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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Sometimes, a parable is just a parable.

Agnus Day

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet in today's Gospel reading is one I wish had never been repeated by either Matthew or Luke.

First of all, Matthew’s version of this parable is harsher than Luke’s, but then it comes later in Jesus ministry in Matthew, at a time when he was facing severe opposition from the Jewish leaders.

Indeed, the context of Matthew's version is what we now call "Holy Week." Jesus is about to be betrayed and crucified, so we ought not be surprised that this parable condemns the contempt that the religious leaders of Israel had for God’s gracious invitation through Jesus the Messiah.

The important thing about parables, however, is that they are open to interpretation.  And, misinterpretation. Or, interpretation in whatever way we wish to express our theology, our understanding of the nature of God and our relationship with God.

Wherein lies the problem I have with this parable.

Oh, there will be preachers today - Yes, in Episcopal Churches. Yes, in this country - who believe with all their hearts that this parable is a warning of destruction and dishonor for all who reject the invitation and the king's provision. But for those who receive the gifts he gives, the King and his Son provide a royal banquet without end.

You see, it's one thing to be invited. Everyone, they will say, is invited to the Great Banquet (read: heaven). But, they will sternly warn, not all will get there, especially if one is not wearing the right garments (read: having been baptized in Christ Jesus and/or free of sin).


Augustine thought the garment was charity. Gregory the Great said it was love.

I think Jesus was talking about the religious leaders of his day. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I'm reminded of a story Tobias Haller told recently:
"There was a wonderful series of interviews with church leaders a few years back after a swath of hurricanes went through Honduras.

All were asked 'Why these terrible storms?'

The local evangelical church leader said, 'God is punishing the people for their waywardness.'

The Italian incumbent noted, 'God is testing His people.'

The Episcopal Bishop (Leo Frade, now in Florida) said, 'It's hurricane season.'"
Sometimes, the job of the priest is pointing out the obvious.

Agnus Day Cartoon
And, sometimes, the obvious is a mystery. 

If the invitation is to all, then all are invited, right?

Whatever happened to "Just as I am without one plea?"

Is it God's belief in us that is in question or our belief in God that is not sufficient? Not "big enough"? And, who decides?

God desires salvation for us all, so why do we question that? Why would The One who is Creator of all only provide salvation for some?

Or, does this have nothing to do with any of that? Was Jesus just using this parable to talk about what was happening - and, about to happen - to him?

As I follow the path of this parable, that's exactly where I end up. With the obvious. Well, for me.

Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar. And a hurricane is just a hurricane.

And, sometimes, a parable is just a parable.

Yes, that's the way I read it because it supports my theology - my understanding of the nature of God and our relationship with God. Others will read it differently, which supports their understanding of the nature of God and our relationship with God.

I've stopped fighting with them  -  those who use scripture to support their idea of the limits of God's love which, in their estimation, does not include those who are not baptized in the Name of Jesus. Or, those who are but do not live up to their standards of "righteousness".

Which is why, if there be any interpretation of the meaning of the symbolism of the "wedding garment", I'll err on the side of Augustine's charity and Gregory the Great's love.

When I act in charity and love, I get a glimpse of heaven. I can't imagine being able to enter into the unimaginable glory of heaven without wearing the garments of charity and love.  For everyone. Even those who would deny me entrance because I don't live up to their standards. Or, those whose entrance I would question because they don't share my standards.

And that's the point. To love and be charitable in all things.


Even if you think you have an invitation that has been addressed specifically to you and written in gold, signed personally by the hand of God.

Because you do.

We all do.

Like it or not.

And, if you don't - like it, that is -  I'll bet, for you, that's just pure hell. Sorta like being stripped naked of your pride, your hands and feet bound by your own expectations, and being cast off into the outer darkness of despair.

Or, something like that.

Because, you know, sometimes a symbol is just a symbol.

A cigar is just a cigar.

And, a parable is, well, just a parable.


Fr. James Pappas said...

Thanks for this, Elizabeth. Sent me back to find a sermon I preached back in October 2008, before I was ordained a deacon. In it, I interpreted the king of the parable as an earthly king and the man cast out as Jesus. The man is cast out of the banquet because he refuse to acquiesce to the kings power. That has consequences, but it is also the way to life and freedom.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

And, a powerful sermon it was. Thanks, Jim.

Bob Rea said...

Ha, I taught my adult ed class this am about Calvin and predestination. then came this Gospel lesson. I leaned over to one of the students at the end of the Gospel and said, "See, predestination."

Ps I'm writing in my blog again.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

We have increasing numbers of Calvinists in The Episcopal Church. Oh, right. We call them members of The Tea Bag Party now.

Matthew said...

