But none of the glitches. None of the little problems can hold a candle to the wedding Jesus describes in the Gospel lesson for today. A king throws a wedding banquet for his son. Sends out his slaves with invitations. In those days, any king would have sent the invitations to the elite of the realm. The people who are pretty enough to appear on a fashion plate in Cosmopolitan, rich and famous enough to be interviewed for People Magazine. The best of society, like the chief priests and elders to whom Jesus is speaking.
But the elite aren’t interested. They ignore the invitation. They even beat and murder those who invite them.
So the king goes ballistic, sends out his army to kill the wedding guests and burn their city. What do you think the bride is saying to herself at this point, or the bride’s parents? standing there with the Chicken Cordon Bleu getting dry in those stainless-steel trays they have at wedding receptions, with the blue little sterno flames flickering below them, what are they saying as the entire guest list is being killed and the city burned around them?
It was meant to be a celebration. It was meant to be the beginning of a great adventure. Something seems to have gone awry.
Of course, Jesus is not describing an actual wedding. He is telling a particular kind of parable, called an allegory. In an allegory, one thing stands for something else. Not all of Jesus’ parables are allegories, but in this one, the king stands for God. The Son is Jesus. The slaves are the prophets and Christian missionaries. The elite guests are the chief priests and elders Jesus is talking to. The burning of the city refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans after the Jewish revolt in 70 A.D.
The king sends his slaves out again, to the streets and crossroads, to the boundaries of the kingdom, and invites everyone, higgledy piggeldy. The people who are not pretty enough to be a fashion plate in Cosmopolitan, the people not rich or famous enough to be interviewed by People Magazine. You and me.
Finally comes this unsettling scene where the king is walking among his guests and sees someone who is not wearing the proper wedding clothes. For not wearing the proper wedding clothes, this person is thrown into the outer darkness.
I think the point of this parable is that God has expectations of us. Yes, God loves us as we are. Grace comes to us undeserved, unearned unexpected. We are invited, higgledy piggeldy. But it is the nature of grace to change us. We are invited, you know, into a celebration, a journey that involves challenge and perseverance and courage and forgiveness and humility and laughter and passion and hope and love.
Because we are constantly setting out on an adventure, we are expected to wear the right clothes. We are expected to put on Christ. We are expected to be ready for challenge and perseverance and courage and forgiveness and humility and laughter and passion and hope and love.
Here is where Matthew and John differ from Paul and Mark and others. In Paul, God continues to work on us, even though we are sinners. In Mark, The Holy Spirit continues to speak to the witnessing community even when it fails. Matthew emphasizes God’s expectations of us. Paul emphasizes God’s mercy toward us. Both are true.
When Thyne and I got married, everything was wonderful. the church was all decked out for the Sunday after Christmas, the wedding cake was raspberry amaretto, how can you lose with raspberry amaretto wedding cake, the bride is absolutely beautiful. Everything was wonderful except, we had told the DJ explicitly, explicitly that they wanted a waltz for our dance, a waltz. Instead played “After the Lovin” by Englebert Humperdink. Englebert Humperdink. Really?
After we got married, I couldn’t hit the closet doors when I was frustrated any more, or throw by car keys across the room. I had to listen to someone talk about their day before complaining about my own. And I had to have a positive attitude, choose to have a positive attitude even when I didn’t feel like it because if I didn’t, she would be sad. I had to get up in the middle of the night and feed a crying baby. I had to teach my teenage daughter how to drive. And I had to love.
This is the adventure God invites us into. God does not leave us. God helps us. God will never give up on us. Whether we are married or not, this is where we are going. An adventure, of challenge and perseverance and courage and forgiveness and humility and laughter and passion and hope and love.