Sometimes I think about heaven in terms of a wedding. That was a lie- I’m a hopeless romantic so I think of it a lot that way. Jesus must have some of that too, because he talked a lot about the kingdom of heaven in terms of a wedding feast. And in that, he showed me the stunning marriage-mercy through a parable.
Matthew 22: A wedding feast. The king is throwing a party for his son. I can see it now: the servants, running to and fro, making ready the banquet hall. I smell the food, probably the fatted calf, being made ready. My toes eagerly feel the anticipation of the dancing- the dancing. My favorite part. Feet jumping and skirt swishing and lungs laughing for joy.
The party is made ready, and the good king, as the good king does, invites his people to come. Who are the lucky ones? Nobles, I’m assuming. Great and lofty people. The regal, the royal, the prestigious, the well-to-do. The party is for them. “Come celebrate! Come and enter the joy of my son!”
They don’t come. They won’t come. The messengers go hither and fro throughout the kingdom and they can’t find an invited guest who is willing to go to the grand party. The text records that some people pay the messengers no attention. It’s so bad that some of these fancy-pants people even kill the invitation-bringers that were sent to them. At this point I nearly lose it. The King is inviting you to a grand party- a party, with music and dancing and the good King himself- and you FREAKING KILL THE MESSENGER? And I am a simple woman, but that seems like a dumb move. This part of the story is a sad metaphor for the people of Israel.
But the story goes on. The king says, “Alright, messengers, I want you to go to the main highways and invite whoever you can to come.”
And the text says they “went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
“Both bad and good.” All are represented here. The bad: the drunks, the prostitutes, the cheats, the liars, the good-for-nothings. And the good: the self-righteous, the hypocrites, the pious. I see in the Gospels a God who reaches out to both elder and younger brother, and they are both at the wedding. The riff-raff of the town, present at the son’s marriage feast.
By this point, the parable is sweet and dear; the kind King reaches out to the good and bad of the town and lets them come to the grand party. But then the story takes an unexpected turn. The king finds a man not dressed in wedding clothes.
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then 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.’”
That’s terrifying. A dark and unexpected turn, to which I say, “Teacher, what on earth are you saying?”
But this parable brought me closer to the Gospel than I’ve ever been.
Wedding clothes. The man needed wedding clothes.
Think about this. Where on earth did the other guests get their wedding clothes? If we’ve got “both bad and good” of the town and they weren’t exactly aware they had a wedding reception to go to, my line of thinking is that they didn’t have clothes. So where did they come from? At this point, I’m totally confused.
But then- a whisper of a hymn. “Dressed in his righteousness alone…”
A realization of the truth: the king had to give them wedding clothes. There’s no way they could have anything worthy of the grand party to which they had been invited.
And I see another man’s take on this parable, and he says that the offending man “came dressed in his own clothes, unwilling to accept the king’s provision.”3 I see here a picture of a belligerent man clinging tightly to his tatters. “They’re enough, I say! Get away from me!”
Oh my dear man. Scripture itself records that our righteous deeds are but filthy rags. And just why do you think your threadbare clothes are more fitting than the king’s linen?
Listen, listen: the Teacher says in another place: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen…” (Revelation 3:18)
The covering of righteousness is exceedingly important. And the man at the party didn’t have it.
And I don’t have it. That man is me.
I cling to the covering I have made for myself, and the light of the feast shows me what it really is. Rags. Tattered and torn. Dirty. Smelly. Foul. Righteous deeds done to be seen by men. Self-centeredness. A sharp tongue. Lust. A tragic idolatry of all created things (food, affection, my own happiness), above the Creator.
At the end of the age, I will be unable to enter the wedding feast without proper attire, which is spotless righteousness. Who has those wedding clothes? A look at my dilapidated cloths and I know- not me.
However (oh glorious word).
However, the good Son does. And, mercy of mercies, He offers his to me.
And he puts on my dirty, nasty rags and I put on the crisp, clean radiance of glory and he dies and comes to life more splendid than before and I too have died and because he lives, I live. And my sin is gone and we both stand in white: he the kind, beloved son of the good king and I, the redeemed daughter. And I walk the aisle dressed in a righteousness not my own (and to think of it makes my heart hurt with longing).
For he takes my hand and I, humbled to the core, enter the wedding feast. With him.
-My dears, resurrection day is swift upon us. This week we remember the suffering that made His righteousness ours. Please, please, hear the kind King’s invitation. Don’t be too busy to heed the call, and don’t cling to the rags that won’t get you anywhere.
He says, “Come- to the wedding celebration,” and “Come- wear my righteousness.” Oh beloved, there is no better invitation than this. You must respond.
-And we will watch the bridegroom come
and heaven breaking like the dawn
all dressed in white our shame is gone
we’re free to dance before the throne.
-Rend Collective, “One and Only”
- Art: “The Parable of the Wedding Feast” by Eugene Bernand
- Hymn: “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”, by Edward Mote.
- Smith, Travis D. “Proverbs 9:2-6: Your Wedding Invitation.” From the Heart of a Shepherd. Web. Accessed 22 Mar 2016. http://heartofashepherd.com/2015/02/09/proverbs-92-6-your-wedding-invitation/