1. This Gospel presents to us the parable of the wedding; therefore
we are compelled to understand it differently than it sounds and appears
to the natural ear and eye. Hence we will give attention to the spiritual
meaning of the parable, and then notice how the text has been torn and
[The following sermon is taken from volume V:227-235
of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids,
MI, 1983). It was originally published in 1905 in English by Lutherans
in All Lands (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of
Martin Luther, vol. 14. This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard
Bucher, it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed
2. First, the King, who prepared the marriage feast, is our heavenly
Father. The bridegroom is his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The bride is
the Christian Church, we and the whole world, in so far as we believe,
of which we shall hear later.
3. God first sent out his servants, the Prophets to invite guests to
this wedding; they were to bid them, that is, preach, and preach only faith
in Christ. But those invited did not come; they were the Jews, to whom
the Prophets were sent, they would not hear nor receive those sent to them.
At another time he sent other servants, the Apostles and martyrs, to bid
us come, and to say to the bidden guests, "Behold, I have made ready my
dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come
to the marriage feast."
4. These words beautifully picture to us and teach how we should make
use of the life of the saints; namely, to introduce examples by which the
doctrine of the Gospel may be confirmed, so that we may the better, by
the aid of such examples and lives, meditate upon Christ, and be nourished
by and feast upon him as upon fatlings and well fed oxen. This is the reason
he calls them fatlings. Take an example: Paul teaches in Rom. 3, 23f. how
the bride is full of sin and must be sprinkled by the blood of Christ alone,
or she will continue unclean, that is, she must only believe that the blood
of Christ was shed for her sins, and there is no other salvation possible.
Then he beautifully introduces the example of Abraham and confirms the
doctrine of faith by the faith and life of Abraham, and says, 4, 3: "And
Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness."
That is a true ox, it is properly slain, it nourishes us, so that we become
grounded and strengthened in our faith by the example and faith of Abraham.
Again, soon after Paul lays before us a fine fatling, when he cites David
the Prophet of God and proves from him, that God does not justify us by
virtue of our works, but by faith, when he says, Rom. 4, 6-8: "Even as
David also pronounceth blessing upon the man, unto whom God reckoneth righteousness
apart from works," saying in Ps. 32, 1-2: "Blessed are they whose iniquities
are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin." Behold, that
fattens and nourishes in the true sense, when we use the example and doctrine
of pious saints to confirm our own doctrine and faith. And this is the
true honor that we can give to the saints. Follow now further in this Gospel:
5. "But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm,
another to his merchandise; and the rest laid hold on his servants, and
treated them shamefully, and killed them." These are the three barriers
that prevent us from coming to the marriage feast. The first, or the farm,
signifies our honor; it is a great hindrance that we do not think of Christ
and believe in him; we fear we must suffer shame and become dishonored,
and we do not believe that God can protect us from shame and preserve us
in honor. The second go to their spheres of business, that is, they fall
with their hearts into their worldly affairs, into avarice, and when they
should cleave to the Word, they worry lest they perish and their stomachs
fail them; they do not trust God to sustain them. The third class are the
worst, they are the high, wise and prudent, the exalted spirits, they not
only despise but martyr and destroy the servants; in order to retain their
own honor and praise, yea, in order to be something. For the Gospel must
condemn their wisdom and righteousness and curse their presumption. This
they cannot suffer; therefore they go ahead and kill the servants who invited
them to the dinner and the marriage feast. They were the Pharisees and
scribes, who put to death both Christ and his Apostles, as their fathers
did the Prophets. These are much worse than the first and second classes,
who, although they despised and rejected the invitation, yet then went
away and neither condemned nor destroyed the servants.
6. Further, the Gospel says: "But the king was wroth; and he sent his
armies and destroyed those murderers, and burned their city." That happened
to the Jews through the Romans under Titus and Vespasian, who burned Jerusalem
to the ground, to its very foundation. However I prefer to have it understood
spiritually, since the whole Gospel is to be explained spiritually. Hence
this came to pass when God totally destroyed and burned to the ground the
synagogue at Jerusalem, he entirely abandoned faith, scattered the people
hither and thither, so that none remained together and they were robbed
both of their priesthood and of their kingdom; so that there is not now
a poorer, a more miserable and forsaken people on the earth than the Jews.
Such is the end of the despisers of God's Word.
7. It now follows: "Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready,
but they that were bidden were not worthy." This has also come to pass;
for the Jews have not desired to know anything at all of Christ; they put
him to death, also the Prophets and Apostles, and from that time to the
present they have not been worthy to hear a word concerning Christ.
8. Further: "Then he said to them, Go ye therefore unto the partings
of the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage feast."
