October 15, 2023
20th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who invites us to the banquet. Amen
We have readings full of banquets today.
Isaiah imagines a feast prepared by the Lord
for all people to celebrate the destruction of death,
and at this feast
the people will recognize that the God
who has been a refuge for the needy, a shelter from the storm,
is the one who has brought this salvation,
and they will rejoice.
In our Psalm,
the good shepherd who guides and restores
even through the toughest of times
defiantly prepares a feast in the presence of enemies,
a sign of the goodness and mercy that overflows
from a life lived with the good shepherd.
And in Matthew we have a parable of a sumptuous banquet
to which those who are invited not only ignore the invitation
but abuse those sent to remind them of their invitation.
And when the doors are thrown wide to all, to fill the hall,
one guest who is found underdressed is thrown out of the banquet.
To quote the Muppets on Sesame Street:
“One of these things is not like the others….”
I always cringe at parables
that end with outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth,
and yet here this parable is,
as much as I’d like to ignore it in favor of the banquets of Isaiah and the Psalm,
it is so shocking that it demands to be addressed,
how is it that the kingdom of heaven
may be compared to this king on
the one hand generous with invitations
but on the other hand doesn’t deal well with rejection?
First, to make any headway with this parable
we need to give up the idea
that it’s an exact one for one allegory,
while the kingdom of heaven may be like the king in some ways
it is not like the king in all ways,
and while we could possibly draw parallels to historical figures or groups
in the parable, it is doubtful that are they who Jesus was really referring to.
So we will be careful with allegory.
Second, we must be careful
about what we apply from parables
to our lives today,
particularly the parables with violence.
In this parable
violence is met with extreme violence
much like what is occurring in Israel and Palestine right now.
It might be tempting to attempt to draw meaning
or justify current violence with parable violence
but that would be a misuse of the parable in particular
and Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom in general because
Finally, context matters
and in the context of Jesus’ teachings
about the kingdom of God that has come near
this kind of violence is an anomaly.
Closer to the parable itself
we see that it comes as one of a series of parables
that Jesus tells to the chief priests and elders
after they have challenged his authority,
essentially asking him ‘what gives you the right to teach and heal?’
or more accurately ‘who gives you the power to do these things?’
they ask because they understand themselves
as the ones authorized by God
to teach the people
(and heaven forbid anyone else try to take over their job)
and Jesus responds with parables
that challenge and question how they’ve used or misused this authority.
With this in mind,
when we look at the parable again
we can draw a connection between the chief priests and elders
and those first invitees to the king's banquet.
It’s an amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity,
and what do they do?
They ignore the invitation!
They put their own concerns ahead of the invitation of the king,
even actively disparaging the invitation.
So is this rejection the end of the banquet?
No, the king has his servants go out and invite more people,
anyone they can find, good and bad,
to fill the banquet hall,
and it is these folks who respond to the invitation.
Jesus is telling the leaders before him
that even though they have neglected their invitation
and authority from God,
God isn’t finished,
God will find another way,
others to teach the people,
to share the good news of God.
God doesn’t let us humans get in the way of accomplishing God’s mission,
just as much as God uses us humans to help accomplish God’s work,
God will keep inviting
until someone responds,
no matter who that is.
And that sounds like good news for us
who, when we think about it honestly,
wouldn’t put ourselves on that initial guest list to the banquet.
So yay, God invites everyone!
That sounds great.
The parable isn’t over,
there’s one last scene between the king and the guest without a wedding robe,
and we can think of all sorts of reasons
why it would be unreasonable to expect this man
just dragged off the street
to not have a robe,
except that since he stands out,
everyone else, also dragged off the street
seems to have rushed home to change
and made it back in time.
He responded to the invitation
but only half heartedly
and the king finds that unacceptable.
With this addition
it seems that Jesus is saying
‘yes everyone is invited,
and there are expectations that go along with the invitation’
such an extravagant invitation should transform us in some way
and if we resist that transformation,
are we really fully accepting the invitation?
Or put another way
an invitation is useless
unless the one who is invited responds.
Now some of you good Lutherans
may be starting to squirm at all this talk of responding
when we are saved by grace through faith,
which is not our doing but a gift from God,
and don’t worry,
salvation is still completely the work of God,
but it is offered as a gift,
it is not forced upon us,
which means it is up to us to live into the grace and faith we’ve been given,
it is such a great gift that God expects it will transform our lives
and is disappointed when we half-heartedly respond.
So it’s a good thing
that there’s yet another banquet,
the one Jesus sets for us each time we gather,
where he blesses bread and wine,
this is my body and blood,
given for you for the forgiveness of sins, he tells us,
and then in the kingdom way
he makes sure there is enough for all
and as we taste and see that the lord is good
our half-hearted response is forgiven
and we are renewed to once again
fully accept the invitation
to live into the grace and faith gifted to us by God.
Who has destroyed death
And who has placed a banquet before us.
Come let us rejoice in God’s salvation. Amen
For this sermon I drew from the ideas in the following commentary: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-28/commentary-on-matthew-221-14-9