A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
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.’ (MAT 22:8,9)
The parable of the Wedding Feast, as told in Matthew 22, is interesting on many levels: it is very clear in its teaching about the way the Lord was received by the Jewish Church, but on a more interior level it is not about the Jewish Church at all, but about the way that any church receives the Lord, and the temptation that the people of every church face in making their decision between following Him, and succumbing to the temptations of the delights of the loves of self and the world. And it is interesting on another level for it teaches us something about the spiritual world by telling us some important principles that we should follow in order to prepare ourselves for spiritual life. Finally, it reminds us so clearly that none of us can afford to put off our preparation for heaven, for none of us knows the place or time when the invitation will come.
The Wedding Feast is a common image in both the Old and New Testaments. It is common because the beautiful picture of the Lord as the Bridegroom, and the Church as the Bride serves to illustrate the ideal relationship that the Lord strives to create between Himself and the people who receive His love and leadership.<1>
It’s clear from the context that the king who was preparing the wedding feast for his son is a symbol for the Lord, and because of the context of where and when this parable was given, it is also clear that He intended that it refer to the situation then existing in the Jewish Church–specifically that the Lord had made every attempt to be with them, to guide them, and to lead them to the life of good which leads to heaven, but the church had resisted Him at every turn.
Even the most casual reading of the Old Testament shows repeated examples of the children of Israel turning away from the worship of the Lord, and instead following Baal and Ashtoreth. Our lesson from the first book of Kings briefly describes the kinds of evils that prevailed in Israel in spite of the Lord’s presence with the Jewish Church through the prophets. They did not listen. Instead the prophets were killed or imprisoned because they carried the “wrong” message, they required the people to change their ways.
In our parable, the king’s invitation represents the Lord’s covenant and presence with the Jewish Church. The Wedding feast represents heaven, and the fact that those who were invited declined to come, but said that they preferred to tend to their farms and businesses, shows the response of the Jewish Church to the Lord’s leading, and that they loved the things of this world more than the things of heaven, and so turned their back on the Lord and salvation for the sake of earthly pleasures.
History tells us how those people showed their rejection of the Messiah: they crucified Him–and through their rejection set the stage for the new church, the Christian Church which was formed around a kernel of converted Jews, but was eventually formed for the most part from gentiles.
This formation of the Christian Church was predicted in the second part of the parable of the Wedding Feast when the king, angry at the way his servants had been treated, and angry because his people were more interested in their own affairs than attending the wedding feast, caused his servants to go out a second time into the highways of the kingdom, inviting every beggar and traveler that they found there to come to the wedding feast in the place of the others.
This prophecy certainly came true. The disciples themselves went out into the world carried the message of hope that they had learned during their three years with the Master, and, although most of them were persecuted, and some were executed for their teachings and their beliefs, yet they succeeding in establishing the Christian Church among the heathens and gentiles of the ancient world. Truly, the masses from the highways and byways were invited to this wedding feast, and they accepted the invitation gratefully.
So far the parable is very clear. It is easy to see the connection with the judgment that was made on the Jewish Church when it refused to follow the Lord’s leading through the prophets and turned instead to the worship of the things of the world. It is also easy to see the connection with the establishment of the new church, the Christian Church which followed and was made up mostly of gentiles. It is not too great a step to take it to the next level and say that the same kind of thing applies to any church that turns away from the teaching of the Word–that it will fail. And we can even see without too much trouble that a similar warning applies to each of us individually as we struggle through our own states of repentance, reformation, and regeneration. But, at this point the parable takes a surprising turn.
One of the guests, a passer-by with no reason to expect that he would be invited to the wedding feast, is called out by the king, shouted at for not wearing a wedding garment, and is then physically thrown back into the street! Our first reaction is that such treatment is not fair. We know that the king had sent his servants out into the highways to invite everyone and anyone they found there. How could they then turn around and punish this man for not being properly dressed? If we feel that this was unfair, it is probably because our judgment is clouded by our own cultural behavior at weddings.
We, at least most of us in this congregation, have a great variety of clothes to chose from. We have special clothes for different uses, and probably that includes some very fancy clothes that we save for very special occasions, such as weddings.
