Philippians 4: 12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22: 1-14
This is one of the more challenging gospels to preach on through the cycle for many reasons, including the fact that it’s really two different parables merged as one but also because of our own human reactions to the reading. From the time we are little kids we grow up with certain images of God…the one who is all-powerful, the one who’s always watching, at times the one who’s ready to pounce on us when we screw things up, but also this image of king. So when we hear gospels like this our inclination is to automatically assume that the “god figure” is that of the king throwing the party.
Certainly, there is some of that, but as this story goes on it appears that this king is very erratic in what’s he’s doing. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it and appears to react, often with violence, rather than responding out of love, as we have also grown accustomed to when it comes to God. However, I think it’s also important, again, to remember who Jesus is speaking to with this parable. The characters have not changed; it’s still, as it has been the past couple weeks, that of the chief priests and elders of the people. We know tensions are high at this point in the story and there must be a point that he’s trying to make to them, to ruffle their feathers all the more.
Think about it, isn’t it often how they react, as the king does. They were perceived, and they liked it that way, that they were the source of power. They often abused that power, taking advantage of those considered on the bottom. People had to at least give the appearance, out of fear of their reaction, that they had it all together, wearing their wedding garments, saying they’ll attend, but never showing. To their face, one thing, but their actions say something else. The chief priests and elders of the people were no different, but it’s all they knew. They could only understand God by what they say, what is seen, and not beyond.
And so this other character appears on the scene, simply referred to as “my friend.” He seems rather innocent, yet, like the previous guests, has no wedding garment. The king becomes enraged by it all because he did not see what he believed he had to see, silencing this guy, throwing him out into the darkness, and beating him. Does the character sound like anyone else? How about Jesus? Everything we know about Jesus points to “my friend.” He arrives in great humility, without great fanfare, in lowliness. He comes from nothing. He is silenced at the end of his life, so often because they don’t like what ‘my friend’ has to say and challenges the status quo, again, of what is seen and known, and yet he tries to lead them elsewhere.
‘My friend’ also leads and is pushed where others do not want to go nor do they believe they need to go. Somehow that is beneath them to have to go to the darkness, but to truly embrace the fullness of God, and for that matter, ourselves, we must go where our friend leads, to the darkness and the muck of our own lives, not where we want to go, but where we need to grow in order to come to the feast because it goes way beyond what is seen to what lies beneath and within.
Paul manages, probably more than any other, to bring these two seeming opposites, and are reconciled within him. How can he experience both hunger and abundance at the same time? How can he be well fed and going hungry at the same time? Yet he does, because who God is for Paul expands as he grows in relationship with Christ, the great Reconciler. So often in our own lives we must let go of those images of God from our own childhood which hold us back from experiencing and living our own fullness. They make God too small. They make us react out of our own violence and often misperceived beliefs. What my friend and yours tries to lead us to is the great mystery. We want to stay in the light and be seen. We want to stay on the surface and fight over what is known and seen. But my friend wants more for me and you and so often that leads us to an experience of being excluded and on the outside before we can once again be one at the great feast.
Yes, God is king and all-powerful but not one that reacts to everything with violence, but rather, like my friend, responds with great love. We pray today for the great courage to begin to let go of those images of God and ourselves that weigh us down and keep us trapped in our own smallness and ask to be freed into the great unknown, the unseen of life, the great mystery we call God and the great mystery we live through and within. In the midst of it all my friend will appear expanding our eyes and hearts and the way we see, even into the unseen, the unknown, the mystery of death and life.