We have all been there, planned a dinner party weeks in events, looked forward to the event, to being with friends and family when at the last minute calls start coming in. One can’t make it because of a sick child, another has to cancel because of car trouble and another has had to rush out of town to tend to the needs of an aging parent.
As the phone calls come in one after the other, all for legitimate reasons, you find your frustration growing as you begin to ask what you are going to do with all the food you have bought that no one is going to eat.
This is just a taste of what the king in today’s parable was feeling as one guest after another bailed on his son’s wedding feast. Not only did he have a mountain food to get rid of, he was also experiencing a mountain of hurt and betrayal as none of his peers and nobles were willing to make the time to come to the wedding feast.
So what does a king do when rejected by his noble subjects? If our parable is any indication of first century Palestinian life. . . you make your anger known, you strip your nobles of their rank and power, and then you invite anyone and everyone you find on the streets who will appreciate the opportunity to be part of the king’s celebration. At least this what the king in this morning’s parable chose to do.
We know this event never happened, it is a parable used by Jesus to make a point, a statement on the lack of interest or desire on the part of the Sadducees and the Pharisees to uphold God’s law. Knowing this, especially in the light of the establishment bashing we have heard in our Gospel readings these past few weeks, it is easy for us to sit comfortably in our chairs and throw our stones of judgment at those who are not here; or, at the very least, at the leaders of ancient Israel for not recognizing who Jesus is. After all, last week Jesus condemned the Pharisees as he declared that the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, the first stone, of the new order.
However, this week’s parable takes an interesting and confusing twist. While it begins by condemning all the bad and powerful people out there who have rejected Christ, the story suddenly turns inward as the king banishes and punishes a reveler who has come not wearing the proper attire. If you are like me, you probably have found yourself scratching you head at this one. You have probably wondered if the king was just plain crazy to expect those who were literally brought in off the streets to come in properly attired at the last minute. If the king is really supposed to represent God, then I have to wonder if God is just plain crazy and arbitrary in how God metes out punishment.
The fact is, as a people of God, who have come to believe less is more, especially in how we celebrate baptisms, we are blind to the baptismal references in today’s parable. A common phrase in early Christianity was to literally “put on” or “to wear” Christ. This is a reference to the transformed and different life we have chosen to live. In the early Church, when one was baptized, they were baptized in the nude and after being dried off, members of the church literally dressed the newly baptized in a white garment as a symbol of their new or transformed life and their desire to become Christ to the world. In the book of Revelation, John’s vision ends with the words, “Blessed are those who wash their robes (in the River of Life) so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.” St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians builds on this same sort of baptismal reference when he exhorts the congregation to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other.”
All of these statements feed into the active nature of Christian life. At the end of today’s parable Christ states that many are called, few are chosen. Here Christ Is clear, simply showIng up at the heavenly banquet is not enough . . . that passivity and our relationship with God cannot and do not go together . . . that not only do we need to come to the banquet, we must also be active by allow the feast to change our lives and become the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
As a parish which has intentionally struggled with the meaning and purpose of baptism, today’s parable serves as a reminder, that baptism is more than a rite of passage . . . that baptism is more than simply sprinkling someone with holy water and calling it a day. Instead what we have found is that baptism is about both coming to the table and being willing to participate with the love of God to change our lives into lives of Christ.
This past week, the people of Central New York were invited to hear Dr. Andrew Newberg speak on his research in the area of the effects of prayer on the brain. What Dr. Newberg’s research has found through various brain scans is that our brain activity changes When we pray. What Dr. Newberg has seen is how the area that controls our sense of transcendence becomes more active while other areas of the brain become less active. In other research Dr. Newberg has discovered that regular prayer and meditation can and does change how the brain functions within as little as six months. Even more interesting, his findings indicate the area of the brain that becomes more active is the area that controls or regulates our ability to be compassionate.
Other studies referred to by Dr. Newberg indicate that people who are active in faith communities tend to suffer from less anxiety, depression and other mental health issues which commonly plague so many in our communities today. This is not to say that those who follow Christ have lives that are less messy than others. If the issues and hardships members of this community have endured in just the past few weeks is any indication of how truly messy our lives are, then we know this certainly is not the case. And while faith does not save us from the pain of grief and suffering, it does offer us the balm of hope in something greater and the knowledge that we don’t journey through our suffering alone but that God journeys with us.
In this morning’s Gospel we learn all are invited to the heavenly banquet. However, what ChristLater reveals and Dr. Newberg’s research may indicate it, is not enough to simply show up. We as a people of God must be willing to put on the robes of Christ by opening our hearts and minds to the transforming love of our creator, to literally allow God rewire our brains so in order to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves.