by David Morstad
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Mathew 22: 1-3, 8-13
I’ll admit this much: Sometimes the good news doesn’t sound so good. The parable is often dominated by the portrait of this inexplicably mean-spirited host, but if you listen closely, you might hear a story of invitation, of welcome, and of garments.
“Speechless.” That’s what it says. “Where are your wedding clothes?” he was asked, and he was speechless. Typically, I am told, it was common for the host – the father of the groom – to provided this for the guests. So what happened? How was he missed? Did someone screw up? Or, did he simply pass it by. After all, don’t we all have a nasty habit of doing that? Our closets are filled with the garments of our own making – our self-reliance, our strength of will, our carefully fashioned lives, our accomplishments, even our commitment to others. Surely, this wardrobe will be enough to impress the king.
I Trust When Dark My Road, tells a story worth reading. It was the morning of Good Friday not long ago, that one man – a Lutheran pastor – found himself speechless. How odd that on this day, when the world will contemplate the death of God’s own son for the life and hope of all, that this man, lost in a cloud of clinical depression, would find himself at the very edge of taking his own life. Confronted with his own inability to heal himself, comfort others or preach the Word of hope, he was vacant and vulnerable. His own garments were inadequate. And he was speechless. Yet, at a time when he felt more alone and meaningless than anyone on this planet had ever been, he was surrounded more completely, and more wonderfully than he could have imagined. “Lutherans love a good paradox”, he has noted.
Garments, it turns out, come in many forms. The strong embrace of his family, the presence of a friend who simply, and stubbornly, refused to leave, and the long treatment journey back. Pulled from his despair beyond imagination – pulled from his own dark street corner, he was invited.
All have been invited, the parable tells us, and all that is needful has been provided for you.
The woman’s name is Cheryl, and she is invited. As a young child with an intellectual disability, she knew nothing of what others called family. She saw very little of a distant mother and brother; and saw far too much of a violent and abusive father. No childhood should be tortured; no child burned and forsaken for the reason of disability. But today, her life is a different one. From a group home on her own street corner, she takes the Sunday morning bus to the banquet. Because she is invited.
As she steps onto the bus, she brings very little with her, but she is invited to leave much behind. Leave behind scars visible only to you, the invitation says; leave behind resentment and lonliness. Those things are past. Today, arrayed in the glorious garments of mercy, forgiveness, peace, and belonging, she comes. Invited, welcomed, and clothed in God’s own promises, she comes to the banquet. And the king says, “Take and eat”.
And that is where we stand. Clothed for the banquet at the beginning of our lives; and clothed for the banquet at the end. Baptismal gowns and funeral palls – powerful reminders of God’s own promises. Clothed in promise, all are welcome.