The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 23A (October 12, 2014)
Lessons:Isaiah 25:1-9 Psalm 23 Philippians 4:1-9 Saint Matthew 22:1-14
Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm: Exodus 32:1-14 Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
Prayer of the Day: Lord of the feast, you have prepared a table before all peoples and poured out your life with abundance. Call us again to your banquet. Strengthen us by what is honorable, just and pure, and transform us into a people of righteousness and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
22.1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
St. Matthew 22:1-14, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
The Parable of the Wedding Feast. The anger of the king. The rejection (even destruction) of those whose response is inadequate. At first glance, this is an incredibly difficult parable to understand. We find ourselves with so many questions:
- What does it mean that the banquet invitees reject the king’s invitation?
- What does it mean that they mistreat and kill the messengers?
- What does it mean that the king destroys them and their city?
- What does it mean that the king declares the first ones invited to be “unworthy?”
- What does it mean when the guest without a wedding robe is thrown to where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in the darkness?
It seems that God (The king usually represents God in a parable, right?) is depicted here as mean and vindictive, destroying everyone who fails to respond to the invitation; in fact, even rejecting one who responds to the invitation in a way that isn’t quite correct.
Undoubtably this parable has spawned a great deal of “fire and brimstone” preaching. And sadly, too many Christians have concluded that this parable is about God (the king?) punishing the first invitees (the Jews?) for rejecting and killing the messenger (Jesus?). This may well have been how St. Matthew understood the situation. After all, it is not coincidental that this week’s passage follows the last verses of chapter 21 where Jesus refers to himself as “the stone that the builders rejected [which] has become the cornerstone,” followed by St. Matthew’s interpretation:
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. [St. Matthew 21:46-47]
So this passage can hardly be understood as anything other than a shot across the bow of those religious leaders who will reject, and eventually condemn, Jesus. Perhaps even an effort by Matthew to give meaning to the difficulties God’s people (those who believed in Jesus and those who didn’t) were having in the first century.
But the bottom line, for us, can never be that this passage points out the shortcomings of some group other than us, whether the group exists now, or existed 2,000 years ago. The truth is (as the parable indicates), God invites all: the good and the bad. God’s invitation is extended to us: at our best and at our worst. And like the invitees in the parable, the invitation awaits a faithful response.
God has invited us to join the feast. A place has been set at the table for each of us. And if we fail to show up, it will break God’s heart. Some may be inclined to focus on the fate of those who absent themselves. Myself: I am happy to focus on the wonder that God continues, still, to extend the invitation to me. And I am grateful for to the chance to join the festivities.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- Who rejects Jesus’ invitation in the Gospels? In the life of the early church?
- What is Jesus’ attitude toward those who reject and condemn him?
- How do his followers continue this ministry of invitation after he departs?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- How have I been invited to join the feast? Who has shared this with me?
- How might we learn from Jesus, as we think about those who don’t believe today?
- Who would I like to invite to the party?