Isaiah 25: 6-10; Psalm 23:1-6, 19-20; Pilippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots.

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people in parables, saying -- The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come.

With every parable of Jesus, the hearer should at some point be jolted or shocked. The parable is meant to provoke and to incite -- to arouse conversation as well as introspection. Ultimately it should lead to action. What is woven together here is a story which should be relatively believable and familiar in terms of details and customs; yet it also contains within it the unbelievable -- the startling. The last five words of the text above is that which is intended to startle -- But they refused to come.

Jesus chooses to move his listeners by surrounding his story around an event which is renowned for its festiveness and joy -- a wedding -- particularly the scrumptious wedding feast which was a key part of the event. Further, this is no typical wedding. It is hosted by the king himself and it is thrown for his son. One would imagine that this particular wedding feast would be a spectacular event and that its invitations would be coveted by those who were lucky enough to receive them.

Unlike the wedding invitations with which we are familiar, wedding invitations in the day of Jesus would not state a particular day or time. Instead, they would simply announce that the event is to occur at some time in the future -- meanwhile the various preparations would be made -- the procuring of food, wine, musicians, decorations, fine apparel, etc. When everything had been arranged and had passed the inspection of the host, a throng of servants would be dispatched to tell the invited guests to come and celebrate. When the guests arrived, the veiled bride would process from the home of her family to the home of the bridegroom. Guests at a wedding feast would be expected to wear their finest clothes. The event was a rich celebration which could continue for a number of days.

One would think that the guest list for the wedding would be primarily made up of family and friends -- those individuals who not only would be expected to attend -- but who would, indeed, want to attend. Would you need your arm twisted to attend a week long, all-expense-paid, wedding bash at the palace of the king? It would be like getting a White House invitation to a week of special State Dinners. Nevertheless, the invitation is refused -- which again, would have been startling. As the story continues, things only gets worse -- and more startling.

Even this early in the parable, it does not require a Degree in Biblical Studies to figure out that the King is God, his Son is Jesus, the invited guests are the chief priests and elders, and the messenger-servants are the prophets. The chief priests and elders should have recognized God's invitation to celebrate and respond to a call to holiness which was delivered by His Son; rather they hated Him as a result of their jealousy, their stubbornness, their fear, and their hypocrisy

A second time he sent other servants, saying -- Tell those invited -- Behold I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.

One would imagine that the king is disappointed in those individuals he had invited. Nevertheless, so as not to cast a dark cloud over what should be a magnificent day for the king and his son, he patiently dispatches his servants once again to spread the word that the time has come to celebrate. Furthermore, he tells his servants to wet the appetites of the individuals with the details. All of the particulars of the banquet have been attended to and fresh cuts of choice meat are being carved at this very moment! Come! Come! Those of you of Italian descent will picture your grandmother saying, Eat! Eat! -- Eat before it gets cold!

HOMILY: the invitation from God to holiness is an invitation of joy -- likened to a magnificent banquet! Responding to the invitation from God to embrace a life of holiness does not yield a life of gloom and hard sacrifices; but happiness and contentment. It does not yield misery; but celebration. It does not yield sadness; but laughter. It lasts not for a week; but for eternity. No wedding gift is required -- simply a heart filled response to the invitation. Further, we must remember that the king is not obliged to invite anyone to the wedding feast; rather it is a free act of kindness -- it is all gift. Similarly, God is not obliged to invite us either; rather it is all done out of divine love for his creation.

Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.

Not all the invitees joined in the violent melee against the messenger-servants of the King. Some simply weighed work on their farms to be more important than the wedding feast. Others decided that their businesses needed to come first.

HOMILY: Sometimes our lack of response to the call of holiness from God is not consciously deliberate. Our lack of a response is not calculated and forceful; rather our lopsided priorities cause us to lose sight of the invitation and lose sight of the need to make a conscious response. In other words, one might subconsciously surmise: God is eternal; but my farm or business is seasonal. God can wait -- God is patient. What is important now is that I make hay while the sun shines. Have we turned down invitations from God without truly recognizing their magnitude or their personal nature?

