When I turned 8 years old I was emotionally crushed. It had been a tough year and I had so deeply retreated into myself that I had become a wallflower. And the highlight of the year was a birthday party…3/31/78.
I was too ashamed of where I was living at the time for the party to be held at my home and was thrilled–THRILLED–T*H*R*I*L*L*E*D—when my grandmother offered to host the party at her home. The excitement inside me had built for a month before the party day…invitations were sent, but then few, really almost no, RSVP cards were returned.
A week before the party my fear of being rejected was in full flower, but I was dying to know who would be coming—and agonizingly some part of me also wondered, who would not. This was a tough space for an 8 year old. Ultimately 5 people were present: my brother, two cousins, myself and my brother’s grade school best friend Eli. Eighteen invitations went out…only 3 of the eighteen were received and accepted. Crushing! Crushing!!!!!
Within the next week I found myself pummeled by excuses from those who did not attend. Some were legitimate—stomach flu. Some were sad—grounded for a D grade. One was downright mean—-your family lives too far out for my parents to waste their gas. (6 miles from town) But one “excuse” stands out above all the others….for it was beautifully honest, even painfully so—-a dear friend said, “I couldn’t afford a gift and missed the party to do chores so I could buy you one.”
Right there on the Central Elementary School playground this friend handed me a Star Wars Boba Fett action figure. He had made my day. Even more, he had invited me to come to his house to spend Friday night and all day Saturday. Here I am, 36 years later, talking about this generous person…I’ll bet one might say that the acceptance and rejection of invitations has changed my life. It has made me who I am.
Now there’s a point to ponder—-who I am.
But here is a better one to ponder—***WHO IS JESUS?***
Jesus has spun three parables in a row to answer the question, “who-is-this-person?” Matt. 14:10. He has offered a parable about two children who obey or do not obey a parent (ch 21 vv. 28-32), a parable about new management in an old vineyard (ch.21 vv. 33-46), and now a parable about a King—one who hosts a wedding party.
These parables are NOT ABOUT US…even though it is so easy to make them so. These parables are about revealing Jesus to a first century audience. And there is a prevailing pattern—the pattern we see is one where a crystal clear distinction is made between those who do the will of the father-the landowner-the king and those who don’t. And let’s face it—time and time again—it is Jesus who ultimately does the will of the father–the landowner–the king. And in contrast, it is the human beings who disobey, kill servants and son (Son), and even decline clearly received invitations.
Who honors all these things? Who really honors them? The Son—Jesus Christ.
A fair answer to the question, “who-is-this-person,” cannot be, “We the people!” This isn’t our party!
So—Is this then Jesus’ party? Maybe, maybe not.
But speaking of which, take some time to peruse the gospels. Take a look at how many parties Jesus attends, hosts, or joins. It is staggering…no wonder in Matthew 11 he is called a drunk.
One cannot help but wonder if Jesus is one of “those people” who did not get an invite to the King’s party. He’d certainly not have been on the short list of the government or Temple rosters. He had no money or status so the social climbers would see him as undeserving. And, let’s face it, he always brings with him the wrong sort of crowd….most of us are fine with Jesus—but consider his friends.(vv. 9-10)
But what’s more than all these…what if he is the one that does not fit in at the party at all.? What if,
“he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces*
he was despised, and we held him of no account.” [Isaiah 53 excerpt]
What if Jesus is the one cast out for wearing the wrong garment? (v.10-11)
What if the kingly religious establishment hosted this huge party and Jesus didn’t fit their mold, didn’t wear their robe? Wouldn’t they naturally wonder what went awry?
Wouldn’t they have every right to ask, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” (v.12)
Think about it for a moment—-Wouldn’t any of us ask a pastor who usually wore vestments, on a day when none were worn, “Friend, how did you get in the chancel without an alb, cincture, stole, chasuble?” Or, wouldn’t we ask a disrobed choir member standing in the front, “Dude, where’s the robe—service starts in 10 minutes?” Or, maybe we’d sit in the pew and whisper to another, “Who does she think she is standing up there without her choir robe?” Is this typical behavior for humans?
The king asks, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” (v.12)
And the response is silence. “And he was speechless,” says v. 13.
Now that’s interesting……………silence such as the silence Jesus maintains at his trial: (ch. 27 vv. 12-14)
“But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?’ But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.”
Would it be like Jesus not to fit the mold of the ideal guest? A party-thrower, a rumored drunk, one not dressed in the requisite attire? Wouldn’t it be Jesus that we’d toss out of our parties? Wouldn’t it be Jesus that knows something about being tossed out of human life, pitched into darkness, maybe after a night of prayer marked by abandonment, weeping–perhaps even gnashing of teeth? Ever been in the deep dark of night when anxiety forced you to gnash your teeth? Wouldn’t it be Jesus who’d know something about that kind of anxiety on the eve of his crucifixion? And wouldn’t it be so like Jesus to get himself tossed out to land in a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth?” Think about it—isn’t he always seeking some way to join himself to those wounded souls all the time anyway? And what if this king is not God the Father, but just a earthly human king?
Explore something like this thought line and your preaching will mirror a king whose invitational generosity is mirrored in the generous sacrifice of Jesus. Explore something about our ability to accept, receive, process, and heed invitations and you’ll have a sermon that is—in the end….all about us. It might even sound as fetching and flowery as the opening story—which—by the way—as touching as it was—said nothing of Jesus for it was all about me!
So here we are, two thousand years later, shouldn’t we be talking about who Jesus is—-this generous God-person? After all, he’s the only one that honors the will of father—landowner—king. Maybe gets himself tossed out of the party for others, too.
Isn’t it possible that when Jesus mentions a “king” that Jesus might actually mean that the character in the story might only be a human king? God the Father is the “king of kings” to be sure. But the text does not focus on God’s kingship, nor is the focus the Son. The text does not appear to be about rejecting a son (the Son), but rather it is about rejecting a party invitation. It would seem a reductionist stretch to equivocate this text to some type of decision theology. After all, if the king in the text is a worldly king, rather than God the Father as the king, then his behavior is totally consistent with the systems of our world, which use force, threat of force, and violence to uphold power and compel us to receive and act on invitations. Ever been invited by the IRS to pay back taxes—they will use police power of government to levy if one doesn’t accept the invitation to pay. Ever seen ISIS/ISIL seek to invite people into an abhorrent form of a peaceful religion? This is the pattern of the king in the text who mass murders and destroys a city. God’s kingdom as revealed in the person of Jesus bears no semblance to this king’s pattern/style of leadership. To be sure, I am not saying that Almighty God laughs off, scoffs at, or condones sin….I am simply saying that this king is a vile despot and in no way resembles the God who meets humanity in the person of Jesus. But the one tossed out, the one who remained silent before the king looks a lot like the Jesus who will be silent in Matt 27 before his own accusers…that guy looks like God revealed to us in Jesus. And that leads me to be believe that Jesus is the one tossed from the party and the king doing the tossing is the world’s system of violent reign. If this text is about Jesus showing his identity—then isn’t Jesus the one who is cast into “outer darkness” for humanity on a cross? And isn’t the party we all hope to celebrate a promised feast (Rev. 19) for which we all wait, one that comes after the cross…..not a 1st century invitational feast given before Jesus ever meets the cross. No way around it—nothing’s happy about the cross…..but there’s no party without it.
Talk about Jesus? Talk about people? Your choice…but one brings life, the other gnashing of teeth.