Year A, Pentecost 20 Matthew 22:1-14
The news from Israel
and Gaza has been devastating and overwhelming.
It has resonated with Americans given our close ties with the region
over the years. We also feel a connection as Christians. When we read the Gospels, we are reading
about the same places that we see in the news.
We, along with two other faith traditions, consider this holy land. And
while it is heart breaking and overwhelming, it is not new. I often hear Christians remark that they are
not particularly fond of the Old Testament because of the violence. Yet we see violence in the stories that Jesus
tells as well. We don’t like the violence. We can even try to ignore it, but it’s
there—just like it’s in our world.
Last week we had violence
in our parable, but it seemed a bit more one sided. If you recall, the violence
came from the tenants of the land and the other side (the landowner) didn’t
respond with violence. In fact, the
landowner responded in what seemed like a foolish way, he sent his son. Today’s reading is different. The king is throwing a wedding banquet for
his son. And he is not pleased with the negative
responses to his summons.
In Jesus’s day, wedding
invitations were a little different than they are today, especially royal
wedding invitations. They would send the invitations out ahead of time without
a specific time mentioned. Then when the day came, the servants of the king
would go out to the invited guests and summon them when the feast was
ready. Yet in this instance, when the
servants of the king went to the guests, they refused to come. Not only did they refuse the invitation,
some beat and killed some of the servants.
As you can imagine the king was upset. He was insulted as a person, but
especially as a king.
But unlike the owner of
the vineyard last week who merely sent out more servants to be beaten and
killed, the king in this story sent out troops to kill the murderers and burn
the city. This seems a little harsh, on
both the part of the guests who beat the servants and the king who burned the
city. On the one hand, it’s
understandable that the king would be upset.
But why burn the whole city?
You know what scary
part is, those kinds of reactions happen all the time. Someone gets offended and they respond in a
totally disproportionate manner. Jesus
liked to tell stories that people would identify with, and sadly, the audience
would have identified with this volatile reaction. Even today, while it seems harsh, it feels
But here is where Jesus
throws in the surprise twist…the part that would seem completely strange to the
people listening at that time. After the
intended guests turned him down, the king decided to invite everyone and
anyone. This is held up as an example of
God’s hospitality and even a model of how we can welcome people today. For those of us hearing this story now, those
of us who have heard of the abundant love of God, the story starts to make
sense. Maybe, just maybe, this parable
can be redeemed.
Alas no. Jesus throws
in another twist. Someone had the
audacity to join the feast without the fancy wedding robe. The king questioned
him and the when the guest remained speechless, the king threw him into the
outer darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. That sounds like an overreaction.
Didn’t this king just
bring people in from off the street? How could he expect them to have a wedding
garment at such short notice, especially if they didn’t have the means? This is
when we have to remember, that parables were not events that actually
happened. They were stories Jesus used
to explain a deeper truth and challenge the status quo.
This story isn’t about
wedding attire. If it was, then no one
would have had the proper attire. All
were summoned at the last minute from off the street. This man could not have been the only one who
had not come prepared. Some commentators
point out that in a circumstance like this, the host would provide the wedding
garment for all guests. This would mean
that this person who was not wearing one had chosen not to put on what the host
provided. This would explain why he was
singled out. He had accepted the
invitation, but then refused the gift of a new garment.
The last line of this
parable is one that makes us cringe, because it doesn’t sound like the Jesus we
know and love. He said, “For many are
called, but few are chosen.” If you
think this sounds wrong, I would agree.
Perhaps a better interpretation would be, “Many are invited, but few
choose to stay.” Being called is the
invitation that God provides to all of us.
We are all invited to the banquet.
We are all invited to be children of God. Yet it is our choice whether we accept that
invitation. The man in this story was
willing to come to the table, but he wasn’t willing to change. In Galatians, Paul says that we are clothed
in Christ. That sounds lovely. Unfortunately, it’s much harder than simply
changing our clothes. God wants us to change our heart and our actions. God is looking for a transformation.
One of my favorite
quotes (and no one knows who first said it) is, “God loves us just the way we
are, but God loves us too much to let us stay that way.” It’s true that God’s love
for us is abundant and all encompassing.
But God also has expectations for what we do with that love. If we accept God’s love, we must then love
others…not just in word, but in action.
If we accept God’s love, we cannot simply witness violence and say,
“Well that’s just the way it is.” And we can’t accept our own faults and refuse
to change, because then we just end up wearing our guilt and shame like chains.
While we are wrapped in
the chains that we have refused to loose, God holds the lightest most beautiful
garment we could possibly imagine. My theory is that this wedding guest wasn’t
ready to let go of his own guilt and shame.
Maybe he didn’t feel like he was good enough to wear this beautiful
wedding robe. Maybe he felt like he
couldn’t possibly deserve what he had been given. So he refused to even try it on.
We are all worthy to
embody the love of God. We are all
worthy, no matter what has happened in the past, even if the past is this
morning. We are all worthy. The question
is, can we believe that? Can we act in a way that shows we have accepted God’s
We can. I know we
can. Yet it’s not as easy as simply
changing our clothes. It’s slow process…more like releasing chains than
changing clothes. Sometimes we even put
the chains back on because their heaviness protects us in some way, protects us
from the freedom and love that both draws us in and terrifies us. That’s one of
the reasons we have the confession every Sunday. Because we need weekly (maybe
hourly) reminders that God’s forgiveness is ours if only we ask. Redemption is ours if only we seek. It’s a
journey. It’s an arduous journey. But it’s not one we take alone. We make that journey with one another and with
What we cannot do is
give up. We remove one chain at a time,
and when they pile up again, we ask someone else for help. You are worthy of God’s love. Israel and
Palestine are worthy of God’s love. All
are worthy of God’s love. Can we act in
a way that shows we believe that? Can
we? We can— with God’s help, we can.