Matthew 22:1-9 contains one of Jesus’ most poignant parables. Casting himself in the role of the King, he tells how the King prepared a wedding feast and then had trouble getting any of the invited guests to come to it. Have you ever thrown a party that no one came to? It doesn’t feel very good.
In the end, the King decides that, since he has prepared all this food, it would be a shame to waste it. So he goes out and gets people “from the roads,” the sort of people you would have met if you were going from city to city in those days. Some would have been earnest pilgrims, but other would be highwaymen and thieves. The fact that the King invites in both the “good and the bad” makes what happens next disturbing.
11“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
What possible merit did this man lack that some common criminal had? Did all those “good and bad” people who came all show up wearing a wedding garment? It would seem so. That makes the last part of the story even more disturbing. Is salvation dependent on dress?
Romans 13:14 (NIV) says, “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
The implication is that the “wedding garment” that each one had put on was the joy of being invited to the King’s Son’s wedding. Good and bad alike cast off the plans that had sent them out on the road at the mere prospect of attending such a wedding! They were all dressed in the proper garment because they had abandoned everything and spent whatever it took to be ready. This is in sharp contrast to the previously invited guests, who undoubtedly had wedding garments hanging in the closet. Their arrogant pride prevented them from seeing the wedding as exciting enough to bother with.
What of this one fellow who is singled out at the end of the parable? He has come merely to stuff himself. And in that is the greater shame. Those who refused to come outright are in a sad condition, to be sure. But at least they’re being honest. And though they are lost for the moment, there are still other days in which the King can appeal to their heart, teach them about what really matters, and issue a further invitation to another banquet. Perhaps they will come another day. But the feast was ready, and so the King began to include people who might otherwise have never come into his hall. Has the rejection of Christ by the Jews (as a people) in some way delayed the Day of Christ so that we who were mere highwaymen could be included at the feast? I pray that God is yet speaking to those invited guests.
The man with no wedding garment has slipped in with not a single thought about why he is there. People like this often inhabit churches. They have come, not because they love the Lord of the church; not because they are grateful to be invited; not because they have been forgiven much and much of their condition has been overlooked in order that they might wear the wedding garment – in order that they might put on Christ – no. These people have come to our churches merely to feed some appetite of theirs for power, for position, for recognition, or simply to make themselves “feel better” about who they are. Paul puts it this way, “their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:19)
Getting people like this out of our churches is no small task either. Jesus says they have to be “bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness.” Heh. That kind of puts a new spin on “church discipline,” doesn’t it? It isn’t that there is no possibility of redemption for people of this sort, but the most inveterate sinners are church sinners. There is no room in the church for politics or politicians. There is no room in the church for pettiness and self-interest. That’s because there are no politics, pettiness, or self-interest in Jesus. And if we will put on Christ as our garment, he will radically change how and why we gather around the table.