Rev. Nicole Hardin
This passage is one of the more interesting parables to me. A lot of people use this passage as a support of a theology or eschatology of election and predestination which is a really interesting topic for Sunday School, but not what I want to talk about today.
There is nothing more relatable to an introvert like myself... than the ire of party planning and party etiquette. Navigating parties is hard because it is this tiny microcosm of community and in any community there comes expectations and group norms. And you don’t have to be on earth long to find out that expectations regularly go unmet and it causes dissonance and heartache and all sorts of drama. Parties...stress me out.
That probably all stems from my earliest venture in party planning..my 7yr old birthday party. I planned a huge party, and at that age you know you invite you whole class. So I invited everyone...like 30 plus kids including the neighborhood kids.
Now, you may not be able to tell it from looking at me but at that age I was pretty sporty. I was athletic and competitive and it just so happens that my mom was on a bowling league that I would go and sit and watch her bowl in every week. So for this party...I wanted to go bowling. I didn’t realize bowling wasn’t going to become a fun activity until I was closer to college age, though. Who knew a bunch of 7 yr olds had never been bowling before?
So I invited everyone to my house for a party and then from my house we would go to a bowling party. I was pumped! I got my little self ready. I was so excited...I waited outside in my driveway at the garage door to welcome the guests. Time kept on ticking... no one showed... time went by a little more and I started worrying, one girl showed up and them more time went by and just one more girl. By the time a full hour after party start time had gone by I think everyone realized what was going on and I was soooo embarrassed.
I was also confused, because even though I was a nerd...I was a fairly popular kid and had a pretty easy time making friends. It was at this point...one of the guests that did make it was so gracious to finally tell me. “I don’t think anyone wanted to go bowling.” Not only that, they also suggested we just... not go bowling and just do cake and ice cream and presents and then everyone go home.
Needless to say, I was pretty devastated.
So here I am...at a party nobody wanted to go to in the first place, and then the ones that did show up, didn’t want to attend the kind of party I was having and opted out instead. So you see, I couldn’t help but think about this story when reading this parable.
Unmet expectations was an issue that Matthew addresses in this section of the gospel record at least 5 times between chapters 21 and 22, both with stories that happened to Jesus, and parables that Jesus taught at the temple. First...
We have a story of when Jesus rode in to Jerusalem on the donkey and everyone was waving the palms and he entered the courts of the temple EXPECTING to find the temple... this house of prayer...but instead found the money changers and dove merchants capitalizing in the Church and Jesus was upset at what he saw...and flipped the Temple. Just after that was story #2...Then Jesus left the temple, left town to spend the night at Bethany, and walking back to Jerusalem, but he was hungry...and he saw the fig tree, so he went up to the fig tree EXPECTING to see fruit but there was no fruit and Jesus was so upset he cursed the tree and it withered and died.
And who knows, maybe these two stories of encounters Jesus had led him to teach the next three parables because they all seem to follow the theme.
When Jesus went back to the temple and started teaching his authority was questioned and Jesus wasn’t amused so he told these three parables.....
The parable of the two sons, where a father asked his two sons to go work in the vineyard....one said yes, but didn’t go. The other said no and changed his mind and went and worked the vineyard anyway...Jesus asked which son did what the father EXPECTED?
Next was the parable of the tenants. Where a landowner had a vineyard and had tenants that lived on the land. When he sent servants to get the fruit at harvest time three different servants were turned away, beaten, and one even lost his life so the landowner sent his son, and EXPECTED the tenants to respect his child, but they killed him as well.
And finally down to this parable that is our text today: The story of a king who is throwing a wedding party for his son. And the special invited guests won’t come, first begrudgingly and then violently denying. Then the king invites everyone and anyone who would come, good...bad...anywhere in between and many people showed up and the party was in full swing and then verse 11
Verse 11: “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Excommunication...cast out of the community.
And that was where this text got really interesting to me, because it became apparent that we don’t just get to agree and show up. It matters that we showed up with intention. There is no wandering into this community hap hazardly. We are supposed to show up with the intention of bringing about the goal of this community and support the values that it holds dear.
Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe? The king asked.
How did we come in...not prepared for this celebration?
