Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, October 15, 2023

YEAR A 2023 pentecost 20

Pentecost 20, 2023
Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Well.  To put it in theological terms, that reading is what scholars call a doozy!  We really need to look at the Gospel lesson we just heard.  Because if you’re like me, you’re asking yourself, what in the world was that about?!?  So let’s imagine ourselves in three different scenarios.

Scenario number one: Imagine an idealized President of the United States.  Not the current one, and not a previous one.  Not a President you agree with or disagree with.  Just, you know, “The President.”
Now, if that President had a child, and that child were getting married here in northeast Ohio, you could expect a pretty big party around here, right?  This would be a celebration on the level that you and I have never seen.  Food we’ve never heard of, from the best chefs in the country, if not the world.  Desserts that would make our children’s heads spin.  Wine from California, and seafood from Alaska.  The works!   It would be the event of the year, in fact the event of the lifetime.

And now just imagine that you have received an invitation.  Sitting in your little mailbox in Massillon, or Canton, or wherever, you find the invitation on the most beautiful paper, the best ink, with extra postage to make sure it arrived.  You have been invited to the party of the century!  Your first thought is obviously, “What am I going wear?”  But then you see the invitation clearly says, “wedding clothes provided.”  Hmmmm . . . . And your second thought is, “What kind of gift should I bring?”  Then you see at the bottom that the invitation says, “Please do not bring gifts.”

So, now you’re at a crucial juncture on whether you should attend.  Do you trust that invitation and just show up empty-handed in your work clothes, expecting that the hosts really have something suitable to wear?  Or do you wear the best clothes you’ve got, and hope that’s good enough?  And what about the gift?  Can you really trust the claim that no gifts are expected?  I mean, people say that all the time, and we still bring something, right?  

Now you’re stuck, thinking: If I do accept the invitation, I’ve got to bring something, and it can’t be cheap.  And that means I’d better get busy earning some extra cash so I can hold my head up high when I meet the living stars of the age.

The invitation clearly says, do not worry about affording any kind of gift . . . The President sends out his (secret) servants and says, “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, trying to earn enough to bring a worthy gift.

And then, because this is a parable, and parables are stories on hyper-drive, the invitees seize his servants, mistreat them, and kill them.  The mail carrier brings you the invitation to the wedding banquet.  You think your options are just yes or no, but it seems there are more possibilities in this case.  You could say, “Yes I’ll come, but first I need to make a little extra money at my business or farm so that I don’t show up empty-handed because . . . well, I really don’t trust you when you say not to bring anything.”  But then, though it probably didn’t cross your mind, you could also react like those in the parable:  The mail carrier shows up at your house with the invitation, you swear at them loudly, you slap them around, and do them in.  (Remind me not to invite you to my daughter’s wedding.)

Understandably, the President is enraged at your actions.  He sends his troops into your town, destroys the murderers and burns down the city.  (Remember, a parable is a story on hyper-drive.)  So, since all the people who were supposed to be the guests are either working overtime or are dead, you’d think there would be no party right?  You’d think they’d just call off the wedding and have it somewhere else, wouldn’t you?  I mean how embarrassing for the President’s child to get married and have an empty reception hall.  Better to just donate the food to the poor and have a private wedding down at city hall or something.  Here endeth the first scenario.

And now, a complete change of scene.  Whole different set up in scenario number two: Let’s say you were not on that first list of guests.  Let’s say that you’re not even aware the President had a child, let alone getting married right in your neck of the woods.  Let’s say you’re just struggling along trying to make ends meet, minding your own business, and only mistreating the mail carrier by avoiding her, because you know she’s bringing more bills you can’t pay.

The President says, “`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.' So they went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”  Gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

One day you were struggling along, wondering how you could stretch those leftovers for a third night’s dinner, and the next thing you know you’re standing around with your friends at the most lavish party you will ever see in your lifetime!  You didn’t have to bring anything.  You didn’t have to buy anything.  You didn’t even have to get that suit or dress dry-cleaned because the host provided all the wedding clothes you need.  You did nothing to deserve being here, and you couldn’t have afforded the cost by any stretch of the imagination.  The only thing that merits your being in the party is the fact that you didn’t say “no.”  You’re there, not because you said yes; you’re there because you didn’t say no.  And this is a very strange way to throw a party, don’t you think?  A guest list consisting of all the people who didn’t say “no?”  It’s ridiculous!

So there we all are, standing around in our beautiful expensive provided clothing, enjoying the food and the company and the string quartet and chocolate when all of a sudden, the music stops, and everyone turns toward the door to see the host saying “`Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless. 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.' For many are called, but few are chosen."

What just happened?  Last we knew everyone was happy and chatty.  That one guy really put a damper on things, didn’t he?  But what happened?  He was obviously on the guest list, because he didn’t say no.  (Remember, that’s the qualification for being at the party: not saying no.)  So he wasn’t a party crasher, since being there means he was invited.  What was different about him?  And, more importantly, is there a chance we might get treated like that?  You know, bound hand and foot, and thrown into the outer darkness?

The answer is a question: “What are you wearing?”  If you’ll recall, when the servants came to round us all up for the party, we didn’t have clothes that were good enough for a party like this.  But we trusted that the host would provide everything we needed.  When we arrived, we put on the wedding garments, and partied on!  This poor fellow, the one who gets thrown out, he’s not wearing the wedding garment, you see?  No, he showed up at the party wearing his own clothes, thinking they would be good enough.  He came to the party dressed in his own righteousness.  He thought the tux he had worked so hard to get would make him worthy of the party.  He didn’t say no to the invitation, but he did say no to the gift of the wedding garment.

The man who is thrown out does not trust that being there is enough.  To give away the parable: He does not trust that God will do for him what he cannot do for himself.  He does not trust in God; he trusts in himself.  A self-made man, who relies on his own efforts to make himself worthy of the heavenly banquet.  And, thus, a fool who is bound to be thrown into utter darkness.  Here endeth scenario number two.

And now the lights come up on scenario number three: There is a banquet happening here today.  You are invited because you didn’t say no.  The clothing that is required is the baptismal gown, which was provided for you when God claimed you forever in Baptism.  You are called and chosen by God, and that is what makes you a guest at the banquet.  You will not be turned away.  And you are always welcome in this place, whether or not you partake of the meal.

The servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.  You are on the guest list for this meal, and it is a foretaste of the Feast to come.


No comments:

Post a Comment