Love is Always the Context
The parables in Matthew are not easy. Not easy to hear any time, but particularly right now when everything feels hard enough. I could spend my time talking about the limitations of this gospel in speaking readily to an audience like us. Because we tend to concretize a parable like this one. We take it literally.
But this morning’s parable is not about wearing your Sunday best. Even though the inciting incident prior to the weeping and gnashing of teeth is that the guest isn’t wearing the wedding robe. That’s not a cue for us to look down and make sure we’re dressed appropriately.
Prophets aren’t concerned about clothes. Remember when Jesus talked about John the Baptist – and he said, “what did you expect him to wear, royal robes?” (Matt 11:7) Or last week in Luke’s gospel, Jesus reminded us about the lilies of the field and how they don’t worry about what to wear and still God clothes them in splendor that is greater than King Solomon (Lk 12:27).
No, prophets aren’t concerned about the clothes we wear. Prophets are concerned about how we care. Prophets want people to care as much about the kingdom of God as they do – which is hard. Because, not all of us are prophets.
Prophets seem to carry the weight of God’s heart. Like they know the fullness of the love and the sorrow. And when it comes to sorrow, when it gets overwhelming and our hearts feel like they are breaking, we sometimes lash out. The intensity of the sadness is protected with a ferocious indictment or condemnation.
A more modern-day context of what I’m talking about could be this…most parents know and many aunts and uncles out there do too the protectiveness they feel over their children. Let’s say your in that parking lot of Wegman’s on a busy Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Your cart is full, your child holds your hand as you make your way to your car. And suddenly the child drops your hand and dashes out in front – saw a friend, or a puppy or a balloon. You see the bigger picture which includes an SUV backing out of it’s space – and you see the disaster about to happen if you don’t snap that child to attention.
So you shriek, or shout, or scream their name – dash forward and grab their hand because you stopped them in their tracks. Grab them by the shoulders, turn them around – and stare straight into their eyes, “Don’t you ever, ever do that again.”
And you know they heard you because the intensity of your gaze, of edge of your voice terrified them. You are the voice on high – and all they heard was judgement like they are just not used to from this loving and nurturing adult – and their face breaks into cries and tears.
And you pull them close and comfort them, apologize and say, I know, I know, it’s ok, its ok – I love you so, so much and I just don’t want anything to happen to you – and parking lots are dangerous. And you know it won’t be the last time this happens and you lose your temper out of fear, because the world can be a dangerous place. And you want your child to pay attention.
That’s one way a 21st century Episcopalian can hear a prophetic parable from a Jewish prophet of the 1st century. A judgement that is born of a fierce and ferocious love.
The judgement of the parable is that people, faithful people, God’s people don’t show up at all, or show up without paying attention. The king has worked hard, prepared everything the guests would ever want – the best food he has. But people are too busy with their own lives to attend. Some are even angered by the invitation and abuse or kill the messengers. No wonder he is mad. So, he invites anyone who want to come – the good and the bad.
And when it comes to a wedding feast there is an historical and cultural note you and I would miss, if scholars didn’t write commentaries, but something Matthew’s audience would know.
The guests would either bring – or be given – a wedding robe to wear. Like when you’re given a jacket and tie at a fancy restaurant when you showed up in jeans. So when the king says, “Friend, where is your robe?” his guest doesn’t know what to say. It had been given to him, at the least, so where was it?
Did he disregard it? Did he forget? Did he just brazenly not pay attention?
We don’t know, but clearly there is a consequence, the king has had it. Look, I can’t ignore the theme of divine judgement that runs through this parable and several preceding it. The prophetic tone of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel is challenging. Period.
But I will always interpret that divine judgement within the context of divine love.
I am always going to hear Jesus shaking me by the shoulders and reminding me that the love of God is akin to what I call Mama Bear love. That fierce and ferocious love that can bear burdens and sorrows – and longs to gather her brood under her wings (Lk 13:34). It is a love that wants to wake us up and say – pay attention to your life!
This is a love we need. This is a kingdom God is crying out for us to see – because the world can be a dangerous place and this love is the only thing strong enough to get us through!
And, thankfully, we have some prophetic words to learn from and lean on. A leader in our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry who wants to world to live the dream of God and walk in the way of love. In his new book, Love is the Way, Bishop Curry reminds us that in looking at our individual lives and our country’s history is how we pay attention to the action of love in our lives! My hope is our congregation all reads this book and some of us come together to discuss. As he writes in the introduction, “The purpose of this book is to explain what the way of love looks like, even as we walk it in a world that feels more like a nightmare than a dream. The way of love is how we stay decent during indecent times. It’s for all of us who are sitting, looking around at the world…saying, “Something has gone very wrong.” It’s for those of us who are fighting hard for a better world, and feeling very, very tired.” (p. 5)
Prophets, Jesus, remind us to pay attention. Pay attention to our lives for that is where we will find the way of love. Where is God encouraging you to pay attention? Where are you being asked to “show up” in your life right now? Yes, the parables are hard to take in, so let’s remember that our God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Jesus walked the way of love and that is what we are to pay attention to. Amen.