A Sore Spot

Matthew 22.1-14. Jesus also told them other parables. He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son.  When the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify those who were invited. But they all refused to come!

“So he sent other servants to tell them, ‘The feast has been prepared. The bulls and fattened cattle have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the banquet!’  But the guests he had invited ignored them and went their own way, one to his farm, another to his business.  Others seized his messengers and insulted them and killed them.

“The king was furious, and he sent out his army to destroy the murderers and burn their town.  And he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, and the guests I invited aren’t worthy of the honor.  Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.’  So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding.  ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply.  Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are called, but few are chosen.”

This was the Gospel reading appointed for Sunday, 12 October.  And no one even mentioned it during the sermon.  While talking afterwards, it was stated that, while a lot of commentaries and sermons and lectures have been given on this passage, none of them seemed to 'fit'.  And by that, I think we mean, none of them seemed to fit 'our understanding of the ways or character or nature of God'.  In other words, we don't like to talk about God's justice.  It's a sore spot.

And while I don't feel I am adequately trained to offer any type of instruction on this passage, I'm going to do it anyway.

This story (parable) Jesus told is in reference to the previous one.  In Matthew 21, Jesus told a story to the religious leaders of his day.  The story was about a land owner who planted a vineyard and then lent it out to some farmers.  At harvest time, the owner sent people to the farmers to collect the harvest.  The farmers, however, beat up the people and even killed some of them.  The owner then decided to send his son, thinking the farmers would respect the son.  Well, they didn't.  They were very greedy and thought that if they killed the son, they would get the land.  When Jesus asked the religious leaders what should happen to the farmers, they said that the owner should slaughter them!  So, Jesus said that God's kingdom would be taken from the religious people and given to another nation who would produce the proper fruit.  And then, the Bible states something that it rarely does when talking about Jesus' stories.  It stated that the religious leaders understood that the story was about them.  They got it.  Then we come to this story.

To me, this story illustrates a little bit more about the 'other nation' that would produce the proper fruit of God's kingdom.  The main point is still there from the previous story, the leaders and the people who followed them would be destroyed, but Jesus explains a little bit more about what happens with the other nation.

A little background on this.  The first part of these stories was fulfilled with the (so-called) Roman/Jewish war of 66-70CE.  The second part of the story finds its fulfillment in the church, which is made up of 'everyone', i.e., God's kingdom is not just limited to one nation.  It's for all nations.

'But what about the part about the king finding someone in attendance who isn't dressed properly?  What about the part where Jesus said, "Many are called but few are chosen"?'  Good question.  This is part of the problem.  People don't like the idea of God not accepting everyone.  But this goes right along with the rest of the teaching found in the Bible.  Jesus said, 'Not everyone who calls out to me, "Lord! Lord!" will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter' (Matthew 7.21).  He told another story that gives us more of a clue.  This story was the story of a farmer sowing seed.  Some of the seed landed on a path.  Some of the seed landed on rocky soil.  Some landed on shallow soil.  Some of the seed landed on good soil.  The seed represents the 'word of God'.  The soil represents the hearts of people.  The first three-fourths of the seed don't produce anything.  In each case, the person finds some reason or excuse or is tempted and pulled away from actually doing any work for God.  Only the last fourth do anything for God.  This, to me, is the meaning of the story in Matthew 22.  The person who comes to the banquet realizes what is required and doesn't want to do it.  Oh, she likes to make a show, put up a front, act 'spiritual'.  But, when the rubber meets the road, when the sick need a visit, when the hungry need food, when the prisoner needs a friend, she doesn't have time.  She has faith.  But her faith doesn't produce any work.  She likes to say she's a Christian but her life doesn't have any proof that she is one.

This is just what James wrote about in James 2.  One person states that he believes in God but doesn't have any works to prove it.  James counters that the demons believe in God but that doesn't mean anything.  His point is that we need to have more than lip service.  We must have service... (awkward pause) service to prove our faith.

One other thing that someone pointed out was the fact that the others at the banquet new to be properly dressed but no one told the guy that he should change his clothes.  'To each his own', I suppose.  But that attitude is part of the problem.  Apparently there was an expectation about what one wears to a wedding reception.  But no one told this dude that expectation.  Too often we don't tell people what's expected of them when they decide to follow Christ.  It reminds me of the story Jesus told about a guy constructing a building.  He said it would be foolish if they guy didn't figure out how much it would cost him before he starting building.  People would laugh at him if he got the foundation finished but ran out of money.  The same is true about the farmer sowing seed.  The problem was that the majority of the soil wasn't prepared.  We, as the followers of Christ, need to know what is expected of us.  God expects us to care about the things God care about -- the poor, the homeless, the widowed, the orphaned, the sick, the imprisoned.  The followers of Christ are expected to be about those things.  We should tell people that up front.  People should know up front what is expected of them if they decide to be Christ's followers.  When the trouble comes, when temptations come, when the care of this life out-weigh the care of God's kingdom, if anything else comes before the Kingdom, then, according to Jesus, those people aren't worthy to be called his disciples (Luke 14.25-35).  That is what the story in Matthew 22 is all about.  Someone showed up and they were found wanting.  They were like the person who was given the money and buried it instead of making a profit.  In all of these stories, the point is the same -- faith alone is not enough.  We must put that faith to work.  We must be about our father's business.

I completely get it that we don't want to talk about the justice of God.  But there is a lot at stake here.  The church needs to do the hard work of telling the 'whole truth'.  The followers of God are expected to act like Jesus.  They are expected to be the words of Jesus made flesh.  The church is to be the eyes and ears and hands and feet of Christ.  We are to be his body.  And being his body means doing what his body did -- sacrifice everything for everyone.  If we don't do that, we might find ourselves outside.

Peace be with you.



Ted M. Gossard said…
OD, We attended Episcopal Church of the Mediator in Harbert, Michigan, over the weekend, and Mother Paula did have some good thoughts from this passage and did mention justice a bit. We loved the service there, and the people were a blessing to meet.

Thanks for your sharing here.

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