Posted on Thu, Oct 20, 2011
Rev. Dr. Merritt's Sermon for October 9, 2011
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
October 9, 2011
Introduction: Some of you may know I participate in a lectionary discussion with other MCC Pastors from around the country every Tuesday. This week every one of us agreed that Matthew’s parable in today’s lectionary is our least favorite of all. I would take it just a step further and say to you that I don’t like it at all. So why not just skip it and do something else, you might wonder? I don’t skip the hard parts because I often find that they have some really good points for us to consider. I find that my own biblical scholarship grows as I wade through them trying to make sense of them first for myself and then for you. I like the spiritual discipline that comes from working through hard things rather than avoiding them. So, I hope you will buckle down with me this morning as we look for God’s message for us, this day, in the Gospel of Matthew. Will you pray with me? God, we come with our hearts open before you. This is not an easy lesson, yet we know that you have it before us for a reason. Make your way clear to us and make the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts pleasing and acceptable to you. AMEN.
Gospel: We know this reading as the Parable of the Wedding Feast. It is the third in a series of three parables and it has two parts; the invitations in verses 1 – 10, the ejections in verses 11 – 13, and one final word in verse 14, which sums up the whole parable. The very first part tells us about invitations rejected and then invitations accepted. In return for the violence done to his messengers, the king, which really translates “landlord” sends his armies to destroy his enemies and their city. Interestingly, the second part is not found in Luke’s Gospel. Its language about weeping and gnashing of teeth, according to Professor Daniel Harrington, is characteristically Matthean. The distinctive motif is that of an invitation. As usual, some accept the invitation and some do not. What makes these invitations unique is that only the kind issues them and that the emphasis is on rejection and acceptance of the invitation.
Rocco Errico suggests the following model, which I think gives the story some much needed order. God is represented by the king or landlord. The first servants are the early prophets whom God sent to the Israelites to invite them to God’s great feast. Those who were invited refused to come. The .second group of servants symbolizes the latter prophets, whom God sent urging people to return to the way of God, promising them that the coming of the Messiah was near, along with the day of deliverance. They also rejected the invitation and killed some of the landlord’s servants. The third group signifies the apostles whom God sent to invite the Gentiles to the great wedding feast. The banquet was all prepared, and many refused to attend.
Errico says the “highways and byways” refer to Gentiles who had not been invited at first and who knew little about God. Since the first invitees refused to come, Gentiles, and pagans were invited and welcome to come to the banquet. Finally, the bridegroom represents the Messiah. The marriage feast symbolizes the inauguration of God’s universal kin-dom, the kin-dom of heaven
Just a word or two about the one thrown out for not being appropriately dressed. Clothes were and are scarce in the Near East. In only a few areas do residents there have any clue about styles as in the United States and Europe. Still very few workers have extra garments for special occasions like Sunday mornings, holidays and weddings. For most working people the same garments are worn throughout the year. However, it is and was against proper etiquette to attend a wedding or a banquet without a clean garment. It is considered an insult to one’s host to do so. Just like in many of the popular clubs in large cities, servants and staff observe the clothing people are wearing prior to allowing them inside to the banquet or party. If one does not have the proper clothing, he or she is expected to borrow it from a neighbor. The same is true of jewelry for women and yes, this practice of borrowing is very common in Near Eastern culture. Some people, usually men…no offense to you…find it just too much effort to dress properly, to change clothes and to make themselves look good for special occasions such as this. I dare say that most of our men would give some challenge to that stereotype! Two things are probably true here; the man probably did have a clean garment that he could have worn and he just didn’t bother. AND the shortness of time between the late invitation and the start of the banquet would have made very difficult for him to do so. The comparison in the Gospel is to our need to be ready for the kin-dom of God. We are called to watch, wait and be ready.
So I’m wondering about a couple of aspects related to this Gospel. To what kind of events have you been invited? Are you invited to formal events and do you prepare to present yourself properly? Do you get invited to casual events and do you wear the appropriate clothing for those – that can be much easier than with formal events, for sure. Do you ever get invited to weddings? When you do is your significant other or partner included? How do you handle that? We had a serious problem with that in my extended family for awhile. I would receive invitations to family events and Al’s name would be missing. And after awhile I got good and tired of it and I wrote to all the close members of my family and said this, “From this moment on I will not attend ANY event to which I am invited and Al is not. Al is my spouse, my family and yours and if you cannot treat him that way, neither of us will come.” You see one of the lessons that we learned early on this morning is that God’s invitation is universal. It is to Christians, it is to Jews, it is to Pagans and Buddhists and Muslims. God’s invitation is universal. God’s invitation contains NO exclusions.
Now that also presents a challenge to us. If we are living into our relationships with God, our invitations must be universal, too. I think it’s good for us to invite people who oppose marriage equality to our weddings and holy unions. It’s good for us to invite those who think God can’t possibly love us to our worship services and other events. It’s good for us to discuss our faith with those who may not even believe it is possible for us to have faith. And if/when we are rejected, we just keep on inviting until someone accepts. Let me assure you of one thing, the ones who are really supposed to be here will accept and they will be here and their lives will be forever changed under the influence to God’s son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the whole world, with NO exceptions.
Here’s the good news for us this morning: We’re invited and we can invite any one we choose to invite. Who will that be? Who will receive God’s invitation through us? I love the way Errico finishes his work on Matthew 22, and I agree with him. The wedding garment represents good works and piety. Now get ready, get dressed and get busy. You’re invited.
God bless you.
Matthew 22: 1 - 14
22Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again 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.’5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’10Those 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, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless.13Then 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.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”
©James Edward Merritt, 2011