The feast of the marriage of God and humanity is a joy and a filling and forgiveness and an abundance of life: why would we refuse the invitation?
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 28, year A
Texts: Matthew 22:1-14; Psalm 23; Isaiah 25:1-9
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
This doesn’t make any sense.
Why would anybody reject an invitation to a royal wedding? It comes in the mail, heavy paper, elegant embossing, and you’re in, invited to a wonderful event. Even here in the States, where we rejected royalty centuries ago, we’re fascinated by royal weddings. But not just one person turns it down. The entire guest list makes fun of the invitation, and some do horrible things to the messengers.
Jesus likes starting parables with ridiculous scenarios like this. It’s his thing. No father would sell his house, empty his savings and give half to a younger son, then watch him head into the sunset. No shepherd in the world would abandon 99 sheep to wolves and injury and cold to go looking for one lost sheep. It’d be hard to find a farmer or vineyard owner who’d pay a full day’s wage to workers who only put in an hour’s labor.
But Jesus has deeper truths, greater wisdom, we can only get to by breaking down all we think is true. We can’t imagine rejecting a royal invitation. So, Jesus says, what do you reject? If this is like God’s realm, what invitation are you tossing into the recycling bin?
To crack this open, we need to know what the invitation is. What feast are we talking about?
Jesus tells a story of a wedding of a king’s son. It’s Holy Week when he tells this parable, along with others that use the image of an important father and his son. Obviously Jesus is talking about himself, the Son of God, and his relationship to the One he called Father.
But that it’s a wedding is also important. Whenever wedding imagery is used in the New Testament, pay attention. It’s not accidental. The Church has understood it to mean that we, the Church, are the bride of Christ. That in Christ’s death and resurrection the Triune God and humanity are joined in a new covenant, a new testament, a marriage. In this covenant we are married into to the life of the Triune God, restored, forgiven, and transformed.
This parable’s wedding feast is the wedding feast of humanity to God. It’s a joyful celebration of God’s love and forgiveness, God’s eternal marriage promises of faithfulness and care. It’s a celebration that we know now and that continues into the life to come. When we come to this Table in this liturgy, we eat of this marriage feast, taking in God’s food for life and wholeness and salvation. Why would we ever reject this?
We might not be terribly fond of the rest of the guest list.
Anxiety around seating charts at receptions seems to haunt many wedding planners; apparently whom we sit next to at a wedding matters. Maybe we don’t want God’s invitation because of who’s at our table.
David sings of a feast prepared in his enemies’ presence. The way the Hebrew Scriptures speak of the feast of God, including Isaiah today, suggests that David’s feast is a reconciliation meal. The feast is spread amongst enemies, so they’re also at the table.
Isaiah proclaims the great feast in the life to come, when death is destroyed, but it’s the same inclusive vision. All peoples, all nations, will come to this feast on God’s mountain, and all will be fed. This marriage of humanity to the Triune God that Christ creates will join all people to God. We’ll be cheek and jowl with everyone.
Now, this congregation lives with the belief of full inclusion in God. We experience it repeatedly: here all are welcome, all are seen as loved by God, no matter who they are, what they look like, what quirks they have. Still, most of us wouldn’t need much time to make a list of individuals or groups that we don’t want next to us at God’s wedding feast, either in the life to come, or at the marriage feast in which we live in this life.
We also might not really want to be married.
Marriage joins for life, so you’re together. A lot. If it’s the Triune God making this covenant with us, then God’s planning on taking up residence with us. Living in our lives. There, all the time. Maybe we reject God’s invitation because we’re not ready for that marriage.
As beloved as the 23rd Psalm is, there’s an uncomfortable intensity of relationship there. The Shepherd anoints us with oil at baptism, brings us through those waters, provides all in abundance. The Shepherd leads us on the paths of God, not our paths. The Shepherd restores our soul, walks with us through dangers, feeds us at the Table, accompanies us all the days of our life.
That’s a lot of closeness with God. When the path winds through valleys of shadow and fear, we certainly want our Shepherd. No one wants to face wolves alone.
But all that guidance, directing of our paths, walking with us all day, being with us while we sleep, maybe that’s more than we’re ready for. We like our own paths, seeking out satisfaction that we want, even dangerous things. At our core, we resist walking with God daily because we can never get away, or run wherever we want.
We also might not want to come to the marriage feast on God’s terms.
We love the idea of receiving God’s grace, God’s eternal love, without earning it. But at the same time we often hope that somehow we’re probably doing well enough to earn some of it. Better than others we could mention, we think.
But the final wedding guest list in the parable is populated by “both good and bad,” whoever could come. All are worthy because the king said so, not because of what they did. As people are brought in from the streets, the pickpocket and the one whose pocket got picked are both guests. We’re worthy because God says we are, not because of us. We don’t always like that very much.
And we resist what it means to be brought into God’s grace. The Scriptures say that when we’re loved by God through grace we are transformed into Christ. Whatever we are, good or bad, is utterly changed. We’re made worthy by the Spirit’s transformation.
That’s the problem of the wedding garment. In a culture where poor people didn’t have two sets of clothes, Jesus imagines that the king provided clothing for all guests. A rack of tuxedos and evening gowns were inside the entrance hallway, in all sizes.
In Colossians, Paul says our transformation into Christ is like being dressed in Christ’s clothing, putting on love, forgiveness, patience, as a garment. (Colossians 3) Being dressed to be someone we aren’t yet. And like the guest in the parable, we’re not always ready for that. Why do I need to be made to look like Christ? Don’t I get to be myself?
But none of these reasons actually make any sense, do they?
After all this, we’re still back at our principal objection: why would anyone ever turn down God’s invitation? Even with such reasons, once we see God’s feast spreading in this world now and forever, once we learn what God plans marriage with us to be, there’s nothing we want more.
We want communion and grace with God, even if it means God in our lives all the time, every day. Because it means God in our lives all the time, every day.
We want the joy of feasting in God’s love and forgiveness, even if it means having enemies or those we don’t like feasting alongside us. Because it means reconciliation with enemies and those we don’t like.
We want the blessing of being clothed in God’s love and grace, covered with the garments of salvation, even if it means letting go of our clothing, our ways. Because there is nothing we want more than to look like Christ, to love like Christ, to live like Christ.
The invitations are out, and you’re invited to the wedding feast of God. So is everyone. It’s time to RSVP, and start living in this new life, at this feast, in the marriage love of God now and forever.
In the name of Jesus. Amen