Sermon for October 11, 2020

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 11, 2020
Matthew 22:1-14

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

1Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The dominion of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again 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.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then 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.’ 14“For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Here we go again, another difficult passage from Matthew’s Gospel. If only the reading for today would have ended with the comparatively good news of the wedding banquet hall being filled with people from the streets, both the good and bad, with everyone having a great time. But no….

We have the last few verses about the guy who shows up at the banquet hall without the proper attire of the wedding robe. Not only is he asked to leave, the king, the banquet host, ordered his attendants to do this to the one who didn’t have the proper uniform: “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

As if that’s not enough, then today’s passage concludes with this zinger: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew’s audience would likely have heard this parable and allegorical commentary as yet another indictment of the religious leaders of their day, leaders who did not acknowledge or receive Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

But we are not Matthew’s audience. We are members of the church of the 21st Century, trying to be faithful some 1900 years after the time of Matthew. We are 21st Century Christians engaging in ministry and mission built on the foundation of two millennia of biblical interpretation and theological and liturgical tradition.

Given our realities and circumstances, what might we hear, see, and understand in this passage from Matthew? I’ll tell you what I receive in my engagement with this text.


I see the wedding hall lavishly set for the messianic banquet of the dominion of heaven. I see Jesus as the host of this sacred banquet, he whom I confess as Messiah.

Thus, with this focus on Christ and the meal he hosts, I cannot help but also see the table of the Eucharist set, ready for the feast of Christ’s body and blood, of blessed bread and wine, our foretaste of but also real participation now in the messianic banquet of God’s heavenly reign.

There’s more. I hear a gracious invitation made to some, perhaps an invitation to the ones we might stereotypically expect to attend such a lavish banquet, the haves, the elites, the leaders, the usual insiders.

But those first-invited guests make light of the invitation, and go back to their business as usual. Moreover, some others generously invited do terrible violence to the servants extending the royal host’s invitation. I hear divine rage at the spurning of a gracious invitation.

Extending once again the possible meanings of the story to our own day and churchly circumstances, I wonder who are the ones today who might make light of Christ’s grace-filled invitation to the table of grace. Who are the ones who spurn the welcome, the ones who do violence to the messengers? I am not moved to name names, except that sometimes I am the one who doesn’t take the invitation seriously.

But then, after the rejection by those first invited, I envision the divine welcome expanded and extended to the least likely to fill the seats and tables at a lavishly appointed banquet: “‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the 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.” (Matthew 22:8-10) What did those streets look like where the host’s servants were sent to extend the invitation to the wedding banquet? Well, there were probably not streets paved with gold. Rather, I see streets teeming with people of all sorts and conditions – again, the good and bad, and undoubtedly those in between. Who were the “all,” both good and bad? In short, everyone, save for the ones who rejected the initial invitation.

How were they dressed? In wedding robes, the story says. But more specifically, I cannot help but see the white robe of baptism, with which we are adorned after the water bath in connection to God’s word and the power of the Spirit, when we take off our old clothes and put on the new, brilliantly cleansed, in the baptismal light of Christ.

And I see a new community, a host arrayed in white, singing the festal song of the messianic wedding banquet, we who are wed to Christ, our bridegroom: “This is the Feast of Victory for our God. Alleluia!”

Still more, I see the contrast between the well-lit banquet hall and the “outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” the former filled to overflowing with people, the latter desolate, bereft of any crowd.

In short, to distill it all down, in this gospel reading interpreted through the latter-day lenses of our churchly life, I see baptism and Eucharist, the water bath initiating the entrance to the wedding hall. And through sacramental eyes I see a vision of the church, its ministry and the mission of the gospel centered in bath and table which is our foretaste, but also, again, real participation in the dominion of heaven. Now.

But given our current pandemic circumstances of absence from the sacramental means of grace, I feel in the pit of my stomach a yearning to be sacramentally grounded and oriented again. Except we are not there right now. We have baptisms in our congregation waiting to be celebrated. We have been without the Eucharistic feast for over half a year and counting.

When it’s all said and done, therefore, I see a hungry feast, where those seated at the tables exclaim, I am “hungry for a word of peace… hungry for a world released… hungry that hunger may cease… hungry for the hungry feast.” (cf. ELW #479, “We Come to the Hungry Feast”)

In the absence of the Holy Communion, in the absence of dipping our hands in a font filled with water, we are left to feast on God’s word of promise.

Listen again, therefore, to these words of promise from the prophet Isaiah which concluded today’s first reading: “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. 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.” (Isaiah 25:6-9)

Cling to these words of promise during these days of pandemic-induced spiritual hunger and thirst.

And let these words of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians characterize our life together during these trying times: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)


Now for your reflection and conversation:

  • I’ve shared with you what I see and hear in today’s readings. What do you see and hear in the passages appointed for today?
  • And how might the meanings derived from today’s readings guide your current journey of faith?