Not Because One Day We Will Get It Right
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Year A, Proper 23, RCL, Track 2
A wedding is usually a wonderful time where we have fun, laugh, and meet people we haven’t seen in a long time. There is an abundance of food and drink. We joyfully come together to celebrate life; life as family and friends. And we especially celebrate the life of the new couple. But it is more than that. We celebrate the life they had before they knew each other. We may hear stories, see pictures, or play games that the couple finds embarrassing. We celebrate the life they have right now. A life of young love; so full of possibilities that it’s over flows from their very being. We celebrate the life they will have going into the future; looking forward to their love maturing and possibly having children; the life they have until death do us part. The fond memories that we have, the emotions that we express during a wedding banquet is what the kingdom of heaven is like. It’s a place we all want to be.
Now it is likely that we have been invited to a wedding that we really didn’t want to attend but we are really talking about these others the ones we would not want to miss for anything. This is the setting we have at the wedding in Cana. This is the setting we have today, or at least this is what the king prepared for. A wedding that everyone should want to attend but instead we have a banquet where none of the invited guests will come.
The king invites guests the best looking and wealthiest people in town. He sends invitations in advance, reminds them a few days before hand, and even sends a car to them saying it’s not too late come now, it’s ready. But they are just too busy or too wrapped up in the mundanities of life to want to come to this celebration.
Historically these prestigious guests are thought to be the Hebrew people. God sends the prophets to warn the people to change their ways. But the people kill the prophets and still don’t turn to God. The rest of the guests, the rabble if you will, are the gentiles. God offers the Gentiles the same seat at the banquet table as he offers the Hebrews. This gift is given to them, to us, not because we deserve it or we’re of the right pedigree, but because God loves us. And if this was the ending of the story, it would be the perfect ending. We all live happily ever after, the end. But unfortunately, it is not the ending. Our Uncle Leo, the odd sheep of the family who always causes problems shows up as well.
Now uncle Leo was invited just like the rest of us but he just can’t seem to follow social etiquette and the king has him removed. This is the hard part of this parable. We hear that this man is kicked out simply for wearing the wrong clothes. This part of the story rubs me the wrong way and I know it does for many others as well. Even scholars have trouble agreeing what exactly is going on here. But from what I can tell, this man is lacking something. This missing wedding gown is a symbol of purity and holiness. Maybe this man isn’t baptized, after all the newly baptized people in the early church were dressed in a white gown. Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe he is unrepentant. He has an unclean heart and he is seen as unworthy to be at the banquet.
As I mentioned, the meaning of this character is murky. And on one hand, I wonder if we spend too much time thinking about this person. After all, we clearly understand the rest of the story; the Good News it has for all people. Yet this man keeps gnawing at us. Could it be that we are afraid that he is a symbol for us?
We on some level wonder if we are worthy to be at the table, to enter the kingdom of heaven. Maybe obscuring this man was Matthew’s intent. After all, we have Christian hope based on Christs’ promise. A promise that means we will never hope in vain.
This is hope, not a guarantee. We have hope because we know the mercy of our Lord. We know that he is slow to anger and full of compassion. And we know that Christ died for us so that we can be raised with him on the last day. Yet there is still one thing that is completely in our control. Repentance. If we are unable to forgive the sins of others then we will likewise be judged in a similar fashion.
Over the last umpteen weeks of Morning Prayer, in suffrage A, we prayed “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” This is where our Hope lies. It lies with Christ forgiving all our sins; when we turn to him; when we follow him. Christ gave us the ability to do this over and over again. Not because one day we will get it right, we never will, but because we have to keep trying. We have to keep forgiving and asking forgiveness. What better news can we ask than this kind of love; from a God who loves us like a bride or a groom? A love that invites us to the wedding banquet regardless of our past.
Artwork: Millais, John Everett, 1829-1896. The Marriage Feast, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved October 9, 2020].