Today we explore Matthew’s version of a story Jesus told – a story about invited guests who reject the invitation the wedding banquet of their king’s son. For Matthew and his community, this story was a way to condemn those who rejected their invitation to come to faith in Christ as Lord. Over the centuries, it has too often been used as justification for violence and mistreatment of those who do not share our Christian faith. But what is God saying to us through this parable today? How should we be inviting them to the wedding banquet of the Son? Well, just like weddings, people will come if they believe it matters. And what matters more than showing people they’re loved?
18th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A) – Sunday, October 12, 2014 – Isaiah 25:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
“We Request the Pleasure of Your Company” – Pastor Evan Davis
We show up at weddings, but these people didn’t
Say you go out one afternoon to get the mail and it’s ads, coupons, and bills, but that day there’s something else, something unusual. It’s an envelope twice as tall as a normal one, made of thick, expensive paper, addressed to Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So, and it feels like it weighs a pound. You know what it is. This is either the stewardship packet from the church :), or it’s a wedding invitation. You open it up and stare at the first of many enclosed cards, where you see the words, Mr. and Mrs. Bride’s Parents request the pleasure of your company at the marriage of their daughter.
Isn’t that exciting? There’s going to be a wedding and they want me to be there? Well I’m already picking out my suit-and-tie, because I love weddings! I love the feeling in the air, the pageantry… I love the music and the dancing, the food, the cake. Most importantly, I love that two people are making such promises to each other. We don’t often turn down wedding invitations. Not just because they are great, fun events, but because they’re important. It’s one of the most meaningful days in the lives of two people we care about. It matters. So we show up.
And that’s just any wedding! What about a royal wedding? How many of you watched Will and Kate’s wedding on TV? I admit I did, I couldn’t resist. But I’m sure many more of you saw Charles and Diana’s wedding back in the day! And that’s what Jesus tells a story about today…a royal wedding. This was just about the best invitation anyone could get. The whole society back then was based on personal and family honor. To be honored with an invitation to the wedding of the king’s son was something no one would turn down. But the invited guests don’t show up. Don’t call, don’t write, just don’t care. You don’t do this to your king. This is no small breach of etiquette. This is insulting your king. They force the king to send a second round of servants to invite them, and as if the invitation itself wasn’t enough, they put him in a position where he has to talk up how good the food is going to be, how it’s all ready and waiting for them. Essentially he’s begging them to come. “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.” This is beyond outrageous. Seized and killed the slaves?!?! Really?!?!
Matthew’s community doesn’t take rejection well
This story is too crazy to be true. No one invited to the wedding of the king’s son, unless they were starting a rebellion, would act this way. But Jesus tells this story, and he’s telling it to the same people he’s been arguing with since he got into town, into Jerusalem, a couple days before – that is, to the chief priests and elders of the people. This is Jesus’ latest rhetorical salvo in their direction. Jesus is accusing those priests and elders of rejecting, metaphorically, the invitation to the royal wedding.1 Because, in real life, they were rejecting Jesus’ invitation to believe that he was who he said he was, that God was present and working in him. Matthew, in the 80s AD, then took this story Jesus told and changed some of the details to fit the needs of his community – instead of just a “great dinner” as Luke tells it, Matthew turns it into a wedding banquet, “to make the refusal of the invited guests ever harder to imagine or justify.”2 Matthew’s community of Jews have accepted Jesus’ resurrection and witness to him as Lord, and they’re in the midst of a tragic, painful split from their fellow Jews, their neighbors and friends, who have not come to faith in Jesus in that way. This was personal. For Matthew, those neighbors have spurned the king’s invitation – that is, Jesus’ invitation, their invitation. And so Matthew also adds the details about the invited guests mistreating and killing the king’s servants and then that the king was so angry about it he sent his troops to “destroy those murderers” and burn their city. Try that with your wedding guests who don’t show up…!!
You see, Matthew’s community and their opponents had just lived through the actual destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies. The details are not a coincidence. Matthew is interpreting the destruction of Jerusalem as God’s punishment for his opponents’ rejection of Jesus.3 For Matthew, those who do not share his faith and ours – that Christ is alive and Lord – are no longer worth anything. Call up the troops.
And the tragedy continued…because that is exactly how many Christians have used this passage through the centuries – as justification and indeed encouragement to mistreat, torture, and kill Jews and others who would not convert to Christianity. From the Crusades and the Inquisition to the colonization of America and Africa to the Holocaust, this interpretation has led to murder on an unimaginable scale.
