October 15, 2017
As a preacher, this is one of those gospel texts that make you bristle. It would be easy to go to one of our other lessons this morning because they are quite a bit softer. However, our challenge is found in Matthew.
Reading it makes me at first wonder if we have entered into an alternate universe? Our gospel lesson continues in the parables of Jesus, with a turn to the extreme, if not teetering on the absurd! Not only has Jesus stepped up the parable story telling with the Wedding Banquet, the stories get more violent. Last week, it was the religious leaders that assumed violence would occur. This morning Jesus has inserted the violence directly into the parable.
Especially after hearing the rest of our lessons, the gospel makes us double back and wonder what is happening within it. The story that Matthew shares of the Wedding Banquet can be found in parallel in the Gospel of Luke with some differences. The feast in Luke is a dinner party in which the owner of the house invites some guests, and they too, are too busy to attend. The owner is upset over their disregard for the preparations and their ease of dismissing him once the meal was ready. He asks his servants to go out into the streets and invite one and all. Those that are crippled, blind, and lame. When they didn’t fill the house, the servants went out and found even more people to fit at the table.
The gospel of Matthew takes a turn towards a more violent nature. In light of our parable from last week with the evil tenants, the parable that Jesus shares of the Wedding Banquet seems like it would be more fitting for a Game of Thrones episode.
However, in the parable Jesus shares, the king has the guests that ignore his invitation to the feast murdered and their cities burned, after they kill his servants bearing the invite. Not only that, the one person that seems out of place at the feast is bound and thrown out into the darkness.
Historically, Matthew wrote his gospel after the fall of Jerusalem to Rome in the year 70. As Christians were being persecuted and martyred, it was a tenuous time and people were on edge. The murders and burning of cities that Matthew added to Luke’s version, could be attributed to this.
Unfortunately, this text has led to many horrendous acts throughout history. One of the thoughts that arose were that the Jewish people were responsible for the death of Jesus. Matthew plays into this through his version of Jesus’ parable. Those that refuse to feast with the king (or God), and the coming of Jesus, are murdered and their cities burned!
While we are in the midst of remembering the Reformation, it is also important to recognize that everything Martin Luther wrote was not wonderful. Later in life he seemed to be more adamant in his condemnation of those living in the Jewish faith. He seemed to think they had a choice and must be converted to Christianity. These teachings run counter to our calling as Christians in the world to love.
Some of these teachings have unfortunately been used over time to construct false ideologies. The rise of Nazi-Germany and the growth of antisemitism that we will still witness today are a couple of examples. We witness it in the neo-Nazis and white supremacists of our own time, in 2017!
If you look how the parables have stacked up over the last few weeks in our lessons, they are building upon the confrontation that Jesus is having with the religious leaders in the temple. In our Matthew timeline, we are only 72 hours away from the crucifixion. The gospel is telling the story of Jesus’ journey to the cross.
As he journeys, he pushes the envelope more and more. His parable seems so absurd because it is a hyperbole. He is going to the extremes to make his point known that the love of God is for all people. Male or female, free or slave, gentile or Jew. This is where the grace of God shines through in this text. Everyone is called to the righteousness found in God.
This righteousness is the “wedding robe” that is referred to in the parable. Anyone can put on the robes; thus the invitation to everyone to come and join in the feast. And what does that look like? Paul explains it in detail for us in Philippians: Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (4:8-9)
Our calling in Jesus Christ is to continue on the path that Jesus began. We are to love our neighbors and welcome the stranger. We are to listen to and not jump to quick conclusions. We are to give thanks to God for the grace that washes over us. Are we required to do any of this? No! Through our faith and the righteousness of God we should be compelled to do it.
It is not only from God, whom we receive grace. We can be gracious to one another, and this in itself is a sign of God working in our midst.
In its 1994 “Declaration to the Jewish Community,” the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America publicly repudiated the anti-Jewish views of Martin Luther, expressed repentance for Christian complicity in hatred and violence against the Jews through the centuries, and committed itself to building a relationship with the Jewish people based on love and respect.(ELCA Statement for Lutheran-Jewish Relations)
Trinity Lutheran Seminary, my alma mater in Columbus, Ohio, has a wonderful history of working with their Jewish neighbors and continues in dialogue with them today. As we have asked for repentance, they have been gracious. We can all sin. Luther was no different than the rest of humanity. As Lutherans today, it is of great importance that we continue to move forward in loving relationships that embody the love Christ has for all of humanity. We must put on the robe, or righteousness of Christ, and through this we will begin to see wonderful changes happening in the world around us.
This seems to be a never-ending task. Yet, we are reassured by the words of Desmond Tutu, “Don’t give up! Don’t get discouraged! I’ve read the end of the book. We win!” We all have gifts to share as we come to the feast. It is a banquet in which all are needed and love reigns supreme.
Let us pray, healing God, you are present even when we hurt those that are close. You weep at the broken relationships and the sins that pervade our lives. May we continue to be guided by your Holy Spirit and the love and grace that comes down to us in the form of your Son, who gave up his life for us. Amen