15. October 2022
“He said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Today, Jesus compares the call of faith given by the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Word to the invitation to a wedding. Isaiah described the life of the Christian receiving the Word, like dining at a great feast given as a gift and for the soul’s life. Elsewhere, God’s faithful people are collectively the bride and Christ Jesus, the bridegroom, joined in marital union and bliss into eternity. All of these together are a beautiful picture of the essential Reformation confession that we are saved by grace through faith alone, worked by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures proclaimed and taught alone.
Without the Word, we could never know Christ Jesus. Without the Word proclaimed, we would never hear of Jesus and what He has and is doing to save us. Without hearing of Jesus Christ, we would never come to believe that His salvation is for us. Without faith, we would not heed His invitation to go to the rich feast of His Word offered in Divine Service, catechesis, and daily prayer. Without the rich feast of His Word, we would be dead in our sins, malnourished, and starved of the Bread from Heaven that gives life.
It all seems so simple. How could anyone resist? Why would anyone say, “no”? Here’s the invitation! Good people and bad people are gathered from homes, halls, schools, bars, taverns, and even churches. Come and eat and drink. Everything needed is prepared and given. Be clothed and be fed. Jesus is the host, the maître d’, and the meal. This is His service, where He gives Himself entirely and thoroughly for you and your salvation.
And yet, the previous parable, an alternate reading for this day, tells of the landowner and his vineyard. He hires vinedressers to care for it. But at the vintage time, the vinedressers brutalize the servants who come, not once but twice. And the owner sends his son, who they also kill and think to seize the vineyard as their own. Of course, they are deceived, lose the vineyard altogether, and it is given to another, the proverbial “tax collectors and harlots” who believe.
Jesus tells the parable to those who will not hear, refuse to abandon their righteousness, and stubbornly insist on their way. They cannot and will not receive the vineyard, the wedding, or the rich banquet of heaven as a gift, given by the Word alone, by grace alone, through Holy Spirit-worked faith alone. And because of their demand that Jesus conforms to them, He can no longer be received by them in the way of a gift.
Instead, Jesus says, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes?’” This Psalm’s metaphor becomes a favorite among the prophets and apostles. Isaiah says, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily” (Is 28:16). St. Paul cites this and Isaiah 8 when he says, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” (Rom 9:33).
And there’s the problem. Jesus always gets in the way of what we want to do, what we think to believe, or what we think we can contribute to our salvation. There’s the conflict, and that’s why the vinedressers refuse the owner’s servants, or those invited to the wedding refuse to come. The offense is what our theologians call “divine monergism.” Everything about salvation is in, with, under, and through Jesus and Him alone. There is salvation in no other name under heaven.
This explains the violent reaction of the chief priests and Pharisees. “They perceived that He was speaking of them. […] They sought to lay hands on Him.” There’s no way into the church, through this life, or into heaven that isn’t by the cross of Jesus Christ. But that also means you must go with Jesus through suffering and death. Anything that gets in the way of Jesus for you will be crucified and buried. Jesus says immediately before today’s parable, “And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder” (Mt 22:44).
For such a beautiful parable of our Lord’s gracious invitation, it is filled with such violence. “The rest [of the invited] seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.” God will be your God. Jesus’ jealous love for you, His chosen bride, results in straight-up violence against whatever stands in His way of saving you.
That’a a theme the Reformers knew all too well. They risked life and limb for their confession of Jesus. Many lost their life because they had the audacity to trust in Jesus and Him alone. Decades of war wiped out Lutheran believers and churches. Lutheran hymnody is full name-dropping enemies of the faith, those whose opposition to Christ’s Gospel was violent. Luther’s “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” originally named them, “Restrain the murderous Pope and Turk.” Our history knows the violent opposition to Jesus too well.
But we must be on guard against ourselves, too. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Jesus warns you: don’t add anything of your own to the invitation, the wedding, or the feast either. It’s all by Jesus and His way of giving, or it’s nothing. That’s the final note of the parable, which is a warning to us who have been called, have come to the feast, but are tempted to slip in again our own ideas, expectations, works, or merit into what God is in Christ alone gives. The essential Reformation confession is that we are saved by grace through faith alone, worked by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures proclaimed and taught alone.
And Jesus always keeps His promises. He never stops inviting you. The wedding hall will be filled. The whole host of heaven will be numbered. A rich feast of forgiveness, life, and salvation is served. Come and eat and drink. Everything needed is prepared and given. Be clothed and be fed. Jesus is the host, the maître d’, and the meal. This is His service, where He gives Himself entirely and thoroughly for you and your salvation.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin