19th Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 25:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14
This gospel reading is a tough one. Someone has said that religion is supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. If that’s true this parable certainly does the second – if you really read it, these words from Jesus afflict the comfortable. All parables are meant to shake us up and make us ask hard questions about God and ourselves. This one really does that. And there is no way to make this parable easier and still do justice to it. One commentator said that if it were to be made into a movie it would be a horror film.
Back in the time of Jesus, and maybe even today, being invited to a royal wedding was something that brought more honor to a person and their family more than any other kind of event. Especially if it was the wedding of the king’s son. It’s the kind of thing you would put on your calendar, circle in red, and show up no matter what else might be going on in your life or in the world.
But that’s not what happened in this story....
The king had sent his slaves out to invite guests to his son’s wedding banquet. But, it says, they would not come. In other words, the king was being ignored by everyone. Who knows, maybe he was not a good king, but snubbing the king was not something that anyone should try, especially this king, as the story goes on to show.
The snubbing of a king was not something that could be taken lightly. It was a shameful thing for the king and he had no choice really, but to try to remedy it. So, he sent out more slaves to try again to tell the people that the banquet was already prepared; that everything was ready. But they made light of it and went back to their everyday life. Except for some of them who killed the king’s slaves.
Understandably, the king was angry. So he sent his troops, killed those who killed his slaves and burned down their city.
Finally, the king sent his slaves out to the streets to invite everyone, both good and bad, to the wedding feast. And, finally, he wedding hall was filled with guests.
But then, the king noticed that someone wasn’t dressed properly. They were not wearing a wedding robe, so the king had that person bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And then we are left with the words, ‘for many are called, but few are chosen.’
As I said before, this gospel reading is a tough one.
And so we have tried to soften it a bit. And the way we have let ourselves hear this story is that the king is God, the son or bridegroom is Jesus, the wedding feast is the heavenly feast, the rejected slaves are the prophets no one listened to in the OT, the guests invited first were the Jews and the guests who finally came from the streets were the gentiles. Us. That way when we get to the last line of the parable, “For many are called, but few are chosen,” we can relax. Because we figure we are the chosen.
But there is more to this story than even that. This story feeds anti-Semitism. Having understood the story this way for so long we end up believing that the Jews were getting it all wrong and the Christian church ends up looking faithful and even deserving of the banquet. Those who were in Adult Forum last week looked at some of the things Martin Luther wrote about the Jews and found it quite appalling and disgusting. Perhaps that all comes from a place of Christians privilege.
Then combine that with what this story imagines God to be like. If the God is represented by the king that makes God kind of petty and really into a violent anger. You have to wonder if we actually believe in a God who is as awful as this king is? The obvious answer is ‘no.’
But our actions have not always shown that. Throughout history a lot of people – Jews, Mulsims, Native Americans, to name a few – have suffered because of an image of a God who is angry, who demands perfection, who is a small-minded tyrant, who is stingy with grace. We might not see God that way, but we all know someone who has experienced the church as being judgmental and unwelcoming and unloving. That perception does not come from nowhere.
One of the commentaries I looked at said that there are no helpful nuggets of wisdom that can be applied in this parable. That it is simply an unsettling parable of disobedience and divine retribution. You might be ready to agree with that at this point.
But we still have the banquet. In fact, the table is set right here in front of us. And we are here, we have accepted the invitation. And even though we may or may not have a direct role to play in making God out to be vengeful or petty or just plain mean and nasty, this table is set for us. This heavenly banquet here on earth and the heavenly banquet, the feast of victory is set already for all of God’s children, including us.
And no matter what each one’s spiritual journey has been like, we know that there is far more to God than what this king in this parable is like. We know the God that Jesus has shown us. Our God who loves all of creation and who wants and has promised life to all of creation. We know that God desires and gives life to all. And when we forget that we have the Word and the Sacraments to remind us. We have our bothers and sisters ro remind us. Because we will forget. And we will fall back into thinking, consciously or not, that God is kind of like the king after all.
So, we are still left to wonder, who are the chosen? I know I’d like to be one.
Maybe the chosen are the ones who have figured out that just showing up on Sunday mornings is not enough any more. Maybe the chosen are the ones who have figured out, or at least kind of understand, that the Kingdom of Heaven is now and here. Not someday, far, far away. Maybe the chosen are the ones who do all they can to make sure our own tables are open to everyone. The chosen are the ones who care more about showing radical love and grace and hospitality rather than doing it, whatever it is, right.
That is certainly how Jesus preached and taught and lived and died and rose again. He lived showing life and love to all, especially those who are usually left out.
Maybe the chosen are the people mentioned in the reading from Isaiah. A people who know and tell of a God who promises to get rid of the disgrace of the people and to wipe away all the tears from all faces. A refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. A people who know and tell that God will and already has, swallowed up death forever.”
The chosen are the ones who make this God known.
Today, in this world where fundamental things like health care and peace and concern for the poor seem to be eliminated daily by the stroke of a pen or a tweet on a phone, perhaps we are the chosen after all. Not because we get it all right or have all the answers, but because we know, we have seen glimpses of our God, who desires life and love for the world.
And God knows us and love us and the world more than we’ll ever be able comprehend.
This parable is a tough one. But it doesn’t end there. We have this meal, this banquet already set. This banquet meal right here and yet to come.
Come and be fed for the work ahead. Come and be fed for sharing the Good News that we have seen and heard and eaten.