Nineteenth Weekend After Pentecost (A/RCL): “Yes, You’re Invited! Just RSVP Yes!”
October 14-15, 2017
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
This is a startling parable! ‘Have any questions about it? (No question is too small!)
Fair warning: I may not know the answers to your questions, and some questions may not have any pat answers….
St. Luke’s version of the story is easier to hear, easier to swallow. I’m sure it was the basis for a Gospel song I learned as a child – maybe you did, too?
“I cannot come!
I cannot come to the banquet!
Don’t bother me now.
I have got me a wife.
I have bought me a cow.
I have fields and possessions.
Don’t bother me now!
I cannot come!”
When we teach children songs to help them learn and love and memorize Scripture, those songs always end on a happy note – but for the life of me, I can’t remember any of the other verses of this one! I do recall that we third graders at Holy Family School gave a spirited rendition of the chorus, though!
In Luke’s telling of Jesus’ parable:
· It’s not a king, it’s just a guy who’s hosting.
· The gathering isn’t a wedding, it’s just a feast.
· The invited guests don’t kill the messengers, they just send their regrets through them.
· The rejected host is angry, but he doesn’t send out henchmen to kill the guests on the first guest list or to burn their city – he sends out messengers to:
…. bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” (Luke 14:21-24)
· In Luke’s version, no one who finally shows up is guilty of fashion faux pas and cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth….
I’d rather deal with Luke’s kinder, gentler version of the parable, but alas, we’re given Matthew’s harsher account today.
In it Jesus says that the people on the first guest list:
“made light of [the invitation] and went away, one to his farm, another to his business….” (Matt. 22:5)
The Greek word for “made light”could also be translated “disregard,” “reject,” “disrespect”…. We certainly can’t hear the word “disrespect” these days without thinking of NFL players “taking a knee.” When I hear that phrase I’ve wondered, why don’t they just say “kneel”? Why do they say, “take a knee”? I haven’t heard an explanation, but I’m thinking it has a connotation of protest, while “kneeling” is associated with worship and adoration.
Kinda goes to the heart of the parable. Who or what are we worshiping? Not just when we’re formally worshiping, here, together, but when we leave here, throughout the week? One commentator explains the refusal of the first guests to attend the party this way:
The affairs of the day were more important than the call of Christ.1
How do we set our own daily priorities? When I was an intern at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Lockport, IL, my ordained-for-a-long-time supervisor and I talked about time management. He showed me his color-coded calendar: events that were “musts” were 1 color, “would really be nice, if possible” events were another color, and “probably not in the cards, maybe if I get around to it” events were another. Is worship on our “must” list, our “sure would be nice” list or our “one of a thousand possibilities” list? (You’re here, so it’s probably not in that last category of “when pigs fly”!)
There’s no way around it: even in Luke’s gentler telling of the story, this is still a parable of judgment. The destruction of the city of those who RSVP’d “no” is seen as symbolizing the early Christians’ judgment that Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was God’s punishment for institutional Judaism’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah. Let me be quick to add this is different than a condemnation of Judaism itself or of all Jews: most of the early Christians (and Jesus Himself) were Jews! This story is included in the Gospel not to condemn the Jews but to urge early Christian leaders and other members of the flock (including us) to look at their/our own lives critically. Most of us are part of the Gentile rabble, the “also ran” crowd that got invited to the banquet when some of the original guests were no-shows. In Holy Baptism we accepted the invitation offered to us. The question is: are we living the life of the baptized? Are we walking the walk as well as talking the talk? Am I loving God above all else and my neighbor as myself??
The wedding garment whose absence is so insulting that the underdressed guest gets thrown out of the reception is a symbol of righteousness. I don’t really like to say that, because I like to say, “Some days it’s enough just to show up,” and to quote our 12 step friends: “Bring the body and the mind will follow.” But this particular Gospel says something different! It’s not enough to simply show up. Figuratively speaking, we need to wear our white baptismal garment daily, to be continually clothed in the righteousness of Christ. We need to acknowledge that Christ has bought the salvation we could never afford, and given it to us free of charge. He takes our sin and gives us forgiveness. He takes our selfishness and gives us His selflessness. He takes our weakness and gives us His strength. He takes our sorrow and gives us His joy. That’s the heart of the Gospel message recovered by the Reformation that we’re commemorating this weekend and this month on its 500th anniversary.
No self-satisfaction allowed, either from those who dot their spiritual I’s and cross their theological T’s, making them feel holier-than-thou compared to everybody else or from those who don’t see any reason to act any better than they ever have. Elsewhere Jesus says, you’ll know a tree by its fruits. So -- what Kingdom fruit is our life bearing? What priorities have we set? What’s on our “must do” list? What’s on our “if there’s any time left over” list? You’re invited to God’s party! Each day, we make another choice to say yes or no, to act yes or no.
About that last verse in today’s Gospel: “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14)? Episcopal priest/author Robert Farrar Capon has written:
Nobody is kicked out who wasn’t already in…[H]ell… remains radically unnecessary… [H]ell, ultimately, is not the place of punishment for sinners; sinners are not punished at all; they go straight to heaven just for saying yes to grace. Hell is simply the nowhere that is the only thing left for those who will not accept their acceptance by grace.2
1Interpreter’s Bible, volume 7 (NY: Abingdon, 1951), p. 515.
2Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of Judgment (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eeerdmans, 1989), p. 125.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham