Two Sundays ago, we heard a Gospel reading in church that was at best confusing, and at worst deeply disturbing. It was the parable of the wedding feast found in Matthew 22:1-14. It goes like this:
Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Traditionally, the king in the parable is understood as representing God, while the original invitees who reject the invitation to the wedding feast represent the people of Israel, and the alternative invitees are the Gentiles. On the surface, the message of the parable seems pretty straightforward: God invites the people of Israel to participate in the Kingdom of God, but upon their refusal, the invitation goes out to everyone else.
The struggle for most of us, however, is what to make of the king’s (or God’s) rage and his actions of sending his troops to kill those who rejected his invitation and burn their cities. Another extremely difficult part of the parable is what takes place at the end. What do we make of the part where the King (or God) acts with extreme hostility toward one of the guests for not wearing the appropriate wedding attire, and banishes them to a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth?” There is something about this parable that contradicts what we believe to be the loving, welcoming, and inclusive nature of God.
This past weekend, my dear friend (who is also a priest) was visiting from Los Angeles. When I learned that he had just preached on this passage, I was curious as to how he interpreted the parable. I was not at all prepared for his answer. For my friend, the king in the parable represents not God, but you and me… and the story is the story of the cycle of pain and injury. The lens through which he interpreted the passage was a quote by Richard Rohr: “If we don’t transform our pain, we will surely transmit it.” Having been rejected by others, the king reactively seeks vengeance and, later, also becomes one who rejects. And where is God in the parable? God is figured in the face of the unwelcome stranger who is rejected.
If you would like to listen to his sermon in its entirety: “It’s Still a Wedding Party,” Rev. Jon. Dephouse.