But we can respond differently – what is the Word of God for us?
How do we make sense of it? It’s important for us to know that Matthew’s community were fighting for survival as a minority group and they were reacting with anger against those who were rejecting them.4 But as Dr. Lose argues, “we are not Matthew’s community.”5 I often ask the question, “what’s the Word of God for us?” Perhaps Matthew and his community, faced with bitter, sometimes violent conflict, needed to hear that no matter who rejected Jesus, they would enjoy the wedding banquet with the king and his son. That was the Word of God for them. But what is the Word of God for us? How should we react to those who have found better things to do than show up to Jesus’ wedding banquet? Shall we call up the troops? Or might God be speaking a different Word through these words to us today?
All are welcome, but all ain’t here – for many reasons, but ultimately b/c it does not matter to them
First listen to the really good news in this story, that all are welcome at the great heavenly wedding banquet of the Son. In the story, the king sends his servants out to the streets to invite ALL whom they found, both good and bad. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done, you are invited, and you are welcome, here. You have a place at the table. We know all are welcome, yet even so a lot of people aren’t here this morning. There’s a lot of reasons why people “make light” of our/Christ’s invitation today – they literally are going off to their business because they have to work. For many, this is the only morning the whole week they have to themselves, to sleep in, to do the laundry, to just breathe. That’s just the start, though. A lot of people have been burned by the church. A lot of people think we’re just daydreaming about God and Jesus. A lot of people have questions and they aren’t sure if they’ll be able to ask them without being judged or taken seriously. And a lot of people believe in Jesus but what happens here on Sunday morning just doesn’t seem to matter much to them. It doesn’t connect to their lives and the way they perceive the world. And there it is…for many, many people out there, church simply doesn’t matter.
They’re going to come to Church if it matters….
Same thing with weddings. Sure, people come to weddings because they’re fancy and fun and exciting. But they drive a long way or pay for a flight and a hotel room and a gift and take off work to come to a wedding because it matters. Because it’s important. Likewise, people are going to follow Jesus and become a part of the Church if they believe it’s important. People will come to Church if they believe it matters – if they believe it makes a difference in their life and the life of the world.
We believe that church does make a difference. So how do we show that? Let’s compare to weddings again. Because weddings are important, the ceremony is practiced, the linens are clean and crisp, the flowers are perfect, the cake is a masterpiece. In the same way, because Church is important, we act like it’s important. We prepare worship with thoughtfulness and care. We try to provide a sacred space that is welcoming, clean, and functional to its purpose of gathering a lot of people together. All of that sends the message that we believe Church matters – in fact, it’s the most important thing in our lives.
Our invitation is to simply love – that’s why Church matters, that’s how we invite
But the reason it is important, the reason we’re here, is because we have the best news in the world – that our God has died so that all might truly live, now and forever. That all are invited to the wedding feast that we actually celebrate here on Sunday mornings and continues for all eternity. That all are loved and worthy of love, no matter what. That everyone has a purpose in life. We’re here to change peoples’ lives, and thereby, to change the world.
How do we communicate that this is why church matters? By loving them! By praying for them. By listening to them. Because we are inviting them to experience the real love of God. So how can we do that except by loving, without condition? In our words and in our actions – both are essential.
There’s an old saying – people will never care what you know until they know you care. Our job is to let people know we care about them. That what is happening to them matters to us. Because it matters to God. And not only them – but what happens to people all around the world and even in all the hidden places in our community matters to us. Because it matters to God. When people feel that, we will have invited them to the banquet.
I’m here today because I’ve wagered my life that God will be throwing quite a party on God’s holy mountain – a feast of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear – and that it will be for ALL peoples. That God will destroy the shroud that is cast over all peoples, that God will swallow up death forever, that God will wipe away the tears from ALL faces. I believe God is going to keep working the streets until that banquet hall is full. And on that day, we will say as one: Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Amen.
1Ira Brent Driggers, Commentatry on Matthew 22:1-14, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=172 (accessed October 7, 2014); also Lance Pape, Commentary on Matthew 22:1-14, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2204 (accessed October 7, 2014);
2David Lose, “Pentecost 18A: Preaching an Ugly Parable,” http://www.davidlose.net/2014/10/pentecost-18-a-preaching-an-ugly-parable/ (accessed October 7, 2014).
3This interpretation is not unique to David Lose, but it was his commentary (cited above) that led me here this week. Also Lance Pape.