Today’s Gospel reading is another allegorical parable. As you may remember we talked about allegorical parables last week. That is to say every subject and image stands for something other than what it actually is. The challenge is to discover what they actually are and then interpret them in the context of today. In terms of this particular allegorical parable most scholars agree that the original parable told by Jesus probably did not contain versus 6 and 7 that tell of killing people and destroying a town. This was likely added by Matthew to emphasize what was happening in the church at that time. But the rest of the parable is very much symbolic and Matthew’s audience would have recognized themselves in the story. All the people of Israel, the gentiles and the Jews, a hodge-podge if you will would have been invited into the banquet hall, God’s banquet hall.
At this point however, a puzzling development takes place. The king arrives and surveys this odd collection of partygoers only to see a man not wearing a proper wedding suit. The king reacts harshly, “Friend”, he says. (In the original Greek the word translated as friend has a negative connotation, it is kind of like the word ‘buster’) “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe”? The man is left speechless and is booted, but not merely out the door, he is sent to “the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
In this particular allegorical parable the cast of characters represent the following: Just as in last week’s parable the King is God, The King’s son is Jesus, the invited guests are the same nefarious characters as in last week’s Gospel reading – that being the religious authorities. In today’s reading though, the destruction of the city refers to the demolition of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 AD, and the servants who collect the “good and the bad” from the streets of the town are the Christian disciples and missionaries who bring in all people to the church.
The obvious objection to this strange twist in the story is to protest that the man singled out by the King could not have been expected to have on a wedding garment, because he, like the other guests, were recruited off the street, and surely one could not be faulted for leaving home without a wedding garment in your left pocket. But as I mentioned this parable is an allegory and as such things in this story stand for other things. Like other clothing metaphors in the New Testament, this wedding garment represents putting on the baptismal garment of Christ. It means clothing oneself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. It means that you are properly dressed for God. I take this to mean that you have to do more that just show up for the party. You have to actively participate in God’s will and part of God’s will is that we love and take care of each other, even if it means some sacrifice on your part or mine. The line,” many are called but few are chosen”, means everyone is called to the party, but not everyone wants to go and not everyone who comes is prepared to do what is required of them when they get there.
This parable reminds us, I believe of three fundamental principles in our faith. One, that the Christian community should make a difference in the lives of others and in the process transforms us as well. Two, there is a beauty that comes with belonging to the fellowship of the church and we need to share that beauty with others. And three, we should be thankful for the grace of God, that we have been invited to the lord’s banquet. I would like to briefly take a look at each one of these important principles.
A number of years ago when I was a teenager a then friend of mine got into some trouble with the police. He was caught smoking marijuana and doing so in a public place. Now I have to tell you a little about my friend of which I speak. He was from a very well-established Kerrisdale family and had many things to be thankful for in terms of a strong home life and parents who loved him, the ability to go to any university he would wish to once he graduated from High School, and the money to entertain himself and travel as he wished. The problem, as I could see it, was that given all this he was not very thankful. He not only had a sense of entitlement to his good fortune, he had a tendency to look down on others who were much less for fortunate than himself.
Then, as mentioned, he got into trouble with the law. I think the judge who sentenced him instinctively knew what might help my friend. He was sentenced to six months of community work, specifically working at First United Church on the downtown eastside of Vancouver working in their soup kitchen. Now you might be thinking that the point of this story is that my friend had an epiphany and saw the world differently from that point on. It did not exactly happen that way. As he explained it he slowly evolved over time and it was in fact the relentless and seemingly never ending witness to grinding poverty that that slowly moved him from looking down on these people to realizing how singularly lucky he was and that the people he was helping were in fact helping and changing him in a very important way. He ended up going to UBC and became a medical Doctor. In that process he also became a devoted Buddhist and upon his graduation, and by his own initiative, traveled to Indonesia for a year offering his services for free to the impoverished people in the countryside. He told me one of the greatest experiences of his life was to help a woman who was having great difficulty give birth to her first child in a mud floored hut in the middle of an Indonesian jungle.
I believe God was working with and through my friend. Working with him to help him see that we are all God’s children and that some of God’s children need our help and deserve no less. God was working through my friend in that his spiritual growth and therefore personal growth was very much shaped by the helping of those less fortunate than himself. Over time my friend became clothed in the wedding garment mentioned in the parable today. It means he clothed himself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. It means that over time he became properly dressed for God. In the end he did much more than just show up for the party. He became an active participant in God’s will and part of God’s will is that we love and take care of each other, even if it means some personal sacrifice.
The second fundamental principle found in today’s allegorical parable is that there is a beauty that comes with belonging to the fellowship of the church and we need to share that beauty with others. I have talked at some length before about the importance of corporate worship and the incredible strength we get from our community, our shared ministry together – and I will likely do so again. Even so, the Gospel reading today asks us to go just one step further. It asks of us not to just realize the gift we all are to each other here in God’s church, but to expand that joy into the greater world by inviting everyone to join in with us. The kings says go out into the street and grab the first person you meet and bring them to the wedding banquet; it does not matter who it is, just bring them here. Now I am not suggesting that we go forth from this place today and grab the first person you meet on the street and evangelize them right on the spot. We are Anglicans after all and we are much more subtle, much more subdued than that. I do think, however, that we can use the opportunities that from time to time present themselves and invite others into our fellowship. If someone asks you why do you looks darn happy and contented, you could answer, “Well, I eat a balanced diet, I get enough sleep at night, I go for walks and, oh yes, I belong to a fantastic faith community”. I’ll leave the exact words and the particulars up to you, but God does ask us to invite others, as best we can, to the wedding banquet. I know it can be a sensitive subject, but always remember you are inviting them to a beautiful thing and the Holy Spirit will surely be with you.
The last point I would like to make is that we should be thankful for the grace of God, thankful that we have been invited to the Lord’s banquet. This is Thanksgiving Sunday and it really does matter I think that from time to time we give proper and due thanks to God for all the wonders that we have. I think of my family at home and my family here at St John’s, I think of my friends and all the people whom I have met and who have helped me along the way. I think of the elegance and splendor of nature and the abundance it provides for us here in Canada. I think of the many people who work hard every day to make our society peaceful, prosperous and caring. I think of the moments of laughter and joy and tears and humanity that all form and make life the special gift that it is. I think of them all and that God for them all.
I would like to end with one of my favourite prayers from the Book of Alternative Services. It is the prayer of Great Thanksgiving. Let us pray.
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise
for all you have done for us.
We thank you for the splendour of the whole creation,
for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends,
and for the loving care
which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us tasks
which demand our best efforts,
and for leading us to accomplishments
which satisfy and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone. Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ;
for the truth of his word and the example of his life;
for his steadfast obedience,
by which he overcame temptation;
for his dying, through which he overcame death; for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom. Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.