St Mary’s Whitby, October 12 2014
Rev. Felicity O’Brien
I’m going to look at today’s Gospel in two parts, and I’ll explain why a bit later.
The first part of the parable of the wedding banquet is like last week’s reading about the vineyard and the owner, who sent his slaves and then his son. Do you remember how the first group were ignored, the second ill-treated, and the third killed?
Today’s parable is like that too. The king sent his slaves with an everyday message – the wedding feast is ready, it’s time to come. In the first century wedding guests knew that they were invited, and roughly when the wedding would be, but the actual timing of the wedding had an element of surprise in it – remember the story of the wise and foolish virgins.
So the king would have been doing nothing unusual in sending out a message that it was time to gather.
What was unusual is that the invited guests didn’ t come! Can you imagine being invited to a wedding, or a party, and looking forward to it, but when the time came, not caring enough to be bothered coming? No, it isn’t normal behaviour is it? As in many of the parables, Jesus uses an arresting and incongruous image, which would have made people laugh.
The king sent another lot of slaves, letting the guests know more about the party – the oxen is roasting, the table is set, groaning with food… If someone called me and said, there’s a feast on, celebrating your friend’s wedding – and there’s a spit roast, and trifle… I would be there like a flash!
But in the parable, the more information the guests were given, the more the messengers were maltreated, even killed! Tradition has it that these two sets of slaves refers to the prophets – God sent prophets to the Jewish people, telling them that the messiah was coming! But the prophets were ignored, then ill-treated. Now we can see the allegory of this parable- the wedding feast is the feast of the lamb. Some of the guests just went away and ignored the word from the king, others killed the prophets.
Did you have a time in your life when you ignored the word of God? When you knew that people worshipped God, that people loved Jesus, but you just weren’t interested? Last week Tim gave us some of his testimony, in which he was in that position. He knew all about Jesus, but decided to walk away.
Or have you been the sorts of people who ill-treated the messengers, persecuting them for their news?
Now, don’ t get me wrong, I’m not accusing any of you of being mass murderers! (There’s prayer available afterwards is that’s you…) but history teaches us that there are people who treat prophets like that. People who are called Pharisees now, after the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They took the letter of the law so seriously that they completely missed out on its message. We can see it in Islam too -extremists, who take the idea of Jihad, which means struggle, that is, a struggle to live a life pleasing to Allah, their name for God, as a struggle against anyone who worships in a different way whether Muslim or something else. We can see how dangerous Pharisaism can become.
Coming back to our parable, what did the king do next? He widened he invitation. The Old Testament refers to the Jews as the chosen people, but when they did not receive Jesus as the very Messiah they had been waiting for, the invitation was sent out to the rest of the world. In many of Jesus’ exploits we see how he didn’t limit his love and care to only those of the fold, but welcomed those who had faith in him, no matter what their background.
That is a challenge for us too. Our bishop asks us to care for the lost, least and last, in whatever order, and this group of people from the Main streets represents the last, lost and least. When I walk down the main street of Wellington, Lambton Quay, taking my daughter to choir, most people seem busy and prosperous. Some are obviously distressed, like the beggars who sit by their pieces of cardboard, asking for coins. But there may be other hurting people, sad people, lost people, ignored people in that crowd.
God’s invitation is to everyone. The Main St represents a cross-section of humanity. It is an invitation to everyone! Do you notice how the parable says, the slaves gathered everyone, both good and bad, so the wedding hall was filled with guests. They didn’t judge, and neither must we.
When we invite people to our activities like Big Night In, our invitation is to all. No matter what their living arrangements, what colour their hair or skin, how rich or poor they are. I think we do this part of it well.
But living in this suburb we are challenged to invite our neighbours to share in the feast. To know Jesus. We must be real as Christians in all our relationships, so others will see what it is to follow Jesus.
The wider church has come under much criticism in the past for its relationships. People who are bickering and hypocritical and not very godly are held up as a reason why non-church people remain so. The way we relate to everyone is noticed -we are ambassadors for Christ.
When I was ordained I discovered that when I wore a collar in public, people would notice how I behaved. That meant if I wanted to growl at the kids in the mall I would get funny looks. So I soon learnt to modify my behaviour! They had to watch out if I hooked my collar out though…
Our Epistle reading talks about a church relationship that has gone wrong. Euodia and Syntyche cannot get on, they have some sort of disagreement that is driving their congregation apart. I looked up the meanings of their names, and they can be translated as Prosperity and Chance. A modern equivalent of virtue names could be Joy and Prudence. Felicity is a virtue name too – it means happiness. I have to remind myself that the meaning doesn’t change even when I am grumpy! Maybe the names of Euodia and Syntyche are an analogy here, where two very different ways of being – prosperous or trusting to chance are contrasted? Maybe these two ladies just had a different way of seeing the world, and that’s why they clashed.
Now I know that you all love each other dearly and would never disagree. Or would you? What happens when there is a disagreement? Do those who are of the minority view just slink away, not coming very often, until we never see them, except for awkward encounters in he supermarket? How we deal with the very human factor of differing opinions is a vital part of our Christian walk. Being real means facing up to the times when we disagree, and handling them with care and love. We saw an example of that in Synod recently. you are all probably aware of the work the church is doing towards whether or how we recognise same-sex couples in blessing their relationships, and in ordination. There is a long and thorough process going on, nationwide, where the aim is to be gentle and careful, and to respect each faction’s views, and not to let the church split apart over this issue. But someone put forward a motion which would have sped this process up towards a certain goal, without the due process. Fortunately, it was left on the table, so the conversations can proceed at the careful pace they need.
Welcoming those who make us feel uncomfortable is part of our challenge as Christians. it doesn’t mean we have to be so tolerant that everything goes out the window. But I do believe that we need to give a clear account of ourselves, what we believe and why, and let others do likewise. Debate is always good, if it is with respect.
When I first read through the gospel for today, I was confused by the last bit. The king seems to be grossly offended when one of his wedding guests doesn’t come properly dressed. How unfair is that, I said to myself. The guy had been grabbed off the Main street and taken straight to the party.
But on further investigation, I discovered that the bit about the correct garment is not part of the same parable. It has been edited together with it, but was not meant to go there. If we know the character of Jesus we know that he would never bee so unfair as to demand formal attire from someone dragged off the street. That wearing the right clothes in this situation is not important.
This leads us to an interesting point though. Some people feel that the Bible is completely God-breathed, God-dictated, God-edited. Here we see a situation where the editing is definitely human. You can just imagine Matthew and his friends putting together all the stories about Jesus, all the things they remembered or had heard, all the eye witness accounts, and deciding that two parables about a wedding should probably go together.
Let’s take the last bit separately then. The King is requiring that people attending the wedding feast be properly dressed. Be prepared and ready for it. If we take the wedding feast to mean the time when we go to be with Jesus after our earthly life is finished, being properly attired means having the right heart. Having the belief in Jesus, and accepting him as our Lord and our God. If we turn up at the pearly gates with no understanding or belief in Jesus, we can expect to be refused entry.
What does this mean for us? Well, the fact that we are all here means that for us, we are more likely to be wearing wedding garments than not. Maybe. Depending on what’s in our most hidden heart. But how about the other people we know? How about those who don’t know Jesus? Those who only know about the church? This passage challenges us to remember that everyone will be called, but we have a responsibility to help them be ready.
My friends, I urge you to take the message form this, that Jesus is for everyone, and our prosperous-looking neighbours and co-workers are no different from the beggar with the cardboard sign. Share your life, share your love for God, and be a living ambassador for the Kingdom of Heaven.