“Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.”
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the interest of full disclosure.
When I was in my twenties, my friends and I “crashed” a wedding reception; actually, we were the second tier of invitees. And yes, we accepted without knowing the happy couple and most of the guests. A friend’s relative was hosting a wedding and a number of people didn’t show up at the reception, so the host put out a last-minute call for guests to enjoy the feast that was already paid for, and just like the second tier guests in today’s Gospel, we donned our wedding finest, ate, drank, danced and had a blast.
This is truly a Gospel story that I could personally relate to, though no one was bound and thrown into the outer darkness, at least that I can remember.
The wedding banquet in today’s Gospel is a summary account of a central teaching found throughout all scripture. God desires and continually renews his covenant relationship with all peoples.
Mirroring the relationship between Yahweh and God’s people throughout his own Jewish tradition, Jesus uses allegories to explain the terms of this covenant and what it means to be in right relationship with God and God’s People.
It’s hard to see beyond all the mayhem, isn’t it?
In last week’s Gospel, the parable of the opportunistic tenants and absent landowner, the tenants killed the landowner’s emissaries, even his son. The landowner put those wretches to a miserable death and leased the vineyard to more cooperative tenants.
And, in today’s Gospel, Jesus begins by telling us that the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a King who gave a wedding banquet for his son. Sending his emissaries to call those who have been invited, more mayhem ensues. All of the invited guests refused to attend and some seized the King’s slaves, mistreated and murdered them. The King angrily decrees murder and destruction.
And if not enough, the King has a guest bound, thrown into the outer darkness, where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Does all of this drama, a feast in disarray, reflect what God desires?
Is all of this reflective of the Kingdom of Heaven?
Surely these sound like potential scripts for The Game of Thrones ninth season!
Last week’s parable and the two allegorical parables that comprise today’s reading are very challenging, uncomfortable for those of us who identify as Christians to comprehend.
Yet, the idea of God’s rule imagined as a great banquet was foundational to Jewish literature of the time, holding great banquets for their subjects was a routine practice of ancient Kings, the idea of God feeding and caring for God’s people was a tightly held belief by those who waited for the Messiah to come. Once again, it’s not surprising we find Jesus using the relatable and familiar to teach.
Matthew is bringing his own spin to the story, however.
A version of this parable in Luke is a gentler tale of humility and God’s radical hospitality. The host is disappointed when the invited guests don’t come, so he invites others. Matthew adds horrific, sensational and almost hyperbolic details to the story, the King is enraged, sends troops to kill, to destroy their city, then invites others. And in the second parable, a man is debased and exiled into darkness for failing to follow social convention. These details are not without a shocking purpose.
Matthew is writing for a community that has had their society pillaged by men of hubris, who believe that they are so powerful that nothing can bring them down. In fact, they act on trying to destroy anyone who threatens their power, is deemed weak, and refuses to believe in what will continue to bolster their authority. Everything they hold sacred as a society has been pillaged, boundaries have been crossed, social conventions are ignored, honored norms and mores continue to be disregarded and the demarcation of the line of decent words, actions and behaviors is constantly crossed.
I challenge anyone to debate the Gospel is not a living message for our days too.
There is no room for complacency in these parables, there’s no room for complacency today.
A bold response is very much in order.
The Swiss theologian Karl Barth sums it up this way, “In the last resort, it all boils down to the fact that the invitation is to a feast, and he who does not obey and come accordingly, and therefore festively, declines and spurns the invitation no less than those who are unwilling to obey and appear at all.”
We are invited to God’s banquet; some do not accept the invitation, some prevent others from having a seat at the table, some attack the messengers that bring the invitation of God’s inclusive welcome to all people.
Now more than ever, my friends, with time slipping away, we need to do more than show up, we need to openly live the Gospel.
To do more than show up because we see something new, hear something new, think about something new and want to make it all possible, not just for ourselves, but for all.
To do more than show up because we have a desire to enter into God’s covenant and to reestablish our world on the foundation of our Gospel teachings.
Blessed are all lives, most especially those who live with discrimination, prejudice and scorn, those lives others say don’t matter.
Blessed are those who die on our streets, in our classrooms, the victims of a society where guns proliferate in the wrong hands.
Blessed are those who are ill, who die because of indifference to public health, and a lack of world-class medical care for all.
Blessed are those who open themselves up to receive the lives of those deemed to be the other and accept them into their own lives, seeing, hearing, embracing, advocating, transforming their lives as beloved Children of God.
Blessed are those whose gifts we don’t welcome because they come from different places, different cultures, deemed less than others, judged by our false demarcation of acceptable countries.
Blessed are those whom we have separated and have caused pain and loss.
Blessed are they who are hungry, lonely, and thirsty without proper clothes.
Blessed are they who are frightened, are sad and grieving.
Blessed are those who don’t share our abundance.
Blessed are they who suffer injustice and are denied mercy.
Blessed are they whose deaths don’t seem to matter.
In this Gospel, we are shocked into seeing the potential of the world differently, in knowing that God’s reign looks nothing like the world that surrounds us this day, that God’s bestows on us lives of grace, acceptance and invitation. And expects us to bear these into our world, through our words, our actions, and our response to evil.
Blessed are we – when we recognize hubris and confront it. When we hear lies and are steadfast in proclaiming truth–when we accept God’s invitation to love all God’s people, to care for all of God’s Creation, and step up to confront those who say otherwise, who try to stifle our message.
Blessed are we when we show our willingness to scale the mountaintop, to proclaim our truth from the heights.
Blessed are we when we go into the main streets to advocate for justice and invite everyone we find to the wedding banquet.
Blessed are we – even when time is short, when impatience and frustration seem to rule, we remember our covenant and act. Believing and knowing all is possible, trusting in our loving God.
On this mountain, on this very day and in the days ahead, the Lord of hosts makes for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.
Let us go into the main streets across this land and invite the guests to the feast.