Lectionary 28 Proper 23A
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
October 11, 2020
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
Huh. Imagine that – a king who invited many guests to the wedding banquet for his son – and they weren’t interested. And then with his banquet hall embarrassingly empty, he sent his servants out again to extol the extravagance and lusciousness that he has had prepared -- this was the best banquet EVER complete with fatted calves, prepared oxen and all manner of finery. And still his invitation was rebuffed. And his response, while the feast has been set and all has been prepared, is shocking in many respects. He nukes the town. BAM! Take THAT!
And then he sends his servants out to the highways and byways to bring in any they could find to fill up the hall with the crowds that the king had expected. And walking in, he looks out over the crowd before him – not exactly the folks he thought he would see. And he zeroes in on one man – he called him “Friend,” but that was dripping with sarcasm and ire. “How did YOU get in here looking the way you do. OUT with him!” And out that one went.
Yes, indeed, imagine that.
Please pray with me – may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Today’s gospel reading is the third in a series of three parables that Jesus told to the religious leaders of the day after he had entered Jerusalem for the last time. Each of these parables involves a wealthy father – variously called a master of the house, an owner of a vineyard and here a king – and also their sons or in this case, a son. But just because it has the same cast of characters doesn’t mean the point is the same. And, please remember that parables are not like fables where one thing stands for another so that we get a tidy little package of moral teachings. We’ve spoken about this before. And I find that to be particularly true in today’s reading.
Thanks to Pastor Paul Nuechterlein, I was reminded of this story – some of you have heard me tell it before: The pastor who gives a children’s sermon and this particular week, young Nancy brought her friend Johnnie with the warning that Pastor sometimes asks question during the children’s sermon and if he asks one, the answer is almost always Jesus. So, emboldened Johnnie went up for the children’s sermon with his friend Nancy. And this particular Sunday Pastor begins by holding up a stuffed squirrel and asking, “Boys and girls, do you know what this is?” Silence. The pastor asks again. Silence still. Finally, Johnnie is bold enough to shyly raise his hand and offer, “Gee, I know I’m supposed to say Jesus, but it sure looks like a squirrel to me.”
We’ve heard the saying; when it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and talks like a duck – lo and behold, it’s probably a duck! And conversely, when it has four legs and barks and chases after balls and loves peanut butter, it is most certainly is NOT a duck.
So, when our parable starts by saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast…” our mind quickly goes to identifying the king as being God. But let’s go on and hear more of what Jesus says about this king – he is egocentric, vindictive, and over the top in his response to a personal affront – destroying the city, presumably the city for which he himself had responsibility. Call a squirrel a squirrel, call a duck a duck. Call a dog a dog. But, do not call this king, God.
When we read Scripture, we must always consider the first people who would have heard these words. When the folks in the Temple – the religious elite, the chief priests and the elders, those who were under the rule of Rome at the hand of a local puppet – when these people heard this parable, who is it that they would have thought of? They would have seen the king in this parable as representative of King Herod. The King who, when affronted by the Wise Men at the time of Jesus’ birth responded by destroying a generation of babies. The King who persistently sought the adulation of others. The King who persistently exercised his power and control over others, indiscriminately; and built monuments to his power along the way. And death to all who got in his way – witness John the Baptist whose head was brought to Herod on a platter. The King, who had no real regard for the others.
So then, what are we to make of this parable and the all-important wedding garment? If you rest back, thankful that you have the prized garment that will protect you from the ire of the King, please look again. If you are certain that the wedding garment will never be yours to wear, please look again – the wedding feast is open to all the outsiders – the good and bad alike.
Then, this story takes an even darker side, because after the king invites a whole new set of guests, he confronts one who arrived without the proper garment for a wedding -- his “friend.” The king orders him tied up and cast into the outer darkness.
Far from being a symbol for God, this king seems pretty “squirrel-ey” to me. Does the kingdom of heaven have a dress code? Coat and tie required? And if the kingdom of heaven is so violent, do we really want to be a part of it?
So what if Jesus was saying something else? What if Jesus really meant that the king was simply another human king, a vain man who thought that all that mattered was his money and power; a king who wanted to be feared, not loved; a king who believed that might made right? In other words, what if this king represented the evil powers and rulers of this world?
Then we can understand how that king could turn to the poorest guest in the room, the one who didn’t have any wedding clothes, and bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. Then we might see that the king may not represent God, but the poor man looks an awful lot like Jesus. Jesus, who lived with the outcasts and sinners, who healed the lepers, and broke bread with prostitutes and tax collectors.
Where do we expect to find Jesus? Do we expect him to be at a lavish banquet, rubbing shoulders with the king? Do we expect to find him the corridors of worldly power? Or do we expect him to be with the hungry, the grieving, the poor? Does he sit at the table of the rich man, or comfort the tears of the crying mother?
Jesus Christ was cast into the outer darkness by the evil and corrupt powers of the world. But that is exactly where he finds us. When we are broken, when we are hopeless, when we need him most, he is already there. Christ was crucified and died, and raised from the dead to show that our lives matter to God. In God’s kingdom, we are his most precious possessions.
I used to think that today’s parable was about God’s invitation to a life filled with light and joy. And I still believe that God is in our joy. But God is in our darkness, too. God is with us in our grief and pain, in our tears and sorrow. God is with us, because of God’s abiding love.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like when the powers to be trample over you and, despite your having been cast out by the so-called king, you are still welcome at the feast that God prepares for God’s people. The Kingdom of Heaven is like when there is a king who seeks to thwart what Jesus has taught. And still the truth is revealed and brought into Light.
The kingdom of heaven is like when Jesus shared a supper of bread and wine with his friends, knowing that he would be betrayed by one of them. And for this, Jesus stood silently before the King, was bound hand and foot and cast to the side.
At the Lord’s banquet, all are welcome, all are embraced, all are loved.
Thanks be to God. Amen.