SERMON 9 OCTOBER 2011

TRINITY  16 (Proper 23)

Isaiah 25   Phil 4.1-9   Matthew 22.1-14

Mt.11.19 ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say "look, a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" but wisdom is justified by her children’.

Jesus loved parties and he didn’t mind who was there. After he called Matthew to follow him he celebrated with tax collectors and sinners. At Cana there was the wedding when he provided gallons of excellent wine. On another occasion he dined with Simon the Pharisee. Jesus gave us a sacramental festal meal for his anamnesis and as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to which he invites us.

No wonder Jesus likened the kingdom of heaven to a feast; not just an ordinary feast but one made by a King to celebrate the wedding of his son. Moreover, it was an oriental King so it was not a one-day affair like the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. A local taxi driver told me recently that he was going to a wedding; it was the last day of a week-long celebration. In heaven, of course, it goes on for ever.

St Bernard’s magnificent hymn Jerusalem the golden exclaims, ‘I know not, O I know not, What social joys are there’. Social joys are usual at a wedding celebration: music and singing and dancing, the pleasures of the table, conversation with close friends and relatives, the  joy of seeing people you haven’t seen for years as well as meeting people for the first time. Usually it all takes place in lovely surroundings.

Jesus wasn’t the first person to think that God’s kingdom is like a banquet. As we heard in the lesson at Mattins, that image occurs in Isaiah chapter 25. However, Jesus gave the picture a new twist when he described the disgraceful way the King’s invitation to the feast was received.

The slaves deliver the invitations twice. That was customary. The first time guests are invited to a forthcoming wedding without stating the day, the second invitation with very little notice gives the definite day. ‘The feast is prepared. Come to the wedding’. ‘Those invited made light of it and went their ways, one to his farm another to his business’. In St Luke’s version of the parable the guests make excuses. I have bought a piece of ground and I must go and see it. I have bought five yoke of oxen and I must go and test them. I have married a wife and therefore I cannot come’ (Lk.14.18-20).

It all sounds very ridiculous but the sequel is alarming:

‘The rest seized the servants and treated them spitefully and killed them’. We should realise by now that we’re dealing with allegory. As in last Sunday’s parable of the wicked vine-dressers, the servants represent the prophets God sent to his chosen people, who were rejected by them and killed. 

The city in the parable stands for Jerusalem and God’s people Israel . The evangelist says the King sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and burnt their city. In AD 70 the Roman legions crushed a Jewish uprising, burnt the Temple and thousands perished.   Christians saw this as God’s judgement on those who rejected the Gospel and crucified the Lord. 

In place of the Jewish leaders, the wealthy and the respectable, who had opposed Jesus and rejected his message, God invites to his kingdom the poor and outcasts, the prostitutes and sinners. In the parable they live in the exits of the streets, that is the outskirts of the city.   Possibly this refers also to the non-Jews who accepted Jesus’ invitation. In Luke’s version it’s clearer.  First the servants are told ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind’. Still there is room.   So the servants are instructed to invite the non Jews ‘Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled’.

Luke finishes the parable at this point but Matthew continues. Now he turns his attention to those Christians who believed that they had been invited into God’s kingdom. The evangelist attaches to the parable of the wedding feast the story of the guest who was not dressed in a wedding garment. What can this mean? The wedding garment isn’t a special suit. It’s simply clean, laundered clothing. Every guest could be expected to wear clean clothes. The punishment of the man wearing dirty clothes is alarming. He is cast into outer darkness.

Again we are dealing with allegory. Those invited to become followers of Jesus mustn’t presume to think that any behaviour is acceptable. They’re required to be like him. Life in the kingdom of God requires someone to accept Jesus as Lord and then to endeavour to live according to his teaching.

What is required is expressed beautifully in the reading we heard from St Paul . ‘Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - meditate on these things.

 

Crispin Harrison CR