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.Sometimes, the job of the priest is pointing out the obvious.
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.'"
|Agnus Day Cartoon|
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.