“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting for costly grace.” That’s how Dietrich Bonhoeffer begins his classic work The Cost Of Discipleship. It could also in some ways sum up Jesus’s parable of the Wedding Banquet recorded in Matthew 22.
Jesus in the last week of his life. The triumphal entry has happened. The tables in the Temple have been overturned. Jesus has cursed the fig tree because it isn’t bearing fruit as a sign to the Jewish leaders that they are in danger because they are also not bearing fruit. He then begins to tell this parable about a king who has prepared a wedding banquet for his son. However, when he begins to send out the invitations, the invited guests reject the invite. Some come up with excuses of why they can not make it, but many just refuse. This can only be interpreted as an insult to both the son and the King. To refuse an invitation was almost unheard of, unless one was trying to shame the host. These villagers are rejecting the gifts of the king and want nothing to do with the son.
The message of the parable at this point is clear. The Jewish leaders have rejected the Son and in so doing have rejected the Father. Just as the King in the story goes and destroys the cities where the invited guests live, the Jewish leaders will be punished for rejecting the Son.
Yet all is not lost. The King still has a party to throw and so he sends his servants into the cities and towns to invite everyone they see to the banquet. The king welcomes in both the good and the bad, he simply wants the banquet hall to be full. There are no requirements for entry. There is no test that needs to be completed or a mission to be accomplished. The invitation is out of grace, and must be received as such.
This is typically the part of the story we like. We know that grace is what saves. We recognize our own sinfulness and we know that we will never be worthy. While we may not want to be included with the low and poor of society, we also know that we will never earn salvation and we are grateful for the gift of grace that has been offered free of charge.
But the story does not end here. Jesus goes on to mention a man walking around the banquet not wearing proper clothes. At first we wonder, why would the king get mad at him for not having proper clothes? Maybe he didn’t own any nice clothes. Maybe he didn’t have time to go back and change. Yet when questioned the man is silent. He is not dressed this way by accident, he has chosen to remain in filthy clothes. He has accepted the invitation but nothing about his life has changed. And that is the problem. The gift of grace is free, but in order to be accepted, it requires discipleship.
Too often we settle for cheap grace. Bonhoeffer says that “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without repentance, or baptism without church disciple. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, Grace without Jesus Christ.” Too often, we are content with cheap grace. We want the gifts of God and we want forgiveness, but we don’t always want to put in the effort to change. Discipleship is hard. Being transformed into the image of Jesus is hard. It requires us to wrestle with the darkest parts of our being and turn them over to God. It means that we can’t settle for being good enough, but we have to continually walk through the refiners fire; allowing the fire to make us pure and holy. This takes effort and it’s not always pleasant. Yet to remain as we are means rejection by God and removal from the banquet. As difficult as it may be, discipleship requires costly grace.
The parable of the Wedding Banquet is not just a parable saying we have been invited to this great banquet that we could never earn so come celebrate. Instead, it is a parable that reminds us that we have been invited into a way of life, that while free, will ultimately cost us everything. But only in dying can we ever really live, so embrace it and live it out in response to the gracious King who has provided all.