The 19th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 23A (10/15/2017)

Lessons:
Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
St. 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.

Lesson:

22.1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 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.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 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.

What About That Guy?

This weekend the lectionary features the last in a string of five parables from Jesus. Together, we have reflected on the parables of: the Unforgiving Servant, The Vineyard, The Two Sons, The Wicked Tenants, and now The Wedding Banquet. Of all of them, this weekend’s story is perhaps the most difficult. Much could be said about the parable itself: the rejection of those first invited (which reminds us of an important line from last week’s Gospel, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.”); the extraordinary setting of this regal banquet (does anyone remember 1981?); the mistreatment of the king’s slaves; the punishment of those who harmed the slaves; the extension of the invitation to the unworthy; the notion that both “good and bad” were ultimately invited; the full wedding hall. Each of these elements of the parable is important, and could give rise to a sermon all of its own.

Regardless what we say about these matters, though, the primary response to this parable is almost universal: “What about that guy?” I don’t even have to point out which guy I’m talking about here, do I? It’s the guy without a wedding robe. He shows up with the wrong outfit on, and is treated nearly as badly as the king’s slaves. Bound hand and foot. Thrown into the darkness. Weeping and gnashing of teeth…

We know almost nothing about him. Is he an invited guest, or a wedding crasher? Is he dressed inappropriately on purpose or unintentionally? Is he uninformed about cultural norms for first century weddings, or too poor to afford the proper attire? Was he the only one not dressed correctly, or the only one the king noticed?

There are more questions than answers about this man. But the inclusion of this troubling turn in the parable indicates, at the very least, that although the invitations to the wedding banquet are delivered indiscriminately, there continue to be norms for those who attend. It is a reminder that although Jesus is radically generous in how he welcomes people into the heart of God, there are expectations about how a person thus graced will live.

It was true in Jesus’ ministry, it it was true for St. Matthew’s community, and it is true for us today. There is a life to which we are called. We are not just sent into the world as a forgiven people. We are sent into the world to be a reflection of Christ. Some behaviors simply are not consistent with Christian faith. Disregard for our neighbors, ingratitude for God’s grace, unwillingness to stand up for justice and righteousness, refusal to take our own sin seriously, disinterest in what our scriptures and traditions might teach us… These are indicators that we are not taking the invitation to God’s grace seriously.

Today’s church may not bind errant believers hand and foot and throw them out into the darkness. But do we take the call to a Christlike life seriously? And do we love one another enough to wrestle together with what a faithful life looks like? This is the journey to which Christ calls God’s graced people today. May we be willing to walk it together!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What is objectionable about the man’s dress, or behavior?
  2. What do his actions (or inactions) say about how he received this invitation?
  3. How might first century believers have understood this parable?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Do I truly believe I have been invited into God’s grace, despite my unworthiness?
  2. What signs are there in my life that I am grateful for this grace?
  3. What is one, specific way that I can show my gratitude to God today?

The author would love to hear what you think about this post.