What Actions Say
Text: Matt. 22:1-14
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good manners are important. While it’s become very fashionable to throw out good manners as antiquated, repressive, pointless, or counter to the casual cruelty and so-called brutal honesty of our day, they do serve a good purpose. And while the trend to heighten or lower politeness waxes and wanes with the ages, there always seems to be a return to etiquette, whether it’s in Renaissance guides like The Courtier or modern newspaper articles like Miss Manners. The reason why manners always come back is because they’re important. Why? Not simply to keep from being rude or maintaining certain social expectations. They’re important because they are ways to show others what we think of them. For instance, standing in someone’s presence, or holding open a door for them, or thinking about a diplomatic way to say something rather than blurting out the first words that come to mind are all ways we can show that someone is important enough to us that we’re willing to give them time, effort, and consideration, even in the midst of our own busy doings.
This is certainly the case with the parable in our Gospel reading today. For us modern readers, we might be surprised, or even shocked by some of the reactions to things in this parable; things that may not seem like a big deal in our own age of lack in decorum. But we have to remember that the things we do, the words and actions we choose, all communicate something to others. And the things that are being done in this parable tell the king and his son exactly what the citizens of the kingdom really think about them.
In our parable, we have a king who’s throwing a wedding feast for his son, the royal heir. He sends his servants to call those who were invited—which, by the way, to be invited to a royal wedding is a great honor. Anyone in their right mind would drop everything, clear their calendar, and be there. But those invited would not come. They ignored the invite. So the king sent more messengers, saying, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. I’ve prepared the best of what my royal palace has. All you have to do is show up to a banquet fit for royalty. Come to the wedding feast.” But again, they paid no attention—they had the worst of manners—and they went away. One went to his farm, another went to work, and the rest treated the king’s messengers shamefully; some even went so far as to kill them.
The rejection of an invitation from the king is much more than just personal preference on what do with a weekend evening. It’s about more than being inconvenienced or having their priorities confused. Remember, the things we do communicate something to others. When the citizens treat the king’s messengers this way, they’re saying that if the king himself was there, if his son was standing in front of them and inviting them personally, that they would do the same to them. They would ignore the king. They would walk away from the heir. They would rather get covered in the dust of the earth and the preoccupations of chasing money. They would even beat the king and son, and kill them if they could. That’s what these types of manners toward an authorized messenger of the king mean. It means that they would commit treason if they only had the opportunity. It meant that they were, in fact, committing treason through their actions against the king’s servants. Suddenly the king’s reaction of destroying the citizens and burning down their city makes more sense. They made it clear through their behavior that they were in rebellion, so they were treated as rebels.
In a similar way, we can start to understand the king’s reaction to the man who does show up at the wedding, but without wedding garments. In our very casual society, we find the king’s reaction to a seeming clothing faux pas over-the-top. But what this guest is telling the king and his son by refusing to even change clothes after being out in the fields working and on the highways and byways is that this event is not important to him. “You, king, and your royal son, your joy, your celebration, your kind and generous invitation, isn’t important enough for me to even splash some water on my face and put on clean clothes.” He’s telling the king that he’s just there for the free food, if that. The rest doesn’t matter to him. And so he’s treated as intruder. His dishonor of the king and his son has turned him from a guest to a crasher, so he’s removed from the king’s presence. He doesn’t care about the celebration, so he’s taken away from it.
What do we communicate to our King through our words and actions? What do we tell Him when anything and everything is more important than hearing His Word or being at the feast of His Holy Supper? What do we communicate to Him when we look around and covet what He’s given to others, thinking that it should have been ours, He’s made a mistake in giving that to him, that she doesn’t deserve it as much as me? What do we say to Him when we hear what He has said is good and true and useful, and we decide that what the world says is better, truer, more worthy of our time and energy? Often our actions, the decisions we make, how we choose to spend our time, these communicate things that we would never say with our words. Yet, the old saying holds true, “Actions speak louder than words,” even when our actions are saying things that we’re too afraid to admit.
Your King, your God, is calling you. All is prepared. All has been accomplished. At Jesus’ crucifixion, it is finished, it is complete. The finest Lamb has been sacrificed. The meal is ready. In His resurrection, a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow and aged wine well refined is set before you. You will have only the best that a new and perfect creation has to offer. And the Lord Himself will feast too, but He’ll swallow up the veil of death that’s been hanging over His citizens. He will wipe away tears from all faces. It’s all ready. Jesus has prepared it for you. If it were not so, would He have told you?
So come to the feast. Taste it here at the rail, a sample, an amuse-bouche to strengthen you and bring you to the full feast. Leave behind those things that would distract you from His joy. Turn away from those dry, dusty highways and byways that lead you further away from His royal hall. Set down those things that barely satisfy for a moment and receive the feast that lasts forever. Don’t try to dress yourself up in your own wisdom, or good works, or excuses. Your garment is already prepared. Be covered in the robe of His righteousness in Baptism. We witnessed a heavenly garment given to Jaxon this morning. He was clothed with robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers all his sin, so that he—along with all the baptized—will stand before the judgment seat of the King’s Son and have no fear of being sent away. He, along with you, God’s baptized, His invited, His citizens, His guests, you will receive the inheritance prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
The God who has done everything for you is inviting you share His joy, His celebration, His feast. He’s calling you to share His life. What else can compare? So come. The Holy Spirit is already drawing you. The sacrifice is complete, the Supper is prepared. Everything is ready. The feast on this mountain of the Lord awaits. In the name of Jesus, who calls us. Amen.