Pentecost + 19A
A & C 15-10-2017
Ex 32 1-14,
Ps 106 1-6, 20-24,
Phil 4 1-9,
Mt 22 1-14
Before the readings – introducing the parable of the wedding feast Mt 22.1-14
The first part of the parable is about people who abuse the King’s invitation to the wedding feast of his son. This is something like what we’ll see in today’s Exodus reading at the base of Mt Sinai – slaves rescued from Egypt reject their saviour and instead give their loyalty and worship to a counterfeit god. The King’s anger in the parable recalls God’s fury at the traitors at Mt Sinai.
The Psalm remembers the danger the Israelites provoked and how they were rescued from the consequences of their actions by Moses stepping in to plead for them. He doesn’t do it because of anything good about them, but because punishing them could tarnish God’s good name. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is very much a second Moses, pleading for us before God
In the parable, the King’s command to invite everyone – regardless of merit or relationship with him – is the offer of the Good News – the Gospel – to us: we are all invited to the wedding banquet, as close friends would be.
The single guest’s missing robe is described in the Philippians reading – the character of a guest seeking a genuine, living relationship with the host.
So the grace is there for all, but to receive it is to accept the challenge to change – to be sanctified – to grow into the likeness of Jesus.
We’ve accepted the invitation. But are we putting on the wedding garment?
We heard a parable today that Jesus tells the Jewish leaders of his time. It’s a life-and-death disputation, and Jesus wants to put the fear of God into them. In the first part of the parable, Jesus compares Israel with people who’ve accepted an invitation to a royal wedding feast, but on the day of the feast, they all refuse to come. Some actually kill the messengers sent to collect them. It’s a declaration of war on their King.
This recalls the way they’d treated the prophets that God had sent to call the Hebrew people to live faithfully. Naturally, the King is enraged and deals with the murderers – even destroys their city. For Matthew’s community, this would make them think of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE; they’d have seen this catastrophe as God’s judgement on Jerusalem.
Then the King in the parable commands something strange; everyone on the main streets is to be invited. This is our invitation; we Gentiles have been called to the heavenly banquet. God called us before we ever knew there was such a being.
But at the banquet, the King sees a guest who isn’t dressed appropriately; one of the people from the streets who’d been invited into the banquet. He is thrown out ‘…into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.” Jesus poses a question which confronts every one of us: who’ll be in, and who’ll be out at the last judgement. The parable tells us his answer with an enigmatic story of a guest without a wedding garment.
There’s one very plain message in this parable. Neither being on the invitation-list, nor even being on the inside – a baptised or an ordained member of the church – is any guarantee of salvation. So the message applies equally to me. Far from being able to grease the works for someone else, I might actually be the one found lacking the wedding garment in the end
In the parable, wearing a wedding garment shows a guest’s true relationship with God. It spells out the relationship publicly; it honours God’s invitation. In the context of Jesus’ argument with the Pharisees, not wearing it represents Israel’s neglect of their relationship with God. In the context of Matthew’s church community, wearing it represented the courage to be Christians in a hostile world and not just at church. It meant solidarity with Jesus who confronted hypocrisy and was prepared endure the cost of his own integrity. The way we wear our wedding garment is how the world is able to see what God is like. (Reflect on Jer 13?)
What might this parable say specifically to us about our path – about our integrity – about the way we portray God to the world? First, it seems to have an internal contradiction. Inviting everyone in from the streets seems to say come as you are. You’re fine as you are. The invitation is generous; broad. But it’s not an invitation to a come as you are party. It doesn’t make the mistakes of today’s self-esteem movement. It doesn’t pretend that “we’re just fine the way we are.” We’re not: some of us are troubled, confused, lonely, mortal – some of us may be criminals.
So this Gospel is not saying that all of us are just fine the way we are. Rather, it tells us how God loves us too much to leave us unchanged. The inclusiveness of the Kingdom is not just an easy tolerance. Jesus wants us in the Kingdom becoming the people he knows we can be, not stuck in the mess we so often make of ourselves.
Putting on the garment is a choice to open ourselves up to that grace. How do we exercise that choice – maintain it? The wedding garment is powerfully suggestive of a baptismal gown. So this Gospel is an open invitation to the wedding banquet of the Son, but the way in is through the waters of baptism. Those who truly accept the invitation will not reject the new and holy identity that God offers them. They’ll keep their baptismal promises. They’ll accept and wear the wedding garment.
Finally, the other aspect of this feasting is that we are called into fellowship with others of God’s children. And by God’s grace, we have the privilege and duty of being co-hosts; not just guests. We are the servants sent out to invite everyone.
Let me conclude with a prayer for all of us which Paul wrote as an exhortation to the first Church he ever founded on European soil: the Church in Philippi. Let’s receive it as a putting on of the wedding robe at the banquet to which we were invited, and to which we must invite others in love and peace
Phil 4.4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.