October 15, 2017
Isaiah 25.1-9; Matthew 22.1-14
+ I believe I’ve shared this with you before, but in case you haven’t heard it, I’ll tell it again. When I was finishing up my Master of Fine Arts some twenty years ago, I did my critical thesis on my view that there were two types of writers.
There were those writers who were on the inside looking out.
And there were those who were on the outside looking in.
If you think about it, it’s actually quite true.
Think about your favorite writer or poet or playwright or novelist or theologian. Think of about their perspective on life or the world.
And you can guess about where your favorite poet-priest is on that spectrum (it’s not hard to guess)
If you examine them closely you will see that they are either on the inside looking out, or on the outside looking in.
And since the writer’s perspective is all-important to literature, these perspectives are vital. Essentially then there are the “insiders” and the “outsiders.” It was fun for me to explore these two perspectives in literature for that thesis.
But, later, as a priest, I have discovered that these perspectives—literature itself—truly does reflect reality. As you look at your own life, you no doubt think you have a pretty clear understanding of where you stand on that spectrum. You probably think either that you are the outsider or the insider.
But, I always caution people on this. Don’t be quick to claim one or the other, because this perspective might change in your life. Circumstances might often put you in the opposite perspective. Or sometimes, your own choices put you in that perspective I’ve seen it happen again and again.
And I see it very clearly in our Gospel reading for today—a reading that caused a great amount of personal struggle this past week. And “struggle” is definitely the right word for this reading. It’s a weird story, to say the least.
It’s just such a pointless story isn’t it? I know, I shouldn’t be saying that about one of Jesus’ parables. But, to be honest, I just don’t like it. The structure is so off. There’s almost nothing, at face value, worth redeeming. I just don’t like the story.
But…let’s not throw it out yet. Let’s not completely abandon this story just because we find it unpleasant. If we did that every time we read the scriptures…well...I’ll just leave it there.
First of all, it definitely seems that Matthew has an agenda in this story. Obviously Matthew is directing this at the Jews. And when we see it from that perspective, it kind of starts making a bit of sense.
So, let’s reframe the story a bit:
The first guests, as we discover, are Israel.
The first slaves represent the prophets, who were also beaten up and killed for trying to tell them what God wanted.
The second slaves are the apostles. And, if you notice, the second group of people are very different than the first group.
At this point, “everyone” has been invited. “Everyone” is a very important clue to this story. “Everyone” means everyone.
So, what Matthew is trying to have Jesus tell us is that Israel ignored God’s message, and as a result, the Kingdom was given to others. Last week, I preached about how sobering that thought is—the fact that the Kingdom of God can be given to others. The Kingdom can—and has been—given to others
So, we have these slaves going out and inviting. They were called to invite everyone—not just the elite. Not just the best guests. Not the fancy wedding guests. Everyone.
To echo my original thought: for Jesus, everyone is invited to be an “insider” in his Kingdom. You don’t have be on the outside looking in to his Kingdom.
That’s great. That’s wonderful. But, what happens next in the story is the real pivot here. The second coming happens. This is the “final judgment.” The King arrives! Now, that sounds great. We’re all looking forward to the Second Coming. We’re all looking forward to the King—God—arriving.
It’s not all pleasant and beautiful. Why? Because someone gets thrown out. This poor guy who isn’t wearing a wedding robe gets thrown out.
Didn’t Father Jamie just say that Jesus invites everyone to be an “insider” in the Kingdom? So, what’s this now? If everyone gets invited, who cares if someone is wearing a robe or not?
Now it sounds terrible to us.
But, but, but…
Let’s keep it in the context of its time. At that time, not wearing the wedding robe that was provided to the guests was an insult. It was essentially a way of saying that, Yes, I’m here at the wedding, yes I’m going to eat and drink, but I’m not really going to participate.
I’m going to get what I need out of this, but once I do, I’m gone. I’m not really going to make a commitment to this feast. I’m going to be a bad guest.
And this is the real gist of this story.
Now, we’ve all known bad guests. Maybe we ourselves have been bad guests ourselves. We’ve seen them at weddings. We’ve had them at parties. We’ve seen them here in church.
