The word “parable” comes from two Greek roots: “bole” means “to throw”; “para” means “alongside”.
When my son was about 5 years old or so, I remember buying him a football. We went out in our yard to break the ball in. Trevor and I played that game where we threw it back and forth to see how many times we could catch the football without dropping it. I think we got to about six or seven. While I can’t remember how many my son caught and I caught—not being much at catching footballs myself—we would both accuse the other of throwing the ball too hard or too high.
Parables are like that game of catch. The person telling the parable is “throwing” and the other person has to be alert enough and mobile enough to “catch” it. Some parables are easy to catch and some are difficult. Today’s parable from Matthew is a difficult parable that was told by Jesus. Like many of the parables told by Jesus this is a story that is “thrown alongside”—not quite back and forth and not too easy to understand.
The gospel today tells an unlikely story of guests that are invited to a King’s son’s wedding dinner. And those who were invited didn’t bother to show up. We can understand why the king was angry. And we might be surprised at how he finally filled the banquet hall. The theme of this story is very much like the vineyard parable that was used last Sunday. It’s a theme of –in-your-face rejection of the king.
In the gospel stories that were told, the “king” always represented God, and the son represented Jesus. Jesus told this parable as a warning to those who rejected him, because they were not only rejecting him, but they were rejecting God as well.
One of the new guests that arrived after the King demanded that the servants go out and hustle up some guests, was improperly attired. Maybe the guest didn’t have time to go home and get changed and this punishment seems unfair, but Jesus’ point was this: the man proved unworthy of the invitation so the king tossed him out.
There is an interesting piece of Jewish literature from the Babylonian Talmud which says: “Let those who are dressed up for the banquet sit, eat and drink; but let those who did not dress for this banquet stand and watch.” (I hope you’re impressed that I looked this up and found this quote).
The invitation to the banquet was offered first only to a few, but then to everyone within earshot, as the servants brought in people that normally wouldn’t be expected to be at the banquet.
This gospel parable tells us a lot about how the early church understood the Kingdom of God and the place of Jesus’ followers. One of the great issues for those early followers of Jesus was the rejection of him by the Jewish leaders of the time. To understand this parable—known as one of the Parables of the Kingdom, we have to be aware that this was a great issue for the early church--the Jewish rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.
The rejection of Jesus was a major issue in his time. And it is because of this rejection that Paul and other evangelists turned to the Gentiles for disciples and the Gentile Church began to understand itself as guests of the new wedding banquet.
At this point we may wish to think about how we, today, view the mission of the church and the hope of the Kingdom of God. What is there about us that moves us closer to the goal of the Kingdom of God? In what ways do we get meaning for our lives from the gospel of Jesus Christ? How do we locate and live our identity in the Church? How do we understand what is authentic and credible about the message of Jesus? And how do we communicate that message?
The mission of the Kingdom of God is to spread the gospel, to encourage Christian fellowship, to nurture people spiritually—otherwise we drift backwards. The mission of the church is to the world, not just to us. And it is at this point that we are either credible as a parish community or not. We’re to be in love with the world! Jesus says that loving one’s neighbor as oneself is like loving God with heart, mind, soul and strength.
Sometimes I surmise that the Episcopal Church has a fear of disturbing the way things are, of getting people upset, which stifles our prophetic voice at a time when people everywhere are counting on us to act.
We are called to commit ourselves in witness and in service—commitment and service far beyond what we have done in the past.
The point of Jesus’ parable today is that what he “throws alongside of us today” is critical in our understanding of the kingdom of God. The “catch” is not always easy to make. Our future as Christians and at this parish community, is really at stake in what we do. And the question is: will we make the effort to “catch the ball”?
Let us pray: O gracious Lord, let the church be truly your body in the world today, the Christ-community directed by you, infused by your Spirit, loving and serving others as you did when you lived a human life. Help us to give ourselves for the sake of the world, so that others may have the priceless treasure of your grace and love, O Lord, O Savior of all. Amen