Decisions, decisions, decisions…the other day I RSVP’d for a wedding, and I was invited to choose my meal from these options: gluten-free, nut-free, vegetarian and “I’ll eat anything.” The hosts are working hard to show hospitality to all of their guests. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They have to make decisions about what to wear, where to have the ceremony, who gets to speak, and who’s invited. I have to decide what to give them. Registry gift? Or the ever popular gift of cash?
The modern wedding is a stress creator, with people worrying about the right food, the setting, the guest list, the favors, and a long list of things. Apparently, in Jesus’ day, similar stresses apply. Jesus uses the setting of a wedding to say something about the realm of God, but things go terribly wrong for everyone in the parable. The guests make light of the invitation, mistreat the messengers, and the king has them killed. It’s all so over the top that we can see it’s an illustration, meant to teach. This first parable is followed by a second, where one guest hasn’t taken the time to prepare properly for this event, and is excluded from the banquet.
Read the scripture.
Read the Working Preacher commentary.
Matthew’s version of this parable is much starker than Luke’s (Luke 14.) The guests have choices about whether to attend, and they don’t take the invitation seriously. In Luke’s version, they all have good reasons for not coming, but not here in Matthew’s version. The host chooses to vent his rage, and answer their indifference with brutality. The parable is set in the first century days when the synagogue and the early church are parting ways, and, even understanding that, it’s painful to make sense of the violence on both sides.
The wedding banquet is a frequent image for the fullness of God’s reign, both in Jewish and Christian imagery, but this particular version isn’t a banquet most of us want to attend.
The parable invites us to think about the ways violence is built into our own ways of following God. In a recent blog post, Presbyterian Ruling Elder Melva Lowry recalled a question asked by Rev. Dr. Katie Cannon. “In Dr. Cannon’s 1988 womanist ethics dissertation that she presented to a mostly white and male audience at the American Academy of Religion, she posed two questions that have yet to be answered by the Church, specifically the white Christian church.” The first question was: “How long would the white church continue to be the ominous symbol of white dominance—sanctioning and assimilating the propagation of racism in the mundane interests of the ruling group?”
Even when we miss it, there are places of spiritual and emotional violence in our faith. That violence is no surprise to congregations of color, to people of color in mostly white congregations, to the LGBTQ community and to anyone outside our vision of what church people should be. The parable invites us to look hard at thew ways faith and violence are woven together.
This parable defies any easy categories. Placing God in the role of the angry host allows us to think about judgment, but it keeps us from looking deeply at our own place(s) in the story. Looking at a parable, we can consider each role, and where God is inviting us to see ourselves in that place. Are we the angry host, upset when people don’t do it our way? Angry with those who don’t follow our understanding of what faith is? Are we the first guests, taking God’s invitations lightly? Are we the guest without the wedding robe, giving only half of our attention to the places where God speaks to us? Are we the messengers? Or the guests invited later, amazed and thrilled to be included where we never thought we would be welcome?
Violence in places of worship is becoming frighteningly frequent. Our Muslim neighbors experienced it most recently, our Jewish neighbors last fall, and so have Christians in a variety of church settings. The sermon might look at how the language of who’s included in and excluded from the realm of God fuels that violence.
Or the sermon could ponder who’s included in our local congregation. Who’s invited in to the place where we worship? My own congregation insists that we welcome all people, but the barriers to entry are high. A certain level of dress, literacy and polish make some people feel excluded, even when we proclaim their welcome with words.
Or the sermon might look at where we locate ourselves in the story, and how our roles shift. The sermon might also look at the congregation, and our place in this story. Where do we, as a group of people, find ourselves? Are we judgy? Invitational? Inattentive to God’s other guests?
Or the sermon might look at our images of God’s realm. Where are we imagining too little, or dreaming too narrowly? Where does our image of God’s reign work for our own convenience? Where are your thoughts taking you this week? We would love to hear, and to continue the conversation, in the comments section below.
Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian church. She is the author of Meeting God at the Mall. The image is from the wedding invitations on VistaPrint.
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