They’re people who come and take and take and take, and expect the host (or hosts) to do everything for them, but then don’t participate. They stand off to the side, and complain, and backbite and fold their arms when something doesn’t go THEIR way. They refuse the wedding garment—they refuse the gifts that have been given to them.
Now, the good thing about this is that, it’s all about choice. We all have a choice. We choose to go to “the wedding.” We choose to be a good guest or a bad guest. God did not make us into mindless robots. But there are ramifications to what we choose.
My motto for life, as you have heard me say a million times, is this:
the chickens always come home to roost.
The fact is, by not wearing the robe, we’re not really present. We’re saying no to the King. For us, it’s kind of the same.
We can be here. We can sit here in our pews. Or up there in the presider’s place. But we don’t have to be a part of it all. We can be obstinate. We can cross our arms and critique everything about the sermon or the liturgy or the music or the way the altar is set up, etc. And not that anyone here has done any of these things (at least I haven’t heard), but we can imagine that people might complain about the capital campaign, or about the new windows or about all the changes that are being made or about how there are so many people in church on Sunday.
We can close our minds and hearts and be bitter and complain. We can nitpick or backbite or stomp our heels because we don’t like it.
We can “choose” to be the outsider.
We’ve all known those kind of people in the church.
You know what, sometimes I am that person in church. Sometimes I am obstinate, and I complain about things.
I’ll confess: I pride myself on being the “outsider.” After all, I’ve been an outsider for a long time. But it’s a choice I made. And there are consequences to that choice. I can be continue to stand aloof, my arms crossed and frown at everything.
Or I can be a part of it all.
And not just here, in church on Sunday. As we know, it’s a lot more than just church on Sunday that makes us Christians—that makes us good or bad Christians.
Ultimately, it is about what we do out there. If we are jerks to people, if we are close-minded, if we judgmental, if we’re sexist and homophobic and mean-spirited, then we’re not really doing a good job as Christians.
If we refuse to love, we’re refusing the wedding robe.
The fact is, everyone is invited to the banquet. I say it again and again. We’re all invited. And, here’s the rub:
it really isn’t hard to get in.
But sometimes it is really hard to be a good guest at the banquet. Sometimes, we really just don’t want to participate. Sometimes, you know what, I just don’t want to be a part of it. Sometimes it’s just easier to cross my arms and pout in the corner. Sometimes it’s easier to not love and respect others. Because, we’ve so often not been loved and not respected by others.
Sometimes, we’re just used to being on the outside looking in. And sometimes it’s just hard to make the transition to being an “insider” after being outside for so long. And that’s our choice to react like that.
But it’s not what is expected of us. We’ve been invited to the banquet! We have an easy “in” to the banquet! We are invited, finally, to be an “insider.” We should be glad! We should be excited. We should don that wedding robe and do whatever else needs to be done to be a good guest.
Because, here’s the other stark reality of it all:
It’s not fun being the outsider.
I can tell you that by first-hand experience. It is not fun being all by one’s self on the outside of the party, looking in at everyone who’s there.
But, that’s sometimes where we put ourselves. That’s where we often go to pout and feel bad about ourselves.
Luckily Jesus, who truly does love us, who truly does want us at the banquet, never lets us stay out there—outside the party—for long. Jesus does not let us stay the “outsider” for very long. The invitation from Jesus keeps coming.
“Come in,” he says to us. “Come in from the cold. Come in from the dark. Come in and join the party.”
Because, it IS a party. And all he have to do accept the invitation. All we have to do is put on the wedding garment. That’s all the bad guests had to do to rejoin the party.
So, let’s do just that. Let’s put on the wedding robe. Let us not cast ourselves off into the exterior. Let us not alienate ourselves with our bitterness and anger.
But let us join the banquet in love. Let us heed the invitation. Let us celebrate, and be joyful and be glad. That’s what our Host wants from us.
And when we do, we can truly echo those words we hear today from Isaiah:
“This is our God, the one for whim we have waited…
Let us be glad and rejoice in our salvation.”