Weddings, Hospitality & the Kingdom

Jesus tells a pretty harsh parable about a wedding for a prince.  The king got it all ready and then the people invited decided not to show.  So the king gets really mad.

And Jesus thought this was a good way to talk about the kingdom.

This is yet another difficult text from this gospel, and this is how I dealt with it on Sunday.  I hope you enjoy!

Proper 23A—Matthew 22:1-14

Let’s just be honest.  The parable we just read is scary.  Especially when we start doing the one to one mapping that we like to do with Jesus’ parables to get the easy meaning.  We start by saying, God is the king and Jesus is the son getting married.  The Pharisees and other Jews are the ones who send back the rsvp card and then decide they are too busy to attend.  God gets angry, destroys the Pharisees and blows up their city, the wedding still goes on with others now on the invitation list (these would be the new Gentile Christians).  These new people come in and start enjoying themselves—or enjoying themselves as best they can, since the king is given to rage every so often, so they’re probably sitting on pins and needles.  And sure enough, the king finds one of these new attendees that isn’t wearing the right stuff, and he gets tossed out of the party to the place of utter darkness.

This image of God is pretty hard to deal with when we do this sort of one-to-one correlating.  It’s this view of God that can easily lead to a stance of anti-Semitism—which has often been done with this parable in the past—and that puts us on shaky ground.  A couple of notes about this: Matthew is writing to a primarily Jewish audience of Jesus’ disciples who have been persecuted because of their faith by the non-believing Jewish authorities.  These followers of Jesus are certainly a minority in that community, and so Matthew is a bit harsh on the Jewish leaders in his Gospel.  Also, Matthew is writing to them sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. If we were to map this parable, we could see that the destruction of the city mentioned here could allude to the destruction of Jerusalem.  If this is what God is like, this angry deity waiting to cast us into utter darkness, it can cause you to cringe or be afraid.  I don’t think that is really good news, which is what the word “gospel” actually means.  This interpretation of God is one that leads us primarily to a response of fear.

But the parable doesn’t start with “God almighty is like a king….”  Rather it starts, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king…” and that makes all the difference to me.  We aren’t learning so much about who God is in this parable as we are learning what it takes to be a part of the kingdom.  That is the ultimate end for us and all of creation, the hope that we all have.  Jesus is telling us what it takes to be a part of the kingdom he is proclaiming, the one that began with his ministry, the one that continues on even now, and the one that will ultimately come at the last day.  Is there judgment?  Of course.  I cannot just wave away the judgment aspect of this parable, and if I were to do so, I would be doing a great disservice in proclaiming the gospel to you.

Yet there is certainly good news to be found in these words from Jesus.  The kingdom, Jesus says, is like a wedding banquet thrown by a king for his son.  It is a time of unbelievable joy.  The kingdom is like a huge party.  And so the king invited all sorts of friends and neighbors to the bash, and a good number of them said, “Yes! We can’t wait!  We got the save the date card, and have marked the party on our calendars.”

But when the day came, many of those initially invited changed their minds.  They didn’t want to be a part of the feast.  In other words, they decided that the kingdom wasn’t what they were really interested in after all.  They had other things to do that were much more important.  One was anxious to close on the property he was buying.  Another guffawed at the whole idea, thinking he never really liked the king or his son.  Still others decided there was too much to be done at the office, and hopped in their cars for the commute.  A few even went so far as to mistreat the messengers from the king because they were so filled with animosity and were hell-bent on deriding the king.

And so after the king responded to these ones who had rejected his invitation, he sent others servants out and called in any they could find on the streets.  These he invited to be a part of the kingdom, no matter where they came from or what they had done, they were invited to the party.  And so they came in droves, not wanting to miss this wonderful opportunity.  They came and had unbelievable hors d’oeuvres and listened to the most fantastic music, and finally were called in to the hall for dinner itself.

