Saturday’s Column: Learning From Lehman
On more than one occasion, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast. I’d like to focus on the parable contained in Matthew chapter 22 specifically. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted calf are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to his servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:2-14).
Looking back on this parable with the benefit of hindsight, knowing the centuries of the Church’s history, it’s easy to understand most of what Jesus is saying. The king had an initial group of people that were invited to wedding, but refused the invitation. In the same way, the invitation of the gospel was initially given to Jews only. However, especially among the religious establishment—Pharisees and Sadducees—there was widespread rejection of that invitation. So, the king opens up the invitation to everyone in the highways, both bad and good, just as the invitation of the gospel was extended to Gentiles and Jews alike—everyone is invited.
However, there’s the strange detail near the end that can confuse us in our modern times, living so far detached from the culture that Jesus gave the parable to. We see a man at the wedding who doesn’t have wedding clothes on, and he gets kicked out of the wedding because of it! In our culture, we might wonder about this man, perhaps even feel sorry for him. Perhaps he didn’t have good clothes for a wedding because he was poor and couldn’t afford them. But the way we do weddings is different from the way they did weddings in Jesus’ time and culture. Back in that day, the master of the wedding feast would provide garments for all of the wedding guests. In fact, it would be a great insult for someone to refuse to wear wedding garments at the feast. That’s why the man is speechless when the king asks him how he got in there without wedding garments.
What does that represent? Baptism. As many of us as are baptized into Christ have put on Christ (paraphrase Galatians 3:27). Just as the master of the feast provides wedding clothes for the guests, God provided baptism for us. And just as the man without wedding garments was thrown out, none of us should expect to attend the wedding feast if we aren’t wearing the garments God provided at His own cost.