I Gotta Robe, You’ve Gotta Robe…

Tepid, lukewarm, indifferent, cool, halfhearted, apathetic, unenthusiastic, perfunctory,  noncommittal…those are words to describe the one who was ejected. Too un-involved to slip on a party robe.  Could our response to the gracious invitation of God become jaded that way?  Oh, that’s a different word with synonyms like tired, bored and lacking enthusiasm.  Of course that is what typically follows having too much of something.  Imagine, having too much of God’s hospitality and grace.

Matthew 22:

The background for our lesson today is pretty heady.  Jesus had just chased the money changers out of the Temple and then had withdrawn to Bethany for the night.  The next morning he returned and the Gospel reads: “When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  The issue of authority continues up until today to be a huge issue for the professionally religious. But, before  Jesus answers he challenges them to answer his question first. “From where did the Baptism of John come, from heaven or men?”  Their answer was that they couldn’t tell, which was a way to cover up the fact the whatever they said would be used against them in the court of public opinion.

What follows are a couple of pretty brutal parables focused on the religious authorities. In one two sons were called to work in the father’s vineyard… one said he wouldn’t and did the other said he would and then didn’t. He chastised the leaders for their answer about which of  the two sons was the most righteous.   The next story was about those who operated a man’s vineyard on shares and in refusing to recompense the owner beat and killed the man sent to collect and then killed the owner’s son.  He asked the chief priests and elders what was required of the law.  Of course he used their answer to further show their hypocrisy. And that’s when they decided that Jesus was too much for them and that he needed to be incarcerated.  But, just like their unwillingness to answer Jesus’  first question to them, out of fear of the general public in that many considered Jesus a prophet, they did nothing.

Our  text takes up there.  Our modern translations simply say that Jesus, again, spoke to them in parables. Our word parable comes from the Greek  παραβολή (parabolē), meaning “comparison, illustration, analogy.”  It was the name Greek  rhetoricians gave to an illustration in the form of a brief fictional narrative. This one is not on the list of favorite New Testament parables….

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. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again 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.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those 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,12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then 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.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The king’s invitation list had been drawn up carefully and circulated. When all was prepared the king sent messengers to call those who had been invited. To a person, those he wanted to be there refused to come.  He sent different servants those who had been invited to say the time to come was at hand, explaining all he had done to make things ready. Making light of it some went to work others actually treated the king’s servants shamefully and actually killed them.  Angered, the king sent the army to kill the worst of the lot and destroy their city.

The banquet was ready and those the king preferred to attend had proven themselves unworthy of his hospitality.  That’s were that well rehearsed line is spoken “9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

We’d really like it if Jesus’ parable ended there.  In the face of rejection by the preferred the banquet hall was filled with those caught up in a status free sweep of the community, the good and bad alike.  Were it to end there it would be this great story about the King’s universal  generosity, hospitality and welcome to all. In Luke’s version the first people caught up in the drag net were the poor, maimed and blind and lame but not being enough to fill the banquet hall the servants were told ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in that my house may be filled.’

That’s not how Matthew’s version ends.  You have to wonder what Matthew had in mind when he concluded the parable the way he did.

The banquet hall is packed with people not originally invited.  And one person in the whole gathering was not wearing a wedding garment.  When the king asked how he got in without the garment he didn’t know what to say.  The king had him tossed out.  Only one out of all those who packed the banquet hall was expelled.

In trying to make sense of this, Fred Craddock, some years ago, suggested that Matthew,  in writing the conclusion to Jesus’ parable, was aware of how easily grace can melt into permissiveness and wanted to warn the church against losing the distinction between accepting all persons and condoning all behavior.  All are invited to God’s banquet but there is more required than just having a belly button.

Another person wrote that she couldn’t sleep nights after reading this parable until she learned that it was the responsibility of the host to provide the wedding garment. The failure of the one tossed from the party was that he didn’t put on what had been provide him.

In Rom 13:12 the Apostle Paul wrote: The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  In Ephesians six he counseled his readers to “Put on the full armor of God “ and then described each piece. But in Jesus’ parable in Matthew this wasn’t armor, armor for protection or of illumination.  This amounted to simply slipping into a robe that was provided.  It was part of being fully engaged in the celebration.  Coming in and consuming the banquet wasn’t just about good nutrition – it was about celebrating the king’s son’s wedding.

Tepid, lukewarm, indifferent, cool, halfhearted, apathetic, unenthusiastic, perfunctory,  noncommittal…those are words to describe the one who was ejected. Too un-involved to slip on a party robe.  Could our response to the gracious invitation of God become jaded that way?  Oh, that’s a different word with synonyms like tired, bored and lacking enthusiasm.  Of course that is what typically follows having too much of something.  Imagine, having too much of God’s hospitality and grace.

There’s a bit of African American spirituality that seems appropriate. It goes:

I’ve got a robe, you’ve got a robe, All of God’s children got a robe;
When I get to Heaven, goin’ to put on my robe, Goin’ to shout all over God’s Heav’n.

Refrain:
Heav’n, Heav’n, Ev’rybody talking ’bout heav’n ain’t going there,
Heav’n, Heav’n, Goin’ to shout all over God’s Heav’n.

 

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