11th October 2020

The Rev’d Peter Jin

Matthew 22:1-14

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel for today is one of the strangest, most shocking of the parables of Jesus. What on earth are we supposed to conclude here? This morning I am going to make three points.

Here is my first observation. Flannery O’Connor, the American fiction writer was asked by readers about her over-the-top characters and violent stories. Here is her defence: in a land of the deaf you have to shout. ( https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-2811753081/to-the-hard-of-hearing-you-shout-flannery-o-connor ) In our increasingly secularised society many people have grown deaf to spiritual themes, have lost the sense of God. We need to be awakened by someone shaking our shoulders. How does Flannery O’Connor do it? By telling exaggerated tall tales that are meant to grab people’s attention.

When we approach Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet, we have to bear in mind that it is a story. We should not read it in a straight forward literal way. As if the way the king behaves in this story, that is how God behaves. It is a story that is meant to stir us up with its exaggeration. Jesus is using an exaggerated narrative to wake us up.

Okay, with that in mind let us look at some details. Well, exaggeration is all over the place. Not just the king, everyone in the story is acting in strange ways. The first exaggeration is the reaction of the people.

A king gives a wedding banquet for his own son. In Jesus time, it would be impossible to imagine a higher honour than to receive an invitation to such a banquet. Let me give you an analogy: the Queen personally invites me to the wedding of her grandson at the palace. If I got that invitation, what would I do? Would I say ‘Oh let me check my calendar’ or ‘you know what, Your Majesty, I’d love to come, but there is a clash, on that night, I am going to the Adelaide Oval to watch a football game with my mates’? No, no way. Even if I had an important meeting on the same day, I would make this royal invitation as a priority. Why? Because I would meet the leading figures in the society there. I would taste the best possible food and the finest of wines. I would enjoy the best music. I would definitely take a few selfies and put them on my Facebook page. Who would seriously turn down such an invitation?

The connection is clear. We can see the king here as God who invites people to share a great wedding banquet. Who are those sent to deliver the invitations? They are the prophets, the teachers of Israel whom God sent out over the centuries. See, there is the tragedy of the story. God has personally invited Israel into an intimate communion with God and the prophets have been met with indifference and even extreme violence.

The king’s reaction is over the top. What we are meant to see is not so much the king as a psychotic tyrant. What the story is meant to tell us is that how weird it is that we consistently refuse the invitation from God. The story is meant to grab our the shoulders, and shake us into an awareness. ‘Don’t you get it’. ‘Don’t you see’. ‘What an invitation you have received! What you are being invited into!’ Yet how bizarrely, ignorantly and sadly we have rejected it at times. In a land of the deaf Jesus has to shout.

My second observation is: How do we read the king’s anger? Please, don’t read it literally as though God falls in and out of emotional states. No. God is love. God is eternal. God is unchanging. That is who God is.

In today’s first reading, verse 10: ‘The lord said to Moses, Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them’. So how do we read God’s anger? Read God’s anger as an expression throughout the Bible especially in the Old Testament as a metaphor for God’s desire, God’s passion to set the things right. Let me say it again. Read God’s anger as an expression throughout the Bible as a metaphor for God’s desire, God’s passion to set the things right.

So back to the parable. They have refused the invitation. They have killed the messengers. The king has burned down the city and now he sends out the general invitation to everybody. What is this invitation? It is God’s universal offer of Grace. Yes, God invited Israel as a chosen people, but now, now, God invites the whole world including you and me to the wedding banquet. God offers all of us a share in the divine life. What a great honour to be invited into an intimate communion with God! What a great privilege to be invited to be part of the divine life!

We have heard the divine call in a million ways through the Bible and sermons, through the Church and sacraments. Have we refused the invitation in the past? Yes, sometimes or many times. But grace is grace and it is freely given. What does God do? God responds by inviting more, inviting, inviting, inviting.

Here is my last observation. Now let us dwell on a puzzling detail of the last part of the story. So great, some have responded to the invitation. Then the king comes to the banquet and he sees a man who is not wearing a proper garment. The king is so angry that he has his attendants bind him hand and foot, and thrown him out into the darkness. And again we are tempted to say well this is a little over the top.

No. No. The anger of king is a way of signalling that clothing oneself appropriately is required to live in a divine house. In Biblical times the wedding garment was always supplied by the host. It was simply a matter of accepting it and putting it on. It was freely given, like grace. What does the wedding garment represent? It represents a renewed, entire self. The wedding garment, metaphorically speaking, enables us to thoroughly enjoy the banquet in the Lord’s house.

God is the source of life. Think now of the general invitation which is God’s offer of grace. God keeps inviting us to the wedding banquet, to his divine house, to an intimate communion with God. As long as we are willing to receive the invitation to the banquet, as long as we are willing to accept the wedding garment and put it on, then we will thoroughly enjoy God’s party, to have life, and have it to the full. Amen.