CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Let the Party Begin
Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 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.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
- Matthew 22:1-14
Over the decades, I have prepared many couples for marriage, presided at weddings and attended receptions. I’ve seen the church ceremony morph into more of a hurdle to endure as the price paid to go to the party. A reception no longer will do. A banquet hall is booked, then there is a cocktail hour (or hours) and dinner entrée choices, followed by toasts and testimonials, then dancing to a live band into the next morning. Life and customs change, I know. I am, I’ll admit, like a Pharisee—protective of the received tradition. I happen to think vows, and a community of family and friends who also pledge vows to support this marriage, are important.
The story Jesus tells, scholars say, is an allegorical parable. Read the king as a placeholder for God. The son is Jesus. Slaves are prophets sent to invite Israel. Violence is the rejection of God’s ways. The good and bad who finally are invited, and finally come to the party represent the evangelistic mission of the church.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” God invites Israel to the Son’s wedding. But, notice, the bride is unknown. The day arrives. The banquet is ready. Invitees are notified. But, now, they laugh off the invitation. Once more the king tries. But, now, some potential guests even torture and kill the “prophets.” The king, maybe, has an anger management issue. God takes no snub lightly.
The king tries this once more. This time folks on the streets, good and bad, are invited. They flock to the banquet tables. No prescreening—all are truly welcome here. The king strolls in and sees one man not wearing his “wedding robe.” Could the guests, as wisdom teacher John Shea suggests, be the missing bride—not just attendees, but representative of us, there to be united to the Son, Jesus? This feast is the wedding. So dress like it. If you don’t, or if you refuse to take it seriously, you hear “Friend,” which is a polite way of saying, “Hey Buster, how’d you get in?” Once again, an anger management issue? “Attendants, tie this guy up and toss him out.” Inside you can hear weeping and teeth gnashing in the outer darkness.
Who is Matthew addressing? Perhaps us? Joining the church, showing up, is a first step. The next one is crucial: the vows of baptism, to be buried with Christ, raised to walk in newness of life. Baptized in Christ, now clothed with Christ. It’s not a mere rite of passage. It’s to be wed in mystical union with Christ through baptism. It’s the beginning, not the finish line. It is our journey, united with the Father through the Son. We are no longer our own. We are clothed, sealed and marked as Christ’s forever.
Each time you renew your baptismal vows, listen carefully. Let your promises deepen and grow into your heart, where they will help you grow into the person you are sealed and marked to become.
United with Christ, you vow to love God as God loves you. Love one and all others just as God does. Forgive yourself. Learn from failure and move on. As you receive, so forgive others. Respect the dignity of every human being. Don’t just attend church. Be fully present. Resist evil. United with Christ, buried with him in baptism, you now walk in newness of life. Christ is the sure foundation for all relationships—with spouse, children, family, neighbors, the hungry and homeless, with those who are rejected and left out. It’s the banquet of God’s joy and new life for this world, for everyone. Put on that wedding robe and get with the party.
Auntie Mame (Mame), I think, said it best, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” United, married to Christ in baptism, you’re handed the invitations, so get out there into the streets. “Hey, you’re invited a banquet. Believe me, you won’t want to miss out. We’ll hold a place for you. It’s already started. And, here, when you come, wear this robe.” My hunch is, one day, we’ll all—good and bad—sit down with the Lord together, and celebrate.
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