Rev. Janet Wheelock 19th Sunday after Pentecost
One comment that is sure to kill excitement before a party is when the person you’re going with says, “You’re wearing that?” Ben Scott was the rector of a rural church in Minnesota for 900 years and a dear colleague. Ben used to say when people asked him what to wear to church: “The farmers (which were most of them) wear their suits and tie, the lawyers and doctors their jeans. Come to church in clothes which you don’t wear during the week. That helps make it holy - a place set apart”.
You are what you eat, the saying goes, are you what you wear?
In this very difficult parable of Jesus today it would appear, yes, you are what you wear.
Listen again. A King hosts a Wedding Feast for his son, and those invited don’t come. Who in their right mind would refuse such an invitation?
The invitees even kill the King’s messengers. Now the betrayed King turns around and wipes out their city, which, by the way is his own city. The violence here is very hard to see, much less understand.
Now that the elite insiders are out of the picture, the King’s invitation goes to everybody and anybody. The “anybodys” think it a splendid invitation - to come to the King’s banquet. (And maybe they grasped that it was a bad idea to refuse). And they all turn out for the feast. Then, into these confusing turn arounds, one person at the banquet is discovered wearing dusty street clothes. The king summarily condemns him to expulsion, maybe even death. Let him or her who has ears hear… What is Jesus up to here?
History tells us in Jesus’ times, 2,000 years ago in Israel, wearing the right clothes to a wedding banquet was as important as wearing a collared shirt on the golf course, you can’t get in without it. It was so important that wedding hosts made certain of proper attire by having extra robes ready at the door in case someone forgot or didn’t have one. It’s possible (but who knows?) that the wrongly dressed man was loaned a wedding robe at the door, and refused to put it on. So once again the king violently banishes the man not only from the feast but into the outer darkness.
Would the King, representing God really condemn to death one who missed the memo about what to wear? (Remember Episcopalians believe there is a hell but God would never send anyone there!) For that matter, would God destroy the city of those who killed his messengers? Is God a violent God?
Tradition says the wedding robe here, stands for peaceful surrender to life in Christ. It’s symbolic for being transformed, a new creation. Filled with the consolation of life in Christ, now you have to show up when God needs you. Maybe that’s a definition of righteousness!
In her reflections on this gospel, the bishop wrote that God’s Grace and Mercy, God’s Love are Jesus’ meaning of the wedding garment. Grace and Mercy are free gifts offered at the door. But it’s a lot of work to get into that garment and keep it fastened.
You can see how the guest who rejects the robe, ends up in a world of hurt. Or more gently expressed: JEus is trying to tell us, Without God’s love, grace and mercy, the night can get mighty dark. Neither can you see your way, nor can you help another out of the woods.
The violent bear it away. We see it a lot today. And yet, we should remember that it has always been so for the Kingdom of God. The violent bore Jesus away, too, nailing him to a cross.
And yet the Kingdom of God triumphed in the end. From Jesus’ meekness, not his violence, God brought forth salvation. The meek and humble one, the lover of peace, is the one who truly bears it away. (Patricia Kasten)
A King hosts a feast to benefit all and violence ensues. I guess we can say, that all the good God intended is tortured and carried to the cross. The violent bear it away, as Matthew writes elsewhere in his gospel.
But let’s not forget, a good number of delighted folks accept the invitation and arrive on time, wearing respectful garb. They stay late, having a wonderful time. But (and here’s another angle on that robe business) the one fellow who was really, really sick, maybe with schizophrenia, or grief, or the consequences of a cruel family. He didn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t wear the robes. He drank too much and then went over to the gift table and started opening the presents (I actually saw this happen at a wedding once). After the police escorted him out, Jesus meets him in his jail cell. Listens to him cry, helps him start over. The one without the robe is that one: the teenager covered with piercings or tattoos or wearing tutus or what ever. It’s the isolated old person who is so crabby you can’t even visit. It’s the person of the opposite political party than you, who just won’t listen to anything but their side of things. That’s the one Jesus’ visits.
Of course, none of that is in the parable, and yet it is.
Jesus the storyteller, dines with the wrong people, probably wearing the wrong robe. He risks his reputation to heal somebody on the sabbath. He accepts the love and companionship of a lost woman who wiped his feet with her hair.
So what about us?
Accepting that wedding invitation is the same as becoming conscious of God’s grace. It’s here with us now! And we stumble out of the frying pan of our isolation, anger, judgement, into a new peace.
After the grace, we can offer that same mercy, grace and love to those jangled and defeated and scruffy and definitely not wearing the right robes. Perhaps they spit on it. Perhaps our love leaves them a tad less disturbed feeling when we part.
This is not your daughter’s wedding banquet. It is Jesus’ story of the feast prepared by God for all souls starving for God. The table is set for the people in the streets, that’s you and me, to come without an engraved invitation, but for a special purpose. To gladden our parched and frightened souls with the love of God.
It’s still not clear who is who, in this parable. Maybe Jesus just wants us to ask “who are you” right now in the story. The king, disappointed, angry, violent? Or the one judging and condemning the misfit? Are you the invitee rejecting an invitation to the lavish and beautiful banquet because of the demands it might place on you? Or are you one in the streets relieved to finally be invited? Are you the only person at the party without the robe?
The kingdom of heaven is already and not yet, like so many things. So are we, when it comes to embracing the mercy and love offered in God’s Kingdom. That mercy is made up like a beautiful garment, stitched in joy, in relationship, in self-forgetting service to others. It’s a grace-filled invitation to a festival, a party. Come, let’s put on our dancing shoes and join the celebration.