Hence they went out into the highways, namely, to us heathen, and gathered
us together from the ends of the world into a congregation, in which are
good and bad.
9. Then the King goes in to behold the guests. This will take place
on the day of judgment, when the King will let himself be seen.
10. Then he will find one, not only a single person, but a large company
not clothed with a wedding garment, that is, with faith. These are pious
people, much better than the foregoing; for you must consider them the
ones who have heard and understood the Gospel, yet they cleaved to certain
works and did not creep entirely into Christ; like the foolish virgins,
who had no oil, that is, no faith.
11. To them the King will say: "Bind him hand and foot, and cast him
out into the outer darkness," that is, he condemns their good works, that
they no longer avail anything; for the hands signify their work, the feet
their walk in life, and he will then cast them into the outer darkness.
12. Now, this outer darkness is in contrast with the inner light, since
faith alone must see within the heart. There our light, our reason must
be covered and cease, and faith alone lighten us. For if a person will
act according to reason and open it, there is nothing but death, hell and
sin before his eyes. Reason then considers itself a candidate for death;
yet it finds no help in any creature, all is a desert and dark. Therefore
reason must be barred out here, or it must despair and surrender itself
as a captive to the light of faith alone. This same light then sees that
it is God in heaven who is interested in us, who cares for us, upon whom
the heart can meditate, who rejects all aid of reason and depends upon
no creature; then man will be sustained. Now this is the sense of the words,
that those cast thus into outer darkness will be robbed of faith, and thus
cast out. Since they do not cleave to God's mercy alone through faith,
they must despair and be condemned.
13. Let us now briefly notice what is taught by this marriage feast.
First, this marriage feast is a union of the divine nature with the human.
And the great love Christ has for us is presented to us in this picture
of the wedding feast. For there are many kinds of love, but none is so
ardent and fervent as a bride's love, the love a new bride has to her bridegroom,
and on the other hand, the bridegroom's love to the bride. True love has
no regard for pleasures or presents, or riches, or gold rings and the like;
but cares only for the bridegroom. And if he even gave her all he had,
she would regard none of his presents, but say: I will have only thee.
And if on the other hand he has nothing at all, it makes no difference
with her, she will in spite of all that desire him. That is the true nature
of the love of a bride. But where one has regard to pleasure, it is harlot-love;
she does not care for him, but for the money; therefore such love does
not last long.
14. This true bride-love God presented to us in Christ, in that he allowed
him to become man for us and be united with our human nature that we might
thus perceive and appreciate his good will toward us. Now, as the bride
loves her betrothed, so also does Christ love us; and we on the other hand
will love him, if we believe and are the true bride. And although he gave
us even heaven, the wisdom of all the Prophets, the glory of all the saints
and angels, yet we would not esteem them unless he gave us himself. The
bride can be satisfied by nothing, is insatiable, the only one thing she
wants is the bridegroom himself; as she says in the Song of Solomon, 2,
16: "My beloved is mine, and I am his." She cannot rest until she has her
beloved himself. So is Christ also on the other hand disposed toward me:
he will have me only, and besides nothing. And if I gave him even all I
could, it would be of no use to him; he would have no regard for it, even
if I wore all the hoods of all the monks. He wants my whole heart; for
the outward things, as the outward virtues, are only maid servants, he
wants the wife herself. He demands, that I say from the bottom of my heart:
I am thine. The union and the marriage are accomplished by faith, so that
I rely fully and freely upon him, that he is mine. If I only have him,
what can I desire more?
15. Now, what do we give to him? An impure bride, a dirty, old, wrinkled
outcast. But he is the eternal wisdom, the eternal truth, the eternal light,
an exceptionally beautiful youth. What does he give us then? Himself, wholly
and completely. He does not cut a piece off for me or give me a little
morsel, but the whole fountain of eternal wisdom, not a little brooklet.
If then I am thus his and he mine, I have eternal life, righteousness and
all that belongs to him. Therefore I am righteous, saved, and in a sense
that neither death, sin, hell, nor satan can harm me. If he gave me only
a part of his wisdom, righteousness and life, I would say: That is of no
help to me, but I want thee, without thee nothing is real and true. When
he gives me his servants, his Prophets, he gives me only a part and a morsel;
the gifts are only concubines, among whom there is only one who is the
true bride. They are distinguished thus: there are many souls to whom gifts
are made, as, wisdom, love and the like; but they are not the true brides,
for they do not say, Thou art mine: but they court your purse on the side,
for they love the gifts. But the true bride says: Thee alone will I have,
thou art mine, and not the ring, not the jewel, not the present. The above
is all spoken of love.
16. Now, what do we bring to him? Nothing but all our heart-aches, all
our misfortunes, sins, misery and lamentations. He is the eternal light,
we the eternal darkness; he the life, we death; he righteousness, we sin.
