Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

  Northern Great Lakes SynodEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaBethany on Facebook  

Pentecost 10/12

          It was a couple of years ago now, a nice summer day and after I had finished lunch at home I was headed back to church. I turned right onto Third Street coming off of North there by my house and I was going about 30mph which is five miles over the speed limit on Third but still about as slow as anyone goes, and before I got to the end of the block another car had quickly pulled up right on my rear.  Looking in the rear view mirror I could see that the guy was mad, a little road rage going on, because apparently he was in a big hurry to get somewhere and I was going way too slow for him. 

So what do you do in a case like that?  What’s the Christian thing to do?  I slowed down.  I couldn’t resist.  I slowed down to 25 figuring if he’s that upset I’ll make him even more upset and I think I did.  When I finally pulled out onto 41 he quickly passed me calling me a not very complimentary name accompanied by a not very friendly, one fingered salute.  I just waved.  Actually that’s not true; I said some things too…and it wasn’t God bless you.

          I tell you this story not so you can know that I can be a jerk sometimes but because it’s kind of what Jesus does when he tells today’s parable.  Last week he told the parable of the wicked tenants and at the end it says, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.  They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.”

          Now Jesus wasn’t stupid.  He knew they were upset.  He knew they were after him.  So what did he do?  He proceeded to tell them another rather harsh parable so that they could be really upset and not only that, he added a twist at the end that could serve to alienate those who thought they were his friends.  At the end of it everybody had to be wondering about this parable of an angry king who was quick to execute those who rejected his generous invitation, quick to throw the man without a proper wedding garment into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth; a lot of violence and anger on the part of this king.  What’s also interesting is that there is another version of this parable in Luke but it is much softer in tone, the owner of the house as he’s called in this version much gentler than the king in Matthew…or at least no one gets put to death or cast into the outer darkness as happens in Matthew’s version. 

It makes the scholars wonder which version is more authentic but one possibility is that they are both authentic; undoubtedly Jesus told many of these parables more than once and like any storyteller, he perhaps changed things a little bit depending on who his audience was.  So why the harsh version in Matthew?  The context in Matthew as I said was that Jesus was talking to a crowd that included at least some of the people who were out to get him, a fact that Jesus had to know.  But it wasn’t just those out to get him that he addressed.  His audience also included some of the people intrigued by him, sympathetic to his message, people who considered themselves to be his disciples; people that thought they were on the inside.  But Jesus seems to have a need to put everyone on notice with the telling of this parable leaving them wondering not if few are chosen but if any are chosen.

To review the parable, the king decides to throw a wedding banquet for his son and so he invites those who would expect to be invited, only most of them blow it off and just carry on with life as usual and a few others actually attack and kill the slaves who brought the invitation.  This part of the parable would be directed at the chief priests and the Pharisees as representatives of those Jews who did not listen to the prophets, who did not accept Jesus as the messiah, who did not accept the invitation to the banquet in other words.  One of the troubling twists of this parable though is the anger and vengeance of the king against those who didn’t accept the invitation.  If the king represents God, which is usually how this is interpreted, despite the sin of the slaves, this is not how we like to think about God.

Moving on though; the king then tells his slaves to go and invite others, anyone they can find, good and bad, to the banquet.  This too would in part be directed at the chief priests and Pharisees in essence saying to them, “If you want to reject the invitation, so be it.  There are others.”  So those “others” in the crowd were probably feeling pretty good until the king’s wrath was again unleashed against a guest who wasn’t wearing the proper attire.  He was bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness, a punishment that seems cruel and unusual, greatly disproportionate to the offense he committed.

Again, what’s most troubling in all this is the anger of the king.  The wrath of God isn’t something we like to dwell on (unless it’s directed at someone else, then we don’t mind so much), but for the most part we prefer to think about a kinder, gentler God; there’s a reason the 23rd Psalm is loved by so many people.  Yet a wrathful side is a recurring characteristic of God in both testaments of the Bible, one that creates ragged edges that mess up any neat and tidy and predictable images of God that we might have.  The character of God is ultimately mysterious and somewhat unsettled, resisting our attempts at easy explanation.  But lets not get hung up there; I don’t really think this parable is about the wrath of God.  There are other points to be made.

In its historical context, those hearing this parable would have recognized that Jesus and Matthew were taking some not very veiled shots at those who had not accepted Jesus as messiah.  What complicates things though is that before others in his audience, including us, can start feeling holier than thou as those who have accepted Jesus, he added the final verses as a caution.  That caution is that you have to do more than just show up.  You have to do more than accept the invitation.  We struggle to understand what’s going on with the guy who wasn’t wearing a wedding robe, trying to interpret what that wedding robe represents and what the parable is trying to say, but the early church didn’t have as much difficulty with this as we do.  They heard robe and immediately thought of baptismal robe; they thought about what a baptismal robe meant.

What it meant and what it still means is that baptism is more than an initiation ceremony of words and water.  Baptism means being joined to the life of Christ.  It means recognizing the difference God has made in Christ and recognizing the difference baptism makes in us.  It means recognizing that baptism is supposed to make a difference in how we live, that we are to be transformed by Christ, not conformed to the world.  You could say that in being baptized we accept the invitation to the banquet, but…if we don’t then clothe ourselves in the robe of baptism, which is Christ, the invitation doesn’t make much difference.

For Lutherans that creates another point of tension.  This all sounds like works righteousness, that we’re going to be judged on what we do when our theology tells us that it’s not what we do but that it is all about God’s grace, that what he does for us in baptism is sufficient.  Theological attempts to smooth this out prove to be inadequate and confusing in part because both statements are true; what God has done in Christ is sufficient, but what we do does matter and actually I think most of you struggle less with this than theologians do.  It seems self evident…it is all about grace, but there are also expectations.  Deal with the tension.

For us, it is important that we hear the law part of this text that holds us accountable, the part that says God has expectations, you have to do more than just show up for the banquet.  But still, I think this parable is a classic example of the law revealing our sin and by so doing leading us into the arms of God’s grace.  For Martin Luther, one of the uses of the law was to reveal sin, to reveal our inability to live up to God’s expectations of us.  For Luther, that revelation of sin can then lead either to despair, or to God’s grace.  In his own life Luther struggled with despair and fear of a wrathful, “many are called, few are chosen” God until he came to terms with the grace revealed in Jesus and the understanding that if our salvation depends on anything but grace, we’re all doomed.

With this parable, the choices are the same.  There is a caution to everyone that hears it.  Everyone is invited, but not everyone accepts the invitation and even those who accept can’t always meet the expectations of the king.  It may be cause for despair, but it need not be.  There is a caution here, but it points us to grace; it points us to Christ.                   


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

Previous Page


Contact Us





Church Life


one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


Website designed and maintained by Superior Book Productions