Readings for Sunday October 12 are here.
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow,
of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
This seems a precursor of the wedding banquet we hear about in the Gospel but this version in Matthew is very troubling. It is not the Jesus we like - not the inviting presence who continually seeks us even though we turn our backs on him over and over. What can this mean - all this talk of murdering and casting those without proper garments out to weep and gnash their teeth?
The context of this passage sheds a little light on what Matthew may be trying to convey to us. The setting is the last week of Jesus' life. He has been proclaimed as the long awaited Messiah at his entry into Jerusalem riding on the donkey, with palms and shouts accompanying his procession. Next he casts out the moneychangers in the temple. On his way he curses a fig tree for not producing fruit out of season. Just before today's parable Jesus tells of the stewards of the vineyard who kill the son so they might take over the land. Now we hear:
"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, `Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.' But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, `The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, `Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, `Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."
The Gospel continues in this way until Jesus dies on the cross. It is unrelenting in its march through stories of separation and judgment.
Matthew writes at a time when the church was beginning to take shape and in some places was experiencing persecution. It is often regarded a "manual" for church leadership. When hearing these stories Matthew is often speaking to the church and the issues facing it, using temple leaders and stewards of the land as code for any leader that falls away from his or her vows to God. Examples tell of leaders who abandon their responsibilities to the community to make personal gain, those who think they are okay no matter how they act because they think they are the "in-crowd," who kill the messenger who tells the truth of their behavior, who worship things more than God, who abuse those who look to them for truth and hope, those who are in the outer darkness even when they think they are doing God's will. The same issues we face today as we struggle to be God's people here in Rock Springs, Wyoming or wherever we find ourselves.
The wedding banquet is the ongoing invitation of God to live in the kindom of God here and now - it is not about the afterlife for the most part. The banquet is open to all but accepting the invitation is also accepting a Way of life. The man without the proper wedding garment has accepted the invitation but does not accept the fullness of the banquet. He is there but not fully. This is the journey of us all.
At first we may hear of God's offer but find other things to do that seem more important. When we realize we are in the place of weeping and saying to ourselves that we have somehow missed the point of life's meaning - we go back to the table. Even then we stray from what we know to be true and have to return again and again. All the people in the parable are us - at different points along the way. We find ourselves off the path, our lives seem like death and desolation - but then we catch hold of our invitation and return to fullness of life.
Paul in the letter to the Philippians offers a prayer for us as we seek our way back to the dream of Isaiah where all our tears are wiped away:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Well - I did not preach this sermon - emailed it to the church - too bad I could not email myself. Roads were closed with many feet of snow and blowing and drifting on the pass. I did have the thought that perhaps why the Cubs lost was because they did not have the right wedding garments!!
Painting by James B. Janknegt