This is a marriage that is very unequal. But what does the bridegroom do?
He is so fastidious that he will not dwell with his bride until he first
adorns her in the highest degree. How is that done? The Apostle Paul teaches
that when he says in Tit. 3, 5-6: "He gave his tender body unto death for
them and sprinkled them with his holy blood and cleansed them through the
washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit." He instituted
a washing; that washing is baptism, with which he washes her. More than
this, he has given to her his Word; in that she believes and through her
faith she becomes a bride. The bridegroom comes with all his treasures;
but I come with all my sins, with all my misery and heart-griefs. But because
this is a marriage and a union, in the sense that they become one flesh,
Gen. 2, 24; Mat. 19, 5, and they leave father and mother and cleave to
one another, they should embrace each other and not disown one another,
although one is even a little sick and awkward; for what concerns one,
the other must also bear.
17. Therefore, the bride says, I am thine, thou must have me; then he
must at the same time take all my misfortune upon himself. Thus then are
my sins eternal righteousness, my death eternal life, my hell heaven; for
these two, sin and righteousness, cannot exist together, nor heaven and
hell. Are we now to come together the one must consume and melt the other
in order that we may be united and become one. Now his righteousness is
truly incomparably stronger than my sins, and his life unmeasurably stronger
than my death; for he is life itself where all life must be kindled, Therefore
my death thus vanishes in his life, my sins in his righteousness and my
condemnation in his salvation. Here my sin is forced between the hammer
and the anvil, so that it perishes and vanishes. For now since my sin,
my filth is taken away he must adorn and clothe me with his eternal righteousness
and with all his grace until I become beautiful; for I am his bride. Thus
then I appropriate to myself all that he has, as he takes to himself all
that I have; as the Prophet Ezekiel 16, 6f says: "I passed by thee, and
thou wast naked, and thy breasts were fashioned and were marriageable;
then I spread my skirts over thee and covered thy nakedness, gave thee
my Word and put on thee beautiful red shoes." Here he relates many kind
acts he did for her; and later he complains in verse 15, how she became
a harlot. He tells us all this, that he clothed us with his riches and
that we of ourselves have nothing. Whoso does not here lay hold of this
as sure, that he has nothing of himself, but only Christ's riches and cannot
without doubt say, Thou art mine, he is not yet a Christian.
18. Now since Christ is mine and I am his: if Satan rages, I have Christ
who is my life; does sin trouble me, I have Christ who is my righteousness;
do hell and perdition attack me, I have Christ, who is my salvation. Thus,
there may rage within whatever will, if I have Christ, to him I can look
so that nothing can harm me. And this union of the divine with the human
is pointed out in the picture here of the marriage feast, and the exalted
love God has to us, in the love of the bride.
19. Now the wedding garment is Christ himself, which is put on by faith,
as the Apostle says in Rom. 13, 14: "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ."
Then the garment gives forth a lustre of itself, that is, faith in Christ
bears fruit of itself, namely, love which works through faith in Christ.
These are the good works, that also flash forth from faith, and entirely
gratuitously do they go forth, they are done alone for the good of our
neighbor; otherwise they are heathenish works, if they flow not out of
faith; they will later come to naught and be condemned, and be cast into
the outermost darkness.
20. This is indicated here in the binding of his hands and feet. The
hands, as said, are the works, the feet the manner of life in which he
trusted and failed thus to cling to Christ alone. For we blame him that
he had not on the wedding garment, that is, Christ; therefore he must perish
with his works; for they did not sparkle forth from faith, from the garment.
Hence will you do good works, then believe first; if you will bear fruit,
then be a tree first, later the fruit will follow of itself.
21. The mistake is also readily observed here, by which many have perverted
the Gospel in that they say: Although the Pope and his following are wicked,
yet we must obey him and acknowledge him as the head of Christendom. Let
him do what he may, and yet he cannot err, and although he may not have
on the wedding garment, nevertheless he is in the congregation. But they
are not so good that one might compare them to the one who had not on the
wedding garment. They are the villains and murderers who killed the servants
of the King; and even if they were worthy to be compared to him, yet the
Gospel in this parable does not teach us to follow them, but to cast them
out and protect ourselves against them. For whoever has not on the wedding
garment does not belong to the congregation, is filth, like the slime,
pus, and ulcers in the body; it is indeed in the body, but it is no part
of the healthy body. Counterfeits are among money, but they are not money;
chaff is among the wheat, but it is not wheat; so these are among Christians,
but they are not Christians. This is sufficient on to- day's Gospel. Let
us pray God for grace, that none of us may come to such a precious and
glorious marriage feast without a wedding garment.