“Are We Worthy?”
Matthew 22:1-14, October 11th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now, yet another Parable from the gospel according to Matthew, chapter twenty-two, verses one thru fourteen.”
1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so, the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
“Having heard the words of Jesus as recorded in our scripture today, let us reflect and consider whether we are properly prepared to enter the realm, the kingdom of God.”
“Are We Worthy?”
When someone is invited to a celebration, be it a wedding, a baptism or simply a celebration of importance, most of us try to be property dressed for the occasion and follow the etiquettes and/or the protocols it calls for. Jesus’ story is a simple parallel to follow. However, I must advice you, if we over think this scripture, we may get ourselves lost. As we look to this wedding feast passage… we need to be looking for its parallel meaning. The wedding feast represents our invitation to the kingdom of God. The celebration, this gift from God, was first offered and rejected. This is the first part of the parable – Jesus was to be rejected and then condemned by the chief priests and the Pharisees! They ignored the invitation and they persecuted those who spoke of the celebration to come! We know the prophets that foretold of the Messiah were ignored and persecuted as well. Then they would have Jesus, the Chosen One, the Messiah, they would crucify him! They would have him crucified by their Roman oppressors! This parable is that of a ‘harsh warning’ to those who were not willing to hear the invitation. They were the ones who were not listening to Jesus’ invitation with open minds and open hearts. Those like that of the hardhearted chief priests and the Pharisees would simply consider Jesus a ‘rebel rouser’ and seek to silence him!
Looking back to the story in today’s lesson, all who rejected the invitation, were left outside. Whereas those who were invited from every walk of life were excepted and welcomed into the feast, the celebration! Yet, despite how gracious the invite was… there remained an expectation. It was expected that they, those who came in off the streets, they were expected to conform to the house rules so to speak. They were expected to dress for the occasion. This was accomplished by simply putting on the provided ‘wedding robe.’ Most scholars agree this is simply a commonsense reference that quests were expected to dress appropriately when coming to a wedding. The mantle of ministry is like the robe, it is a simple gesture to acknowledge that the chosen and the invited ones, understands what it means to be welcomed into the household of Christ. This “in itself” is problematic when we look to the analogy of who is invited to the wedding. The poor may not have been able to afford a robe. Seems unlikely Jesus would have wanted to put that thought across. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that in the context of this story, the wedding host is the one who supplied the robes, at least to those who did not possess one. This leaves us seeing the guest, the one without the wedding robe on, as unwilling to accept this custom; wearing the robe would have been the simplest of gestors to acknowledge their gratitude for being invited and welcomed in. Thus, the guest was seen as being ‘ungrateful’ for the invitation, and disrespected the generosity of his host, therefore he was thrown out.
Interpreting our lesson from this vantage point, believing that Jesus would make it possible for the poor, the marginalized, and the downcast to enter the celebration – we have much to discuss. This leaves us some reasonable things to consider further and it fits that Jesus’ allegory would include the deprived, the underprivileged, as-well-as, the impoverished being invited to the wedding. Hear again the words of Jesus’ parable. The king told his servants to: “’Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so, the wedding hall was filled with guests.” /Matthew 22:9&10/ Is this not what we have been hearing about Jesus all along. The accounts in the gospels have documented these things, these events that remind us of how Jesus reached out to the marginalized. People like the Samaritans who were not included on the original guest list. And the Lepers, the sick, the broken and the discarded by society. The list goes on and on! Surely such an invitation included the beggars and the crippled that were in the nearby streets and alleys! Is this not what we have been taught and what we have read and what many have proclaimed throughout the ages!?
We now know that Jesus’ parable was like a prophesy, he spoke of what was to be – and indeed it did come to be. After Jesus’ resurrection, the Living Spirit of God went out to all the disciples and those that gathered with them. The Spirit also went to a man named Saul, and through Christ, Saul became Paul, as Christ transformed him. Yes, Saul the young Pharisee, an enemy of those who followed Christ, became Paul, the evangelist that brought the message of salvation, through Christ, to all us gentiles! Surely, you remember the story in the ninth chapter in the book of Acts, in our New Testament! He was the young Pharisee that met the Resurrected Jesus on the way to Damascus where he was to arrest and persecute the followers of Christ! Miraculously after being invited by Christ Jesus, this enemy of the followers of Jesus, Paul became a devote servant of Christ! His ministry led to the spread of what we know as Christianity – as the movement spread to the gentiles throughout the Roman empire!
This conversation must lead us to discuss the ‘real question’ being raised here today. Jesus was talking first and foremost about heaven and contrasting his answer to his parable about the guests at a wedding feast. We must go to the core of this discussion. We must ask ourselves, as we too have been invited to the banquet, at Christ’s invitation, an invitation to join Jesus in ministry, and join with Christ in his Father’s kingdom in heaven. Are we worthy of this invitation? Shall we proudly respond so that all can see? Or shall we humbly take on the ‘mantle’, the burden of ministry, the burden of sacrifice for the sake of others, as Jesus did!? Let us not forget, Jesus was a humble man and surely his teachings were about humility, kindness, and service to others. There is no room for the high and mighty, nor the ego driven ‘lost souls’ who have rejected the inspired teachings of Jesus! The notion that we are – or are not – worthy of the offer to accept the invitation, the gift of salvation – is rather naïve. Naïve in the sense that forgiveness in of itself – is an act of grace which is a gift! A gift only needs to be accepted!
Perhaps we need to clarify the more important question, brought on in response to this parable which Jesus told, suggesting that we cannot sneak into heaven without ‘conforming’ to an expectation of ‘how’ or ‘what’ a forgiven person is expected to act like, dress like, or be! In our current culture in the society we live within, a ritualistic robe or something of like fashion is seldom used. The average person could go an entire lifetime and never lay eyes on such a garment. Yet, most of us know we need to conform to some type of appropriate outfit. But that is not the point! Rather, if we become a follower, a disciple of Christ, we shall need to make an effort, an honest effort to seek to live a life worthy of our call; worthy of the gift we are given through God’s Grace. Who is going to judge our worthiness – that is the question? Not me for sure, and neither your mother, your brother, nor any person can judge this. Only the giver of the gift can judge whether you are worthy or not. Yet, the gift of forgiveness is given even if you do not deserve it.
Let us reflect on a real-life scenario. Billy Sue and Sally John are recipients of a food basket from a local charity. Within it they find an invitation to a celebration at the local church. They decide to go, seeking a free meal. While there they confess, at some point, the reason for their attendants. Also, while there they have felt ashamed, but in their hearts, they now begin to feel hopeful that they will be allowed to stay; this is a feeling they had not felt in a long time. They are asked to stay! After dinner they help clear the tables and clean up. Not surprisingly, they get involved in that church and over time they begin to be regulars in the ‘outreach’ effort to feed the hungry in the neighborhood. Surely, the gift changed them as they humbly accepted it while feeling compelled to pass it on to another! They got it! They understood the meaning of today’s lesson! Have you understood?
Take another illustration. Our monthly food drive to support a local food pantry. The first of each month we have been stacking our small bags of non-perishable foods in the green cart at the back of the church. First, let me say thank you for your generosity. Your gift may fill an empty stomach and it may open a discouraged heart to the hope that your generosity has stirred. Next time you sit down to a meal reflect on how you might feel if, if the meal was a gift from someone you never have and never will meet. Possibly, the givers generosity will open your heart to do likewise. When this occurs, you shall know this from the bottom of your heart! If this rings true to you today, then surely: you are worth of the invitation and you shall receive the promised gift!