However, one of those who came, as he made his way to the table, was called out by the king.  He didn’t have the proper clothes on; he wasn’t ready for the party.  When asked about it, he was dumbfounded, having nothing to say at all.  And so the king had him taken out because he showed he didn’t really want to be a part of the kingdom either; he was like the ones who mocked the king.  Many are invited, but few respond in a way that reflects kingdom living.

To me, there is much good news to be found here.  Jesus assures us that entrance to the kingdom—to the huge wedding feast—is open to us all.  The ones who don’t think they have a chance of getting in because of their social standing, and the ones who may have it all together, the good and the bad.  The glorious grace of Jesus is free to all.  But to stay at the wedding feast, we must be dressed in the likeness of Christ; we must live in the clothes of his kingdom.  To be a part of the kingdom Jesus proclaims, we must try our best to live in that way even now.

In our parable, this sort of kingdom living is best demonstrated by the generous hospitality of the king.  God swings wide the doors and takes anyone who shows up.  We are often much more cautious in our own lives,  especially when we talk about opening up our home to guests.  We agonize over cleanliness and having the perfect place to entertain.  If it’s a dinner party, we worry about the chipped plate on the bottom of the stack in our cupboards.  We think hospitality is somehow only possible if we are perfect.

Yet that is so far from what hospitality means.  At its core, hospitality asks us to open up our lives to one another.  To share of ourselves.  To sit around a table, or go for a walk, or grab a pumpkin spice latte and share our lives and listen to someone else as she shares hers.  The kingdom is like a party, a place of enjoyment, of shared connection around a dinner table.

As a college student I experienced this sort of hospitality at a professor’s house.  On Friday nights, Jim and his wife would open up their home to as many as a dozen undergrads and other professors to share a meal.  The menu ranged from homemade pizza and salad to beef curry and homemade bread.  Even more important on that menu was grace filled conversation.  We discussed the words from our college-wide convocation gathering, or the movies we had seen or books we had read.  We laughed often and on countless occasions someone would run to grab a dictionary or a cookbook or atlas to make their point.  We spoke of our travels and experiences and so much more.

Those moments changed me in more ways than I could imagine.  I developed deep friendships.  My love of cooking grew as a result of those dinners.  I felt profoundly cared for and totally accepted for who I was.  It was a wonderful gift.  It was kingdom living.

It isn’t by accident that we gather each Sunday around this table to eat and drink.  In the early church, this was done in homes, and so the bread and wine and prayers were shared in concert with the eating and talking around the table.  There is sacredness in the meals we share both here and in other places, be it in the parish hall or at the Red Barn or in our homes.  Nora Gallagher writes, “The early Christians practiced some form of an early Communion ritual… [and] these early communities almost always had a meal together.  In other words, the ritual was linked to actual food, a real meal, a gathering of friends over dinner.”[1]  They opened their doors to whoever came and wanted to be a part of the community.  They exemplified kingdom living by showing generous hospitality.

What might that look like for us today?  I think we have a tendency to shun getting together in our homes because of desiring perfection—be it the perfect house, meal, family or whatever.  We tend to not reach out to those around us because of fear of the unknown.  Often we don’t serve at the soup kitchen because we aren’t sure who we will encounter there.   We don’t share who we are or what we are experiencing either because we don’t make the time or because of fear that we won’t measure up.

But Christ’s kingdom compels us to a life of generous hospitality.  Of sharing our lives.  Of telling our stories and listening.  Of serving.  Of welcoming others into our midst both here at St. Mark’s and in our homes.  And through all this, making our faith real and visible and relevant.

May we become those who exhibit the generosity of God to others.  May we be people who open up both our homes and our lives in order to cultivate deep friendships.  May we live as those both invited to life in the kingdom and those who make the kingdom manifest in our own lives.  And may we yearn for the hope of the kingdom yet to be, that day of true joy and feasting and communion together with Christ.  Amen.


[1] Nora Gallagher, Sacred Meal, pg 102.