My bishop preached this a.m. One of his "takes:" this is how the church does hospitality and evangelism badly. Many do not want to darken our doors. But we are desperate for new members and growth and young people and families and we are desperate for it, perhaps because we are shrinking and not doing things right in the first place. So we do whatever we can to get them in the door so numbers and ASA go up. Then we don't like them and their ways and we reject them or don't welcome them as newcomers as we should. We should empathize with those tossed out. Maybe the leaders act badly like the king.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

An interesting take, Matthew. I'm not sure I agree with it. Or, at least, I would express it differently: I would say that, when new people walk in the door of our church, we see a dollar sign instead of a cross. We need to be able to see the Christ in ourselves so we can see the Christ in others. And, treat each other like Jesus - who allowed NO outcasts. Then, our churches would be filled to overflowing.

MadPriest said...

The saying that is stuck on to the end of the parable, "Many are called but few are chosen," is the opposite of the point the parable makes. In the parable many are invited from the streets, both good and bad, and only one is rejected.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

MP - Right you are. Of course. Which is why I think Matthew's "agenda" in telling this parable is obvious. It's a word of hope to the people to whom he was "preaching" - the "new Christian community" who were wearing the "right garments" of baptism in Christ.

MadPriest said...

JCF told me that the king would, traditionally, have bought the wedding garments for his guests. If this is correct perhaps the parable is about the rejection of unrestricted grace. All are accepted into God's kingdom except those who deliberately and knowingly reject God's invitation. Any attempt to give the wedding clothes a definition beyond being just a visible sign of an acceptance of the invitation is guesswork at best, projection at worst.

I'm just thinking allowed here - I've already changed my mind on this passage a couple of times in the last 24 hours because of input from other people.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think, MadPriest, that's because a parable is sometimes just a parable.

MadPriest said...

I'm not sure what that means. But then I'm English and we use words differently over here.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Jonathan - I only mean to say that parables are open to interpretation. And, misinterpretation. Or, interpretation in whatever way we wish to express our theology - our understanding of the nature of God and our relationship with God

Matthew said...

another "take" from our service:
Imagine the mother of the groom showing up to the wedding all dressed in mourning attire -- all in black and with a black veil. You think maybe the bride would be just a teensy bit offended and want her removed? Its hard to know what the emotions or the characters in this parable might have been or meant to Jesus without more context.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - Right, which is why the CONTEXT is so important in Matthew's version of the story. I still maintain that Jesus (or Matthew) was saying something to his fellow Jews who refused to be followers of Jesus.

MadPriest said...

When I'm in a post-modern mood I would agree with you, Lisbeth. When I'm in a modernist mood I would not. Like you, my age means I have a foot in both camps which is good fun really.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Speak for yourself, Jonathan. As a 'woman of a certain age' I have that prerogative. It's one of the few privileges I have and I'm going to enjoy it for as long as I can.

MadPriest said...

I'm not so certain. I think a lot more research has to be done into whether or not lesbians have the same right to change their minds as their less interesting sisters. At the moment it is an enigma similar to the question "can gay men can catch man colds."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You are a humourous, Jonathan.

MadPriest said...

Perhaps a femme can change her mind but not a butch. Of course, some people have the right to change their mind one day but not the next. Which is confusing but (again) fun.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Wait, wait, wait. Or, hang on, as you Brits would say. Who made up these rules? Certainly not a lesbian.

MarkBrunson said...

My understanding was that a wedding robe was provided - you would have to actually refuse to put on the robe.

The most important thing, though, is that this a bit of Matthian redaction to address problems in a specific faith community. Sometimes, an addendum is just an addendum.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - You know, I keep hearing that offered as an explanation but I can't find it in one single commentary I've read. I'd love to know the source of that "biblical factoid". And, you're right - sometimes an addendum is just an addendum.

MarkBrunson said...

I'm Mark.

Matthew was, I believe, a Levite. I'm just a Thuringian by way of the Celts.

The important thing is; it's not important. If God throws us out for the wrong dress code, I'll take Odin - he's wiser. It sounds a very human addition to me.

MarkBrunson said...

The "offered garment" was, apparently, originally posited by Augustine of Hippo, so, it's likely a load of hogwash, like most of the rest of his theology.

MadPriest said...

Who made up these rules?

Well, as it's a rule, most probably the English.

MadPriest said...

Forgive me but I'm still whittling away at this week's gospel reading.

Although I don't think Augustine is trustworthy as a cultural historian I think he may have based his clothing comment on a solid theological point. If the wedding clothes represented a Godly quality then Pauline reasoning would insist that they were given to the guests by the king/God. This would lead to the wrongly dressed guest's punishment being caused by a deliberate rejection of the king/God.

Or perhaps it is simply about disrespect and the wrongly dressed guest is no different to the arrogant men of the first part of the parable.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sorry, Mark. I agree with you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Jonathan, I still think Matthew was working off a personal agenda. Luke's story is very different.

MadPriest said...

D'oh! They all worked from a personal agenda. Just like us.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

My point, EXACTLY!

MarkBrunson said...

It's allright.

Mark is actually my middle name, my mother was Mildred, my brothers Michael and Jeff, and I resemble my father, Jim, whose old classmates are still here, so . . . I'm used to being called by other names! :)