Pentecost 18, Year a
12 October 2014
Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 23; Matthew 22:1-14
The violent nature of the parable of the wedding feast of the king’s son almost obscures any ability to appreciate what the gospel writer is saying. The feasting imagery is familiar, but then the first group rejects the invitation and kills the slaves. The second group is scraped up, redressed, and set to party. The last man is standing there, thinking, “Do I stay or do I go?” and then it is decided for him.
What was Matthew thinking? When Luke tells this parable, it’s not so violent and the ending is certainly far preferable. Why is this version so intense? Matthew is writing to a group of believers in Christ, Jews and Gentiles, who find themselves in tension with Jews who do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Frustrated with each other, they have begun to lose sense of the bigger picture- the nature of God and how God chooses to reveal that nature.
The parable is about the nature of the king, God, but it is an exaggeration such that those who hear it are able to recognize the absurdity of their own behavior and to realize the extent of God’s perpetual invitation to grace and joy.
The first group rejects the invitation of the king, the invitation to party and celebrate, because they 1) may think it is beneath them, 2) think that they can provide something better for themselves, or 3) don’t understand the real value of having a relationship with the king. The second group accepts the invitation because they 1) are not able to do better for themselves and they know it, 2) may not have had anything else going on, or 3) realize the value of the nature of the king.
The king brings in the invitees, they are prepared for the party, they are welcomed and food and drink are pressed upon them. They did nothing to deserve this, but they were willing to engage with the king. Suddenly they are in a situation beyond their wildest dreams.
The man standing at the edges can’t decide. Is it worth it? Will I look silly in clothes that aren’t my own? Is the food actually good? Is there any point to this party? In remaining speechless, he doesn’t even engage with the king. A failure to pursue any kind of relationship, even a combative one, leaves him outside the adventure, outside the party, outside the celebration.
God’s persistent grace, God’s insistent mercy, does everything for us, except force us to accept it. That’s the reality of being in relationship with God, with Christ, with the Spirit… we just have to be willing to engage, to party, to be present. And we’re in… just like that.
What does that accepting that relationship look like? In part, it means really pondering what God’s actions look like in your life. Where you’ve seen them? How you’ve heard the Word? When you’ve felt the Spirit? Many of us can recite Psalm 23, but most of us don’t have a lot of direct experience of shepherds. Psalm 23 is very moving and is deeply connected with Israel’s history in David and then in Jesus, as the Good Shepherd.
If we don’t live in an agrarian society, if we are not usually around shepherds, ranchers, farmers, we should think of additional metaphors. Expanding our images of God helps us to recognize the many ways God meets us and invites us in, over and over, into a celebration of grace and renewal.
If you were going to write Psalm 23 for yourself, what would you say? “The Lord is my…”
The Lord is my mechanic, I’m satisfied by his work.
She keeps me tuned and running smoothly.
He leads me to open roads,
She grants me peace in congestion.
God’s mercy and grace toward me reflect well on her reputation.
Even when I need serious maintenance, I know the cost has been covered;
for you are with me;
your torque wrench and your lift platform— they comfort me.
You bang out my dents and mend my scratches,
In front of those who treat me with disdain.
You keep my fluids filled,
My belts are tightened.
Certainly safety and stability will pursue me on all of my expeditions,
And I shall ride in the chariot of the Lord forever.
We are invited, again and again, into a banquet of rejoicing, reunion, and re-formation. We are clothed in Christ’s faithfulness. We are dancing in the Spirit. In the next week, I encourage to think out your metaphor of who the Lord is to you, where you see God’s work, and to say, “Yes. Amen. Yes.” to the invitation of relationship with your Creator in loving yourself, your neighbor, and your God.