There is no cute story or pithy introduction that suits a sermon on this parable (Gospel Lesson: Matthew 22:1-14). There is too much violence, too much blood for us to advert our eyes for even a moment. “The kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says, “may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” But when the elites who were invited, they refused to come. Some give excuses, but others mistreat and murder the king’s emissaries. Could it be that they refused because they would no longer pledge loyalty to a person who was as violent as this king? This king who did not arrest them, did not merely kill them, but destroyed both them and their cities. This king who proceeds to judge last minute guests for not being suitably dressed and destroys them as well? How is it that the kingdom of heaven can be compared this this massacre? Is it possible that the kingdom is not to be compared to this king’s reign, but to the action of the few to protest and challenge the violence and dominance of the king’s reign? Could it be that the reign of God exists in our time not in the reign of any government, but in the hope that things could be different?
Rev. Adrianne M. Meier
St. Thomas Lutheran Church
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Matthew 22:1-14
Returning in Indiana, one of the things I was most looking forward to was our library system. Did you know Indiana has the greatest number of libraries founded by Andrew Carnegie? Ninety-eight of the one hundred and sixty four libraries are still operating in their original, though often expanded, buildings. Anyway, the Indiana library system, by my completely unscientific measure, is the best in the county. All of this is basically a digression for me to tell you that I waited 39 weeks in Pennsylvania to read Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming, and would still be waiting, had we not moved. I am choosing to believe so many copies of this book were available because of the superiority of Indiana’s library system. Ahem. I was particularly impacted near the end of the book when Mrs. Obama is discussing the 2016 campaign, a set of leaked tapes, and some particularly vulgar and horrifying statements made about women. Trying to categorize what she was feeling, and what she knew she would not be able to shield her daughters from, she wrote, “Dominance, even the threat of it, is a form of dehumanization. it is the ugliest kind of power.” Those who study genocide would concur. Prior to every documented genocide, one of the earliest symptoms of what was to come was for one side to begin categorizing the other as somehow less the human. It has long stuck with me, though I no longer remember the source, that in Rwanda, the Hutus called the Tutsis bugs before implemented a horrifying final solution.
When I read this parable, it drips with blood – but then again, all of Matthew does. It has barely begun when the babies – the innocents – of Bethlehem are killed by the power-hungry Herod. Matthew’s community lives in the wake of the fall of Jerusalem. They may have participated in the slaughter, they may still mourn their dead. Where is the kin-dom of God when our worlds have been ripped apart by power and dominance, by violence of any kind. We, of course, kid ourselves, too, if we think we are spared this because of the country in which we live. We are not free of violence. Matthew quotes Jeremiah, putting the wail of the Bethlehem mothers, perhaps the wail of the people of this nameless city in today’s parable, perhaps the wail of mothers who recall that October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, perhaps the wail of George Floyd’s mother, and Matthew Shepherd’s mother, whose death 22 years ago is remembered on the 12th – it says, “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
The kin-dom of God exists in the words and actions of those who speak truth to power. The kin-dom of God exists in the actions of those who say, “No more.” To what shall we compare the kin-dom of God? We shall compare it to the woman who stands to face her rapist. To the gay men who change the meaning of a hashtag from the celebration of white supremacy to the celebration of, and pride in, their love. We shall compare it to the people who come informed to the ballot box, knowing their vote can alter the well-being of the lowest and least.
Alas, Beloved, we have yet only handled half of this parable, because there are still the guests invited last – the good and the bad, ushered in from the streets. Where Luke seeks to fill the hall with the rejoicing of the least, finally filled, Matthew instead narrows in on one guest, one person who, though only just invited, is condemned for being improperly dressed. Condemned – bound, “hand and foot, and thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The violence will not end in this parable, and of course, the violence has not nearly drawn to a close. Jesus himself has yet to be bound, to be handed over to authorities, to suffer violence at the hands of power.
To what shall we compare the kin-dom of God? It is Jesus, who has himself clothed you in righteousness by baptism. As St. Paul writes, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” You see, you were invited to this wedding, ushered in at the last minute. There you were, trying to shove as may figs and olives in your pocket before someone caught on that you were the imposter, that you did not belong. The good and the bad were gathered in, and you belong squarely in one of those camps, and with your road rage, and your silence in the face of evil, and that fight your had with your spouse, and the ill you’ve wished upon your neighbor (and by you, of course I mean me), all of these left you square in one of those camps, and it wasn’t the good. Beloved, you could have been the underdressed guest as the feast, but, as Angela Hancock, Associate Professor of Homiletics and Worship at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary says, you could have been that guest, but you weren’t because Jesus gave his wedding robe to you. Jesus gave his robe to you, and took your place in the outer darkness.
As his greatest challenge to power, Jesus gave it all up so that we could have our place at the wedding feast. He went toe-to-toe with the evil in the worst, losing, so that we would not. The question is what will you do? Will you stay at a feast that by its very existence condones violence and the mercilessness of a military state? Or will you take the to streets, setting up a feast where it isn’t the filled who eat, but where a table is spread for those whose bellies rumble, whose fingers freeze in the cold, whose mind wanders, but whose need for dignity remains? Clothed for the feast, will you remain silent while blood flows in the streets? When the next underdressed guest is bound, will you speak up, speak out? Luther says, “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.”
Beloved, what shall we do so that we no longer need compare the kin-dom of God to anything but itself, the feast of the Lamb that has no end. Alleluia.
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 22:1-14
Once more Jesus spoke to (the chief priests and elders) in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a ruler who gave a wedding banquet for his son. The ruler sent slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet; but they would come. Again, the ruler sent other slaves,saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: ‘Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But, those invited made light of it and went away–some to their farm or business, but others seized the ruler’s slaves, mistreated them and killed them. The ruler was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready; but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found–both good and bad, so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
But, when the ruler came in to see the guests, he noticed a person there who was not wearing a wedding robe. He said, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And the guest was speechless. Then the host said to the attendants, ‘Bind this person hand and foot and throw him into outer darkness–where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
For many are called; but few are chosen.”