I have accused my best friend of raising three beautiful children: a son, a daughter, and me.
He has taught me a lot and rescued me from myself on multiple occasions, including our
college classmates' wedding.
I showed up without a suit jacket.
He shook his head at me and gave me one to borrow.
He considered better than I did the significance of the occasion.
He clothed me in righteousness so that I wouldn't diminish or dishonor the party.
According to Matthew, he also saved me a trip to the dentist.
Like last week's parable in the vineyard, this week's story features violence and murder, then adds bouncers sending wedding crashers to tears in the outer darkness for fashion fouls.
Both are unique to Matthew, who is uniquely concerned about mercy, so why has the gospel
turned so merciless?
Why does the gospel author who rails so constantly against judgment present Jesus being so judgmental?
Perhaps the gravitational pull of violent negativity is just too relentless and strong; perhaps like many of us Matthew is being sucked into the same toxic behavior he is fighting against.
Hatred of hatred, intolerance of intolerance, fighting against fighting, and fear of fear are sadly ironic and common conditions.
Love is blind, and so is anger, especially when they are mixed together.
Matthew is passionate about the kingdom of heaven, the reign of God's mercy introduced,
embodied, and elaborated by Jesus.
In this kingdom there is grace on offer for all from the ruler of all reality...and people don't care.
The news of the kingdom is too good to be believed, and it is not being taken seriously.
Some people are losing their minds this week over a president refusing to cover his face even after being hospitalized with COVID-19.
Matthew is losing his mind because God's people are being just as perilously careless and
cavalier about God's life.
Too many of God's chosen people treated the Messiah even worse than they treated the prophets before him.
Too many of the party-crashing Gentiles don't appreciate thier windfall of divine mercy enough to put on new attitudes and behaviors.
Too many of us all take everyday grace for granted.
C.S. Lewis once preached, Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infiinte joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
We are far too easily pleased.
We far underestimate the value of the feast provided to us for free.
It is easy, and not wrong, to hear "wedding feast" and associate it with a heaven beyond human history, the glorious consummation of all things, the happily ever after to which the
Bible, and Holy Communion, point us with their royal wedding language.
But locating the party only outside the borders of time and space tempt us to dismiss or make light of it.
Search your life.
Even in our current chaos, is it not more grace than you could ever imagine or hope to deserve?
You were born, and every morning since your breath has been there, and so has the sunrise, always a gift, never a guarantee.
There are water and sky and soil and birds and music and muscles and beauty and passion and possibility and starlight and language and stories and love; earth is a palace overflowing with wonders and miracles.
Life is a free, extravagant wedding feast...and we make light of it. We are busy with market shares and status reports.
We commodify people and time, reducing the mystery to management projects.
We cut lifelines to meet deadlines, and we dismiss and do violence to the artists and other
prophets who announce impossible alternatives too wondrous to trust.
We insult God's generosity with our attitudes of entitlement and rhetoric of reward.
God's roasted oxen and prime rib get cold as we piddle about with business and farm until one day we wake up dead, internally if not literally, having skipped the feast for fast food, relationally and spiritually and literally.
"No thanks, I'll have the mud pie."
The king is furious about this because the king is so deeply committed to this party, because the king is so committed to his son's marriage.
The union of God and God's beloved people, which becomes channeled into the union of Christ and the church for the sake of the world, is the focal point of heaven's kingdom; all of
creation is beckoned to the joy and love our partnership with Christ in intended to be.
And some church member, some diamond sequin on the bridal gown, insists on being a plastic flower instead.
The same clueless disrespect of the distracted world persists inside the party too.
To borrow a phrase from Jesus, God's pearls are in the hands of swine.
Is it too much to ask for Christ's people to treat the earth and others with love?
Is is too much to ask for anyone to treasure life as the wondrous gift and occasion it is?
Is it too much to wear a face mask for a few months to protect others who are just as valuable to God as we are?
Is it too much to exchange worry for prayer, judgment for gentleness, defensiveness for peace, reactivity for rejoicing?
Is is too much to ask for the baptized to model holy compassion and kindness, to wear the smile of generous, welcoming grace?
God has clothed us in Christ.
Yet some people insist on the ripped cargo shorts of judgment over the free tuxedo that
is mercy, and these people will not be allowed to ruin the party.
God does not force us to do anything, and will only resort to force if force is the option that we choose.
The measure you give will be the measure you get, Jesus says, warning us that whether or not we respect God, God respects us enough to honor our choices.
Hell is there so that God can honor our choices even if it kills us.
The cross is there because God will honor our choices even if it kills God.
That, of course, is where Matthew's story is heading.
It does not end with the man thrown into agony in outer darkness, except that yes, it does.
Jen Rude, astute campus pastor at Pacific Lutheran University, has pointed out that the unclothed man who gets thrown out and tortured is the very profile of Jesus.
The story ends with his gruesome execution, except that no, it doesn't.
God ransacks his tomb and burns death's city, because God is so deeply committed to this
party named life.
Death is transformed into homecoming, and everyone makes it home.
Where Matthew's story finally does end is on a mountaintop, where the risen Jesus tells
his still doubting disciples: Go, make disciples of all nations...and remember, I am with
you always, to the end of the age.
And remember: the end of the age is the beginning of the wedding feast.
And we lived happily ever after.