“For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14
Imagine being invited somewhere and then being ejected because you had not the right clothes. What kind of host would treat you in such a way? What sort of hospitality ends in such public humiliation?
“Friend,” asks the king in the story, “how did you get in here without wedding clothes?” and then he has the man thrown brutally thrown out. What is the story about? Why invite someone only to throw them out because they are not properly dressed? If this is a picture of God, why would anyone want to believe in a God who behaved in such an arbitrary way?
It is easy to become frustrated when one tries to make sense of the story. One writer suggests that the problem was that the passage was various bits and pieces that Matthew had put together and that it was like buying a car only to find that it was bits of two cars that had been welded together. But that doesn’t answer the question, if Matthew has put the story together as we now read it, why did he do it in the way that he did? Matthew must have wanted to convey a point that Jesus was making.
Traditionally, preachers, particularly those approaching this passage from an evangelical perspective, have seen this picture as being of the last judgement and of our admission to the heavenly banquet depending upon us having the robe of righteousness given us by Jesus. The prophet Isaiah Chapter 61 Verse 10 says, “he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”. The version I have heard preached is that that when you arrived at the wedding you were given wedding garments by the host, and so you looked the part through the host’s generosity, your admission depended on the robe he gave you.. It is a nice story, except that there was no such tradition in First Century Palestine. It may be appropriate to tell the story now in such a way now, as we look back on the death and resurrection of Jesus, but the people listening to Jesus at the time would not have made sense of it.
Guests arriving at a wedding feast were meant to arrive in their best garments, that is what it says in Jewish writings from the time. The man is thrown out of the feast not because he has not been given a wedding garment, but because he hasn’t bothered to wear one. Jesus’ listeners would have understood that perfectly well.
Certainly the invitation to be with him comes from God, but there is also a need to respond. There is no compulsion, those first invited in the story freely choose to reject the invitation, they would not come to the wedding feast Chapter 22 Verse 3 tells us, or, even worse, in Verses 5-6, ” they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them.”
Those who do come to the banquet have made an effort to respond, and look at who they are, we read in Verses 9-10, “‘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, both good and bad.” Anyone who wishes to come is invited. The people who are invited are ordinary people and they put on their best clothes because this is a special occasion, to have such an opportunity is something that might happen once in a lifetime.
In the story they have all put on their wedding garments, all except one. He has come on the assumption that he need do nothing by way of responding to his host’s generosity. He believes he has a right to be there.
What is Jesus saying to us in telling this story? Isn’t his point about God’s grace towards us and our response of faith towards him?
God’s grace, God’s love towards us, cost him his Son and how do we respond? Like the man at the wedding feast with no wedding garment, are we are sometimes too casual?
We sit lightly to our faith at times, we treat Jesus’ invitation to us as we might an invitation to a party which we might or might not attend. We assume that it’s our choice about when we make space for God and when we don’t, that God might be treated in a casual and offhand manner. Jesus is saying to his listeners in this story, “Sorry, that’s not the way of things. Take this seriously or don’t bother”.
The man without the wedding garment would have realized, had he bothered to take notice, that everyone else had made an effort, that the people from the streets had done their best to respond to the king’s generosity. He should have been put to shame by their efforts, he should have seen how they had responded and should have gone away and prepared himself. The king notices the man because the man had been complacent, the man had thought that he had the right to be there, the man had made no attempt to respond to the king’s grace and yet he would have been shocked when we was thrown out.
Are we too casual about our faith? Let’s not be complacent, let’s not be lazy; let’s not make assumptions about God; lest we reach that Last Day and find ourselves thrown out. “Many are called”, says Jesus, “but few are chosen”, responding to him, may we be among the few.