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Pentecost 19 October 15, 2017 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
PENTECOST 18 Proper 23 Year A
Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 21:1-14
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, October 15, 2017
The Rev. Janet Campbell
The kingdom of heaven,
said Jesus,
may be compared to a king
who threw a wedding banquet
for his son.
Everyone in Jesus’ day
would understand
the connection.
In their scriptures,
such a great banquet
was a well-known metaphor
          for the reign of God . . .
like the feast promised
in today’s reading
from the Prophet Isaiah,
a feast of rich food    
and well-aged wines
          prepared by God for all peoples.

A feast celebrating
the final healing
of a broken and suffering world,
The salvation of a struggling
and sorrowing people
who long had waited
for God to act.
Yes, the Kingdom of heaven
could be compared
to such a feast of rejoicing.
Jesus’ listeners
would also have noticed
the oddities
in his parable.                                                                                         
They knew
a king’s invitations  
would have gone only
          to all the best people
those of the highest
          social stature.
They knew
the wedding of a king’s son would be
one of the bigger events
          on that year’s social calendar . . .
the place to be and be seen.

Who would turn down
such a prized invitation?
But, when the feast was ready
and the king sent his slaves,
          as was the custom,
to call his guests to the banquet hall . . .
to a person,
the guests refused to come.
It would never happen!
A colossal snub,
a huge public embarrassment
          for the king,
and socially risky
for the recipients of the invitation.
The king sent his slaves
          a second time
          (which you should never have to do) . . .
and the intended guests laughed them off . . .
          some went about their daily routine
          while others mistreated and killed the slaves.
What’s a king to do
but “#burn down that city”?

At this point
we may suspect
that Jesus’ parable
has been co-opted by
Matthew’s agenda,
and perhaps by mine as well!
It’s helpful to compare
a similar story
in the Gospel of Luke,                                                (Luke 14:16-24)
in which a wealthy man,
          (but not a king),
plans a great dinner,
          (but not a wedding banquet).
The people he invites
are the equally wealthy
          and socially well-placed.
When he sends out his slave
          to call them all to table,
they make lame excuses
          and don’t go . . .
                   (but don’t kill the slave).
The host is angry at the rebuff,
          (but doesn’t burn down the city).
He sends the slave out again,
this time to invite
“the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”

The table is spread
for those who will come,
those for whom the wealthy
          should always set the table,
the most fragile and vulnerable
          in that society.
Luke very clearly
intends to challenge his hearers
to consider their own response
          to God’s invitation to the kingdom,
their own lame reasons
          for turning away,
and their own sense
          of who is worthy
                   of the kingdom.
Matthew has those things in mind,
but is also concerned
with the bitter break
between Jewish followers of Jesus,
and the Jewish religious leaders
          who rejected their claim
          that Jesus was the long-awaited
                   Messiah of God,
          and so rejected them.

The religious leaders
who had lost sight of
the prophets’ calls
          for a just and equitable society
leaders whose rigorous application
          of religious law
and self-serving righteousness
had made them the oppressors
          of the needy and suffering people
                    they had been called to serve.
Matthew’s community
would understand the implication
that those leaders
were the guests who foolishly rejected
          the invitation to the wedding banquet . . .
a feast prepared by a king
          understood to stand for God,
with God’s Son Jesus understood
          to be the bridegroom,
                   (one of the titles used for Jesus
                   in the Christian scriptures.)                

The violent escalation,
the beating and killing of the slaves,
may be an exaggerated reflection
of the growing hostility
          between Matthew’s community
                   and the religious establishment . . .
The outsize reaction
of a king who burns down a city
meant to emphasize
the frustration of God
          with its religious leaders.
Or the burning of the city
may be Matthew’s reference
to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem
          and the temple
          only 15 or so years earlier,
seen as the inevitable consequence
          of the refusal of those false religious leaders
          to repent and return to God.
But none of this
would deter the king
from holding the son’s wedding feast.
He would send out more slaves,
this time to
invite anyone they could find.

And so, at last,
the wedding hall
was full of guests,
“both the good and the bad,”
Matthew comments . . .
Just as we think
we are getting to the point . . .
the wide-openness of
          the kingdom of heaven,
we are confronted
with the rejected guest,
the one with
no wedding robe.
Since he’d been invited by surprise,
a passer-by
          gathered in by the slaves,
of course he wasn’t appropriately dressed.
now comes Matthew’s warning
          to his own community . . .
they must not be complacent
about their participation
          in the banquet,
about their following of Jesus.

For they would know
that the guest
could have chosen
          to put on a wedding robe,
because it was incumbent
on a host to have a supply of them    
          for those who arrived without one.
          (The way high-toned restaurants
          used to keep jackets and ties on hand
                    for men too casually attired.)
Apparently the guest refused –
he would remain just as he was.
And so he was thrown out.
Not asked to leave,
but thrown out.
And not just thrown out,
but “bound hand and foot,
and cast into the outer darkness.”
Such, warns Matthew,
will be the consequence
of refusing the transformation of life
          to which Jesus calls his followers.

Everyone is invited
          to the kingdom feast,
but it will be necessary
to put on
          the allegorical wedding robe.
And what is that robe?
Not the strait-jacket
          of human-devised religious law,
not the flashy garb
          of the skewed cultural values
                   of the present age,
but the beautifully woven garment
          of God’s love and compassion,
                    justice and peace.
What does that robe represent
but the transformation of life
that comes
from knowing and following Jesus?
The transformation of life
we enter into in baptism,
when, in the words of St. Paul,
we “put on Christ.”
Christ, the wedding robe.
To borrow from Paul’s
Letter to the Philippians,
Put on
“. . . whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing,
whatever is commendable,
. . . if there is any excellence . . .
if there is anything worthy of praise. . .”
“Put on these things.”
This is our privilege
and our responsibility
          as followers of Jesus.
We strive to become these things
          and fall short,
and strive again
          and fall short again,
but God is at work
          in our striving and falling
and we will be transformed,
          made new,
                   day by day.

The kingdom of heaven
can be compared to
the banquet we celebrate
every Sunday.
All are invited,
all are welcome.
Here we are,
each of us within ourselves
          a mix of “the good and the bad,”
          the worthy and unworthy,
The crux of the matter
is our willingness to be transformed –
to put on the wedding robe . . .
Oh, it will be much too big
          for us at first . . .
But we are asked to put it on,
          and spend the rest of our lives
                   growing up into it.