20 Pentecost, Proper 23 – October 15, 2023
So, this morning we hear another uncomfortable parable from Jesus. And I needed to remind myself that parables were designed to make us uncomfortable. If we read them and find ourselves unprovoked, then we aren’t really seeing them. Jesus was no teller of cozy bedtime stories; his parables are designed to show us things we don’t really want to see. And this week’s parable of a wedding banquet gone awry is no exception.
Like many of his parables, this parable is about the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field. The kingdom of God is like a pearl of great price. The kingdom of God is like someone scattering seed. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. The kingdom of God is like yeast. And today the kingdom of God may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.
You and I are invited to God’s heavenly party, at the end of time and right now on earth. This is the promise to which Isaiah points: “The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.” God will wipe away tears and disgrace.
It doesn’t matter where you are now or where you come from, what you’ve done or what you haven’t done. You are invited to God’s party. Come fill the house. Celebrate such grace.
If only the parable ended here! But there is more. The king comes to see the guests and sees a man not wearing a wedding robe. “Friend, why are you not properly dressed? Bind him up and throw him out.” We wince watching the king kick out a guest.
How does that fit with the gracious, wide welcome we know about God? Why does this guest not wear a wedding robe? By implication everyone else in the banquet hall has put on a proper garment. Good and bad, people from all over who have just come in from the streets and fill the hall have changed their clothes for the party.
Is it possible that Jesus is offering us a critical description of how kings operated at that time? To those who refused his invitation, the king “sent his army and burned their city.” Those who dressed inappropriately were “tied hand and foot, and thrown outside into the darkness.”
It seems like the king in the parable embodies everything we’ve learned to associate with power and authority from watching other, all-too-human kings and rulers. Kings like Herod. Conquerors like the Roman Empire of Jesus’s day. How about leaders in our own time and place who exercise their authority in abusive, violent ways…we are seeing that right now; leaders compelling their followers to gleefully celebrate in circumstances that should call for lament.
I am still struck by Debi Thomas’ struggle with re-envisioning this parable. Seeing it with new eyes.
What if the “God” figure in the parable is the one guest who refuses to accept the terms of the tyrannical king? The one guest who decides not to “wear the robe” of forced celebration and coerced hilarity, the one guest whose silent resistance leaves the king himself “speechless,” and brings the whole sham feast to a thundering halt? The one brave guest who decides he’d rather be “bound hand and foot,” and cast into the outer darkness of Gethsemane, Calvary, the cross, and the grave, than accept the authority of a violent, loveless sovereign?
Yes, it may be disturbing. But stay with it for a minute. What would change for you if Jesus was the unrobed guest and not the furious king in this story? How would you have to change to welcome such a guest? To honor such a guest? To accompany such a guest? What robes of privilege, power, wealth, empire, location, and complicity would you have to refuse to wear? What holy rebuke would you have to speak or embody when the king demands your cheery presence at his table? What feasts would you have to forego to follow the unrobed dissenter when he’s escorted into the darkness, bound and broken for the sake of love?
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son,” Jesus says by way of introduction to his parable. Okay, what will happen if we take him at his word? What might we learn if we attempt an honest comparison between God’s coming kingdom, and our current one? Are our tables open to all who come, and does our love extend to those who initially refuse our invitation? Are we willing to extend a welcome to those who show up unprepared, unwashed, unkempt? Do we take offense when people shy away from our banquet, or do we listen as they explain why our invitation strikes them as unappealing or frightening? Do we really want to open our arms wide, or do we have a secret stake in seeing some people end up in the “outer darkness”?
In the end, are we known for our impeccable honor, or for our scandalous hospitality?
Remember, the parables of Jesus are meant to afflict the comfortable. The parables are meant to show us who God is, and who God isn’t. So…may we embrace the loving God who is rather than the vindictive God who isn’t. May we choose affliction over apathy, even when it costs us a spot in the palace. May we refuse sham banquets while our cities burn and our streets run with blood. And may we, like Christ the unrobed guest, disarm all powers that bind God’s children, and render the world’s oppressors speechless in his name.
This day and every day, may you know yourself enfolded by the love of the God who calls us to the heavenly feast. I close with a blessing by Jan Richardson:
In your mercy
in your protection
in your care
in your grace
With your justice
for your labor
by your love
and fit me
for your work.
Jan Richardson: The blessing is from Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas