“The Rejected Guest”
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, October 11, 2020 Rev. Dr. John Henson
When was the last time you went to a wedding or a wedding banquet? If you are like me, it’s probably been a while or, at least since the pandemic started in March. These events are normal parts of our lives, either involving a family member or a friend. We look forward to them and to getting to celebrate with the bride and groom and even get to take part in some amazing food at the banquet.
Jesus knew how common and cherished weddings were, and so he made one the subject of a parable he told. To illustrate what the kingdom of heaven is like, Jesus told about a king who throws a wedding banquet for his son. The guests he invites do not show up, so he sends his workers to invite anyone they see. As people gather at the banquet, the king sees one of the guests not dressed in wedding attire. He rebukes him for not being dressed appropriately and orders his workers to throw him out violently. What Jesus wanted the religious elites around him to know was that God’s kingdom was in opposition to the kingdoms of this world. Jesus has already mentioned John the Baptist and what happened to him as a representative of God’s kingdom. Jesus knew the risk he faced as one too and I believe he sees himself as the rejected wedding guest in this story. Like John, he too would face rejection and a brutal death. His other parables up to this point have been his attempts to help them see the danger of rejecting God’s messengers and of choosing the wrong kingdom. They had the wrong ideas about who and what God wanted them to be in their world, especially as they related to King Herod and to Caesar. What they were doing–as he pointed out with his protest of moneychangers in the temple–was going in the wrong direction. They had already colluded with worldly powers and they would soon be crushed by Roman army if they continued. Jesus’ parables were creative interactions for them to repent and seek the right power, the kingdom of heaven, a way of peaceful resistance and justice.
We are to see that the kingdom of heaven is where violence is counteracted by Jesus’ submission to it. Jesus, like the wedding guest who is rebuked by the king and then thrown out violently, is a threat to King Herod as well as to the Roman empire he represents. Jesus is not regarded as a religious elite nor is he one who has an agenda of violence. He is one who has come from the streets and is a friend of the rejects of their society. Because he doesn’t conform to the king’s agenda, the king seeks to do away with him.
In this way, we are to be like Jesus. We don’t have a king, but we do have overlords in our world, those who demand allegiance and our conformity to their agendas and plans. Some Christians of today could find themselves in this parable as those who conform to the powers of this world, thinking that doing so will give them power for their own plans but only to find out later they have sold their souls. We are to resist these powers and their ways of violence in our world and be like Jesus in representing another world, a different way of doing things, a new power that comes from love, grace, and justice rather than hatred, rejection, and corruption. This new world is to look like what Isaiah described for Israel in our first reading (25:1-9) today. Hear these words again,
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
Note the contrast between that world and the one we know all too well in our time. It is in that contrast that kingdoms collide. Jesus knew that was the case as he entered into Jerusalem and the inevitable suffering that would come from his demonstration of the kingdom he represented. As Matthew quoted Jesus earlier in his gospel, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” I believe this is what Jesus was getting at with this parable, that he was aware of the risks of his work and what happens when power is challenged. And certainly Matthew knew his readers, who were facing persecution of their own, would need to hear.
But Jesus—and Matthew’s readers—were familiar with the hope and beauty of Isaiah 25, especially the imagery of what God will do for those in the kingdom of heaven who suffer the violence of the powers of this world. Hear this description again,
And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
What a beautiful image to hold in one’s mind and heart when facing the challenges that come from the brutality and violence of people in power who have an empire of their own and an agenda for this world other than God’s. It’s likely these words of Isaiah were much in Jesus’ mind as he continued on in Jerusalem, becoming the guest who was thrown outside of the city and killed without responding with violence. Yes, the kingdom of heaven suffered violence, but what happened three days later is a reminder that violence and evil don’t get the last word. May these words be in our minds and hearts in this time in our history when the kingdom of heaven we work for puts us in opposition to the kings and kingdoms of this world. As our work of loving neighbors by doing justice gets us into lots of “holy trouble” may we counter it all with the same power that rose Jesus from a violent death, saying,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
*Several people have mentioned never thinking of Jesus as the rejected guest in the parable. It isn’t a common interpretation but is one I like as it fits well with the context with the other parables Jesus uses with it and as he continues on in Jerusalem. The best resource for this interpretation–and one most helpful to me in my preparation of this sermon– is Paul Nuechterlein’s Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary. http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-a/proper23a/