In the time when the Lord was on the earth, it was a very lucky or very rich man who had two garments. Fabric was in short supply because it all had to be made by hand, usually by the women in the family on a home-made loom. The very rich had servants who did nothing but weave cloth for the family clothes. So, in this context, it is very unlikely that the man in our parable was being punished for not changing into his special wedding clothes–for such a thing was unknown in those days.
On the other hand, a wedding in those days was quite a celebration, sometimes lasting a week or more. The guests lived with the host for the duration of the feast. We know that it was customary in those days to wash the feet of a guest when he arrived. Certainly it does not take too great a stretch of the imagination to believe that the king, upon inviting all these people from the highways, made provision for them to wash themselves and brush out their garments before they came in to the wedding feast. If this were not the case, there would have been far more people called out by the king. In light of this, we can see that the man was being punished not so much for being in his “street” clothes at the wedding, for it could not be helped, but because he did not take the opportunity to prepare himself for the feast before coming in, even though it was offered by the host.
This part of the parable is a warning to each one of us. We don’t know the time of our death. We have no idea on which day we will suddenly find ourselves invited to the Lord’s wedding feast as we go walking down the road of our lives. The question that faces us, the question that the parable addresses, is whether we will be prepared, or whether we will be, like the man in the parable, cast into outer darkness.
How can we avoid that fate? By washing away the dirt from our lives, by examining ourselves, seeking out the faults that are hidden there, asking the Lord for His forgiveness for them, and His help in shunning them, and then begin to live our lives without them. We need to wash away the evil of our lives. It is not enough to do it once, for, like little children being readied for a family photo, it is certain that we will get dirty again very quickly. The washing has to be a regular thing if we are to be prepared when to enter the hall when the bridegroom comes.
The same thing is true of our wedding garment. In the word, a “garment” is a symbol for truths, because truth clothes and gives form to good.<2> So, not only do we need to wash away our evils, but we also need to pay attention to our garments, we have to clean out all the falsities that accumulate in our minds when we go too long without examining them. How many things do we just assume to be true because we heard them “somewhere.” Somebody once told me that dirty fuel injectors cause a diesel engine to make heavy black smoke. Now, every time I get behind a truck or a bus that is making a lot of smoke I instantly diagnose the problem as dirty fuel injectors without even thinking that there might be dozens of other factors to consider. Certainly each one of us could think of a similar example of things we have accepted without confirmation, things we believe because it suits us to believe them–whether they are true or not.
Our job in this world is to keep our garment clean, to use the tools the Lord has given us to beat out the various spots of falsity. We are to use our rational minds to challenge unsupported statements. We are to compare the things that we hear and wish to believe against the same standard that all things must be compared to, the truths given to us by the Lord in the Word, and in particular the Ten Commandments. We need to keep our wedding garment clean, because we never know when we will be invited into the feast, and we cannot be there with the soil of the street covering us.
We can get very smug thinking that we are the chosen church–and by our smugness and our attention to our farms and business, we in effect cast out and kill the prophets of the Lord, that is, the truth of the Word.
However, the Lord is determined that His will be done, that there will be a heaven from the human race, and so, if we will not accept his invitation, then there are others who will be invited and who will accept the invitation with joy.
But still the warning remains–there is no such thing as a carte blanche when it comes to heaven. The Lord may invite all those in the highways, but those who attempt to come in dirty, and without a wedding garment will be cast into outer darkness. Evils have to be removed first, and then the truth from the Word learned, and lived, or we are not worthy to accept the Lord’s invitation and sit down at His wedding feast. AMEN.
Lessons: 1KI 16:29-17:1, 18:1-6; MAT 22:1-14; TCR 358
True Christian Religion 358. (3) Man may also acquire for himself the life of faith and charity. Here again it is the same. For man acquires for himself this life when he goes to the Lord who is Life itself; and access to Him is closed to no man, for the Lord continually invites every man to come to Him; for He says:-
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man, a king, who made a marriage for his son, and sent his servants to call them that were bidden; and finally, he said, Go ye therefore into the partings of the ways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage (Matt. xxii. 1-9).
Who does not know that the invitation or call is universal, and also the grace of reception? Man obtains life by going to the Lord because the Lord is Life itself, not only the life of faith but also the life of charity. … By the life in faith and charity is meant spiritual life, which is given by the Lord to man in his natural life.
<1> See Arcana Coelestia 4434:6,7
<2> Arcana Coelestia 5954:2,4
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