October 30, 2012 by jmar198013
Jesus kept on needling the chief priests and Pharisees with colorful stories. He said, “The kingdom of heaven has become like a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched some slaves of his to summon those who had been invited to the feast, but they wouldn’t come.
“So he sent out another group of slaves, with a personal message for the invitees: ‘See here! I have prepared my dinner for you. My oxen and my fattened calves have been slaughtered. Everything is ready–come to the feast!’ But most paid no mind to the slaves. They went on about whatever they were doing, their farming and their business. The rest snatched up his slaves, bullied them in public, and even lynched them.
“Oh my, but this provoked in the king a mighty wrath! So he sent out his troops, laid waste to those murderers, and reduced their city to a pile of smoldering rubble.
“Then he said to his slaves, ‘Well, the wedding feast is all ready, but the guests I had invited proved themselves unworthy to share my table. So do this: go out to the street corners and invite whomever you meet to the wedding feast. So the slaves did just that–took to the streets and gathered up whomever they found, bad and good alike.
“But when the king came out to look at the guests, lo and behold there was this one fellow who wasn’t wearing wedding attire. And the king asked him, ‘Friend, how did you end up here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had nothing to say for himself. So the king told the attendants, ‘Bind this fellow hand and foot and toss him out into the darkness, the place of wailing and of grinding teeth.’ Here’s the meaning of this tale: Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Frankly, this story isn’t very appetizing, is it? I much prefer Luke’s version. The way Luke tells it, all that happens to the schmucks who refuse the dinner invite is that they miss out. No slaves were harmed during the production of that parable. No one’s city got nuked. In Luke’s version, disabled dinner guests chow down , grateful for their good fortune. And none of them gets thrown out for wearing the wrong outfit. Luke’s version is a heartwarming, G-rated tale. It’s really a much more affirming narrative for us gathered around the table today, isn’t it?
I suspect that if you’re anything like me, you’d rather that Matthew, like Luke, left us with a story about God’s unconditional acceptance. If you believe, as do I, in open communion, you want this table to communicate that God accepts us all through Christ, the bad and the good, the whole and the hurting. We want–at least I want–to identify with the poor and maimed in Luke’s Gospel who find themselves welcomed at the Lord’s table. And I want to imagine that God would not shun me from his table because he isn’t amused that I show up in a tuxedo t-shirt rather than an actual tuxedo.
You know, come to think of it, I’m sorry I even chose Matt. 22 for this morning. I apologize, church. Matt. 22 is simply inappropriate for the Lord’s Supper. It’s entirely too messy, too gritty, and too raw.
Except we’re gathered at this table to remember a crucified man. What happened to Jesus was messy, gritty, and raw. The bread and juice represent actual torn flesh and spilt blood. We are here to remember what Jesus did to provide the wedding feast–how he himself becomes the banquet.
So we really must talk about those servants who were rejected, abused, and killed by those they invited to the feast. Jesus had just seen John the Baptist join the great company of God’s murdered servants, and he himself would not be far behind. He would have those of us who follow his path understand that rejection, abuse, and death are likely as not to accompany discipleship. At best, we can expect most to deem us irrelevant. Like he says, Many are invited, but few are chosen.
As we gather at this table, we have to talk about those who ignored and mistreated the king’s servants. And, horrible as it might sound, we need to pay attention to what happened to them and their city. Jesus’ point was, “See, Israel, how you treat your prophets?” Matthew didn’t retain that detail so that we can gloat over how stupid Israel was. It’s a warning to the church. Israel, her priests, and her scribes were not fundamentally capable of greater perversity than we are. We can just as easily suppose that we know what we need, and have it, and ignore the voices that call us to share in God’s abundance. We are no less capable than they of shoving a gag into any mouth that calls us from our routine to the welcome table of God. Matthew must tell us what became of those who ignored and tormented and killed God’s servants. Otherwise, we will become like them, dictators of our own lives who will not participate in the feast God provides. Many are invited, but few are chosen.
Finally, we really must talk about this king who seems so generous to invite a bunch of poor strangers to his son’s feast, but is also unapologetic about tossing one of those poor strangers out on his ear. True enough, God isn’t stingy with his food, nor is his table an exclusive one. Both the bad and the good are invited. But he does expect that his dinner guests be clothed in the new life imparted by our baptism. In Isa. 25, the prophet foresees a day when God will remove the death shroud that binds his creation and make a feast to celebrate it. This table is the appetizer for that feast. And God will not tolerate anyone at his table still wearing the clothes of deathliness. We need to know that there is much more to this story, this table, this whole business of being the church than simply showing up. We must show up ready to eat–yes!–and ready to celebrate the God who swallows up death forever in the Cross of his Son. Again: Many are invited, few are chosen.
Bread: Our Father, our King: thank you for sharing your bread with us. Thank you for inviting us to your Son’s feast. Father, King–we pray that we are those who say yes to your invitation, and arrive ready to celebrate your Son. Remove from us the garments of deathliness and clothe us with Christ’s life.
Cup: Father and King, the blood of Christ we remember by this cup recalls the shed blood of your servants through the ages: rejected, ignored, harassed, and murdered by those they invited to your feast. Father and King, my we not be those who would seek to silence that invitation, but who would respond with gratitude and celebration. Amen.