How are we at a wedding, to watch a wedding, and eat a wedding feast, and dance the wedding dances (whatever antiquity electric slide and chicken dance is)? How did we hear the invitation, and understand it was a wedding, and agree to come, but not come as expected?
I think there is a reason all this labor is being put forth talking about expectation of a certain behavior and outcome...
This is a parable, after all. We aren’t really talking about father daughter dances and bouquet tosses. We are talking about answering the invitation to discipleship. We are talking about hearing about the love and sacrifice of Jesus and accepting it as a grace given to us and what is implicit in us accepting it. What is implicit in our saying yes, I am a disciple?
I think the parable is trying to teach us that there is an EXPECTATION...when we send back our RSVP...there is expectation that we are coming in to participate. Not spectate, not eat up all the food and leave, fat on the bread of life....there is an EXPECTATION that something about us changes (something more than just our attire) and we come prepared to participate.
So...looking at the timeline of events....
This is all happening maybe two or three days before Jesus will be crucified. Since the sermon on the mount where Jesus laid out the full love ethic and blueprint for the Beloved community of what he expects once he is gone...Jesus had been ministering in Galilee, he had been teaching, healing a demoniac, he healed a paralytic, blind people, he fed the 5,000 taught about how the last would be first and the first would be last...and now Jesus has rode into Jerusalem, on a donkey, with everyone shouting Hosanna to the Son of David....and even with all that Jesus knows what is likely to happen.
Jesus is both...fully human and fully divine after all..
Jesus knows how hard it is...to hold on to the principles and the values of someone who isn’t physically present, and here we are just a few days out from Jesus leaving the scene. He knows because of what he found when he walked into the temple. He knows how we as humans... have a propensity to shy away from the difficult task and would prefer the path of least resistance. Who wouldn’t? If there is some way...who wouldn’t want the cup of struggle and sacrifice to pass them? Jesus knows all about it, but Jesus also knows that you have to show up resolved, and determined. NEVER THE LESS...YOUR will.. not my own is what he prayed.
So Jesus walks the talk, and answers the questions...
Why feed the 5000 when you could just send them away to fend for themselves? Why give people doves for free to sacrifice as an offering when you could charge it at a premium?
More contemporarily...why sacrifice our time and effort to secure sanctuary for undocumented people in this country when we can ignore it and let families be destroyed by deportation? Why take a risk and take a stand...or take a knee...when the people of color in our community are being treated as second class citizens? Why care if our trans brothers and sisters have no access to health care, or are being kicked out of the military, or are being murdered simply because they exist? There is fruit expected of us...Prayer expected of us...service expected of us...sacrifice expected of us.
This scripture is about call and intention...and how we show up. It is all about our RSVP, and the implication of our RSVP. If we are honest about it, sometimes our love for a person will be enough to get us in the door at least, but is it enough for us to actually participate and get on board? Is it enough for us to show up with intention?
Friend, how did we get in here without wedding robes?
Because this journey, this wedding party, this acceptance of an invitation wasn’t the end of the story. That was just the beginning. It was the beginning of movement for care of the other and the uplifting of the beloved community. The tricky part at just be the ways in which we define community.
I think the disciples who wanted to turn away the 5000, they did have the community in mind...they thought the community they had to worry about was Jesus and themselves.
And I think the money changers and the merchants selling doves also had a community in mind. They thought their communities were their families. Their wives and children that they needed to support and food and shelter... that is the community that they are supposed to be primarily concerned with. And the same could be said of the tenants who didn’t want to turn over the crops that could be used to sustain their own households. Maybe their imagining of community is so small...me and mine alone...it becomes anemic. The smallest common denominator. They were even willing to kill their landlord’s son. We always want to take manageable bites but that just never has been how Jesus was.
Jesus hung out with all the wrong folks, was in all the wrong spaces on all the wrong days, touching people you aren’t supposed to touch, healing people who are supposed to be ostracized. Jesus’s community is so huge, it doesn’t even have an edge. It doesn’t stop. And we all got invited to this community, and implicit in the invitation is our participation in supporting it. It’s not the fact that we got the invitation in the first place, or even that we showed up, but it is more about what did we do once we got here? May we all show up with intention.