Note: This sermon was given for St. John’s Episcopal Church, Murray KY on October 11, 2020.
Readings: Matthew 22:1-14
Where is the good news in today’s parable?
It seems like Jesus has really handed us a doozie. First, the king in this parable invites all to a feast; a number of his friends say “no thank you.” At the king’s repeated insistence, some turn to the everyday aspects of life; farming, business; while others slaughter the king’s servants, his messengers. The king gets angry; he burns the city and denotes his original guests as ‘not worthy.’ So the king broadens his invitation; he invites everyone. So all people, good and bad, come to the banquet. Then, the king spots one of these new guests without a wedding robe, and challenges him on it. The challenge goes unmet- it renders the new guest speechless, and the king orders him thrown out.
Where is the good news?
Unlike doctrine or dogma, parables are not straightforward. They invite our attention, consternation, interpretation, and re-interpretation throughout the ages. Old interpretations must be revisited, or, to use the language of the parable, destroyed and burned.
One old interpretation considers this parable to be about Christians and the Jewish people. The Jewish people denied the invitation of the king (GOD) to the wedding banquet for the son (Jesus). They saw the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE, a few decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection as God’s righteous activity in response to Jewish unfaithfulness. They then see the new guests as themselves, the Christians, who are invited in to the banquet and fill the room.
This interpretation is deeply flawed- it leads to a dismissal of our Jewish ancestors as well as our contemporary Jewish siblings. If we look at the whole of scripture, it does not line up. For as Paul says, we Christians are a branch, grafted onto the tree of the people of God. We are not planted on top of the people of God, or a weed that chokes the original life until it fades away. Christians does not replace the Jewish people; instead, Christians are called to live in relationship with Jewish people. Our Christian task is not to convince our Jewish siblings why we worship Jesus. Our Christian task is to have faith in Jesus in the first place.
When Jesus tells these parables, both this week’s parable of the wedding banquet, and last weeks parable of the wicked tenants, he is telling the story not to his followers but to his enemies. That changes the way we must read these parables as his followers. Reading these parables entails planting ourselves outside of the category of “the faithful,” whatever that category means to us. It opens the possibility that we are the wicked tenants, or that we are the guests who refuse the King’s invitation. It means seeing that we are the ones who dismiss the servants of God, the prophets, and the saints. We are the ones who fall short of the kingdom, who turn away from God and go to our own farms, our own business, our own political party. We are the ones who place our trust in our own power over God’s power.
Yet there is also hope in these parables. We see invitation to God’s kingdom extended repeatedly. First, to the wicked tenants. God sends for them repeatedly, even to the point that he sends his own son to be rejected, a sacrifice for the whole world. When God invites us to the great wedding banquet in the kingdom, he invites us not once, but twice; and then when the faithful reject him he continues to extend the invitation throughout the city. God brings in the good and the bad. God invites all to God’s wedding banquet.
The truth is that we are unprepared and unequipped. A guest comes in without a wedding robe; perhaps the guest is not “clothed with Christ” as Paul says. By “clothing ourselves with Christ,” we accept the call of our Baptism. We all become one with Christ Jesus. In our Baptismal covenant, we renounce Satan and the forces of wickedness, and we pledge ourselves to new life in Christ. We are asked specifically: “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” And we say I will. with God’s help. We know that we will fall short of the glory of God. We do every day. Yet when we fall short, we are asked to repent and return to the Lord.
God chooses us all. God extends invitation to all of us to join in God’s abundant feast. But it is not as simple as accepting an invitation to a feast. God intends for us to be transformed. However we come to the table is not how we will stay. Accepting God’s merciful invitation involves repentance. It involves looking for the fruits of the spirit, as in Galatians, or “clothing ourselves with compassion, bearing with one another, forgiving each other,” as in Colossians. It involves loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves. In our virtual lives these days, it means finding new ways to show up for other people. It involves moving the college kids into the office, because otherwise they’ll have no where to lay their heads. It involves making sure everyone has food on the table, even amidst rising unemployment and a pandemic. It involves striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.
The Good News is that we are all invited to the banquet. Good or bad, we are invited over and over again. Yet we are also challenged, deeply challenged. We always have the opportunity to not show up. Showing up requires sacrifice. It requires clothing ourselves in Christ, who himself went to that place of outer darkness mentioned at the end of the parable. Yet Christ went willingly, and Christ calls us to go willingly as well; to be clothed in Christ, to take up the cross and follow him, that is not an easy road. It is a hard one; yet it is the road that leads to abundant life.