Text: Matthew 22:1-14
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Universalism is the teaching that all religions have the same end goal and all religions provide an equally valid pathway to reach that goal. In other words, according to universalism, all people are going to be saved. It doesn’t matter who or what their god or gods is or are. As Isaiah puts it, they are spending money on that which is not bread and laboring for that which does not satisfy. You don’t have to look very hard in the scriptures to find the Lord rejecting universalism rather resoundingly. Even when it comes to God’s own people (really especially when it comes to his own people) he disciplines them when they seek other pathways to salvation and reminds them there truly is no other name under heaven by which men will saved than by the name of Jesus. He will not tolerate idolatry.
When the people migrated from the east and settled at the plain at Shinar, they attempted to build a tower with its top in the heavens that they might make a name for themselves and not be scattered across the face of the earth. Just like Adam and Eve, they wanted to be like God. They thought this was the way that they would work their way up to God. The Lord confuses their language and scatters them across the face of the earth.
The people of Sodom and Gomorrah bowed down the idol of their own sinful lust. They believed that they should be able to live as they pleased. Their chosen lifestyle, though, was contrary to God’s design. It was one that destroyed marriages and families. For this, the Lord rained down sulfur from the heavens. Only Lot and his daughters survived.
At the base of Mount Sinai, right as Moses as is receiving the two tablets of the Law from God Himself, the people of Israel attribute their deliverance from Egypt to a handmade golden calf. If not for Moses’ intervention, the entire nation would have been wiped out on the spot. As it was, thousands died for their sin of idolatry.
After the people of Israel arrive in the Promised Land, there are numerous examples of them falling into idolatry. That is, they bow down and worship false gods and give them glory for things that the Lord actually did. The Lord disciplines his people at every turn. During the time of the Judges, he would use the Philistines or the Midianites as his instrument. During the time of the kings, he would cause calamity to come upon the nation of Israel. Maybe it was military defeat at the hand of the Assyrians, Egyptians, or Babylonians. Maybe it was civil war. Ultimately, though, it was exile. The message that God sends is clear: there is only one way to be saved. You can’t do it on your own and no other god or gods will do. Choosing an alternative pathway will not lead to salvation, but will lead to certain destruction instead.
This does not please God at all, though. It’s not like he doesn’t want people to be saved. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Lord desires as many to be saved as possible. This is illustrated well in our Gospel for today.
Jesus tells a parable of a king giving a wedding feast for his son. The “save the date” cards are sent out and when the time for the feast finally comes, the king send out his men to personally call all those who were invited to come to the feast. To turn down such an invitation is complete foolishness. This is the king we’re talking about, for goodness sake! On top of that, this is not like an invitation to a birthday party or something like that where you’re expected to bring a gift. The message of the king is clear to those who are invited: “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready.” There’s nothing left to do. Just show up.
But those who are invited do ignore the invitation. Jesus says that some of them went back to their farm or business. The things of this world have become their idols. They look to them for all good rather than to God alone. Worse than that, though, there are others who not only don’t come when invited, but they kill the messengers. Jesus is speaking here about God’s people in the Old Testament and how they treated the prophets who came bearing the promise of the Messiah. Not only do the people not want to come when invited, but they hate the message of the prophets so much that they kill them. What will become of those who outright reject the invitation extended to them? The Lord will destroy them. It is not the Lord’s fault that these people are destroyed, though. It is their own fault. Remember, all was made ready for them. They have no excuse.
The king doesn’t want an empty banquet hall, though. So he sends out the messengers to find people anywhere and everywhere to come to the feast. The messengers invite everyone with whom they come into contact – both good and bad. This is reminiscent of the sower in the parable of the sower. The sower sows the seed indiscriminately. This is how the Lord is with the invitation to his banquet. So intent is he on having a full banquet hall that he extends his invitation to all people.
Ah, but what about this fellow who’s wearing the wrong clothes? Seems rather harsh to bind him hand and foot and toss him out of the feast, doesn’t it? What did he do that was so wrong?
He wanted to get into the feast on his own terms. That was his problem. Yes, he was an invited guest, but even invited guests come only under the terms that the king sets. When one tries to enter into the kingdom of heaven on their own terms, they try to come in based on what they have or haven’t done. They point to their works or to their avoidance of sin.
Think about it this way: How would you answer the question, “How do you know that you’re going to be saved on the Last Day?” So often the answer that we give to that question has something to do with what we have or haven’t done. Perhaps we might say, “I’m a pretty good person.” Maybe we might even point specifically to good work or quality within us. We might think that we’ve done a pretty good job at avoiding this or that sin and we’ve done this or that good work in our community.
In the end, though, these things don’t amount to much. If we’re trying to point out or own good works or our own lack of sin or something like that, we’re trying to gain salvation on our own terms. We’re trying to enter the wedding feast wearing our own pathetic garments, but the problem is that our garments don’t cover over our shame well enough. Adam and Eve sewed together crude fig leafs to make clothing to hide their shame. It didn’t work. Neither will our efforts to cover ourselves over and present ourselves to our heavenly Father. We need a better garment than that.
The fellow that got thrown out had no excuse. The garment that he was to wear was readily available to him. Likewise, you’ve been provided with a garment that covers over your sin. This garment was won for you by Jesus at the cross and given to you in your baptism. In the baptismal rite, a white garment is placed on the one being baptized to signify that Christ’s death covers over all the sins of the one being baptized. This is your wedding garment. This is the only garment that will successfully cover over your sins. Nothing else will do. This garment is exclusive, but it is free. All the work to earn it has been done for you by Jesus. When you enter the wedding feast on the Last Day wearing this garment, the one that Jesus won for you, you have nothing to fear. For in Christ your sins are covered. There is only one name under heaven by which men can be saved.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.