. This is a reminder that we are called to turn from the material world and its ways and to live in repentance, because we cannot reject God’s gracious invitation without consequence.
In its immediate context, Jesus told the Parable about the Pharisees and other Jews who, though they had been promised the Messiah, rejected Him when He came. Jesus wasn’t the Messiah they wanted. He didn’t promise earthly wealth or fame or power, so they rejected Him. God was in their midst, but He didn’t perform in the ways they commanded Him to, so they went their own way. So the invitation went out to everyone else—tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners of every variety, and even the Gentiles. They accepted the invitation and found a place at the table.
While we might be inclined to group ourselves with the people found in the streets and lanes, the highways and hedges, we shouldn’t place ourselves there first. Rather, we have to consider that our place in this Parable is often among the ones who rejected the invitation. Only later, by God’s grace, can we rejoice that we were found in the highways and hedges of sin and brought in with the rest of the people called.
So often we become preoccupied with the things of this day and this life that we lose sight of the joys of the age to come. Even worse, when we prefer this life and think only about the here and now, we show that we have no real desire for heaven. That’s what Jesus illustrated in the Parable by those who were more concerned about land and animals and earthly relationships. Like those three, we have more important things going on than focusing on God and His Kingdom. We all have things we know we put in front of spending time in the Word or in prayer or living life as a child of God, bought back from our former life. It feels better to sleep a few more minutes than to get up and begin the day with a Psalm and a prayer. It’s more fun to gossip with friends than to speak well of our neighbor and put everything in the kindest construction. It’s more fun to let our eyes wander than to keep our lusts in check. No matter what the things are that we choose over God, it’s all because the way of the world looks more fun than God’s way. So we give our hearts over to these temporal things and neglect the eternal things.
But these premeditated sins—intentional sin, things we know that are evil but plan to repent of later—are the most dangerous to faith. We delay our repentance in order to enjoy our sins and assume we can just come back to the banquet at any time. It’s better to come late than not at all, right? This is the way that leads to eternal death! And we who know the grace of God, that He gladly and eagerly forgives sinners for the sake of Jesus’ death and resurrection, bear more guilt for our sins than those who have never heard the Word. That is what Jesus means when He says it is more bearable on the Day of Judgment for Tyre and Sidon, who refused to repent, than for those that never heard His Word and didn’t know any better.
Unless the Lord intervened, we would be destroyed. He sends out His messengers in every age and every place to invite to the feast, to preach that, no matter what we’ve done, how hypocritical we’ve been, God still loves us and still wants us at His banquet. By the suffering and death of Jesus in our place, God has reconciled us to Himself. He has declared us righteous, fully forgiven for Jesus’ sake. This gift He makes available, not only to us, but to all the world. This call to the eternal Marriage Feast rings out to all unconditionally, no matter how vile they may be or undesirable they may feel. And all who heed this invitation by faith, who believe the Gospel, find a welcome and a feast more lavish than anything they could imagine, desire, or deserve.
So what today’s Gospel has told us is not a story about others who have rejected the Gospel. It is a warning to each of us against security in our sin. Do not think you can delay repentance forever, or that sin has no risks, either in this life or in the life to come. There is always repercussion for sin. Do not mistake the Lord’s patience for approval. Repent, before the time has come when repentance is no longer possible because the Gospel call is no longer extended.
But as much as the Parable warns, it also shows us that Jesus is reaching out. There is still room. It is not too late to repent and receive the gracious invitation. The Lord is not angry or disgusted with you. He wants you at His Marriage Feast, in His Kingdom for eternity. His life, death, and resurrection are proof that He will give everything, even His very life, to save you, to give you a seat at His table. No matter how defiled you are by sin, how mangled and broken the devil’s lies and alluring sins have left you, Jesus doesn’t care. In Him is perfect healing. He loves you more than you can ever know. He is eager to receive you, to forgive you, to love you forever.
So in the Gospel, in the Sacraments, see that Jesus, Divine Wisdom, has prepared His house and His feast. He cries out to you “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here! … Come, eat of My Bread and drink of the Wine I have mixed. Forsake foolishness and live, and go in the way of understanding.” In that Feast you know love, because it is the Body and Blood Jesus laid down for you, to give you life. In the Sacrament you see for what purpose God created you: to be in communion with Him, to live as His dear child and He as your dear Father. And the more time you spend in communion with Him, receiving from Him at His Table, the more you realize that there is nothing on earth that can give you what God can. Here is the love and joy and peace and forgiveness for which your soul longs. So come to Jesus, kneel at His Table, for all things are now ready.
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.