Some invited guests did resort to violence either out of intense anger or perhaps to ensure that a third invitation would not be relayed. This would have served as a second jolt to the listeners of this parable. A listener would think to themselves -- Why such a violent reaction? Why such intense anger or hatred? The purpose here is to depict those who represent the invited guests -- the murderers of the prophets -- and ultimately the Son -- in a very unfavorable light.

The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

This verse is thought by various scholars to be added by Matthew during the composition of his Gospel between A.D. 80 and 90. Matthew would have witnessed or at least certainly would have known of the terrible destruction of the glorious Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The Roman army sacked the city and leveled the Temple so that not one stone rested upon another. In the eyes of Matthew, the destruction of Jerusalem is directly tied to the rejection of Jesus. That is, if the Jews had lived the good news, they would not have provoked the Roman Empire to deliver such vengeance.

Then he said to his servants -- The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find. The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.

The two invitations made by the king to come to the prepared wedding feast have been actively ignored. This fact compounded by the ensuing violence pushes the king to judge those who were invited completely unworthy to receive another invitation. Here worthiness is directly tied to the required response. Response to the king is key.

The command of the king to go out and invite whomever the servants can find -- bad and good alike -- is my favorite line in this parable. The main roads, especially the intersection of main roads or around city gates, would have been teeming with a cast of characters: beggars, outcasts, unskilled workers looking to be hired for the day, tax collectors, prostitutes, con-men, the blind, the maimed. In other words, picture Times Square in New York City before its clean-up: prostitutes, fake Rolodex salesmen with suitcases for their offices, pick-pockets, card tables set up for con-games and slight of hand gimmicks, beggars, the homeless, etc. Among these characters would be peppered tourists and reputable citizens passing through. This is the crowd who ultimately would be invited to the wedding feast -- the bad and good alike. The king wants a full hall -- a great celebration -- and there is no room for the ungrateful. There is room, however, for those who make a response -- no matter their previous state of life.

HOMILY: This is our Church which makes up the body of Christ -- sinners and saints all striving for holiness. What is key is the response; not where you have been and what you have done. Rather, what is important is the future and how it will be shaped by your response to the call of holiness which God makes.

But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. The king said to him -- My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment? But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants -- Bind his hands and fee, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Many are invited, but few are chosen.

Many scholars feel that this is an editorial addition to the original parable. (We are given the option to omit these last few verses in the proclamation of Gospel.) The man who is not dressed appropriately represents the sinner who attends the wedding feast but does not do so with a repentant heart. He wants to attend; but he does not want to change his appearance -- his existence -- his life. Here the benefits are sought without the required response to the invitation. The man can make no response or claim ignorance when he is questioned by the king. He knows what the appropriate garb is in order to remain; and he knows well that he is not wearing it. Note also that the Greek word used for -- friend -- is a cool address and not affectionate.

HOMILY: There is certainly a homily based on the cliche -- you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. A response must be made.

Note that the King does not order his servants to force anyone into the banquet hall. They are asked to invite them. Upon their response they are viewed as guests and not simply as those who are there to occupy the hall -- to fill empty space. As would be customary, the king takes the time to meet his guests -- even those characters who have made such a recent response and who come from all walks of life.

HOMILY: Our God-given human freedom allows us to make both good choices and bad choices. We are not forced like puppets on a string to pursue and embrace a life of holiness. Rather, we are invited -- and we must make a choice. Our past sins are not meant to cripple us from ever walking into the banquet hall of God. We gain the status of being his guests whom he wishes to meet in a special, personal way.

Note that the reading from Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of the banquet the Lord will prepare and the comfort and protection He will provide to his holy people. Further, the 23rd Psalm balances the lopsided priorities spoken about above. The Lord will provide what we need. Our job is to be responsive to his call and holy.

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