Speaker: Cynthia Lapp
Welcome to this Christ the King Sunday. Three years ago we celebrated it as Christa the Queen Sunday. And in fact we do have Christa with us this morning. Christa, the feminine Christ, pictured here not as the crucified one but as the risen one.
Several weeks ago I decided it would be meaningful (and of course fun) to have a Christ the King banquet, a sort of celebratory communion. The idea of a generous spread of food on beautifully set tables is enticing. So instead of reading the prescribed gospel of the day from John, where Jesus is questioned by Pilate about being King of the Jews, we read this story from Matthew about the king who throws a wedding feast for his heir. If I would have re-read the parable more closely several weeks ago I might have changed my mind. Thankfully we also have other images of kingship today from Psalm 93, Daniel 7 and Revelation 1. All the regality without the gore.
Just so we are all on the same page, these are some of difficulties that I see in the Matthew text.
All the people named in the passage are male; are there no females present in this kingdom?
We live in a country that this year is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. This king is celebrating but uses his slaves to help pull off the party.
And there is the violence: the slaves who are merely going about their business of delivering party invitations are killed by ungrateful invitees. Then the king has his soldiers kill the people who killed the slaves. As if that is not enough, the king has the city, of those who refused the invitation, burnt to the ground.
I am learning to read the biblical text with an eye not just to people but also to the animals. Here the fatted calves and the oxen also die, so they can be part of the menu. All of this killing just so there can be a celebration for the heir apparent. It makes one wonder what kind of king this is.
Perhaps at this point it is helpful to remember that it is not unusual for Jesus to speak in hyperbole and exaggeration. The parables are teaching stories but maybe we aren’t supposed to pay such close attention to all the details? And each parable has layers of context and culture so if there is an intended message, it is not always apparent what it is. And the beauty of parables is that there are multiple messages available, depending on time, place, context and who is reading it.
It is very helpful to see where this parable occurs in the context of the rest of Matthew, in the rest of Jesus’ life. Jesus is entering Jerusalem for the last time, the crowds welcome this king who arrives on a donkey. There are no royal trumpets, just people shouting “Hosanna.”
Then things take a turn. Jesus goes to the temple and does not like what he sees; in a rage he overturns the tables. Thus begins a series of “difficult” encounters with the religious authorities.
Jesus sees a fig tree that should be bearing fruit but is not. He speaks to the fig tree: “You will never bear fruit again.” And it dies on the spot.
Then Jesus tells three parables that illustrate his impatience with the religious leaders, the scribes and pharisees. Each parable demonstrates Jesus’ increasing frustration with those who are called but do not respond, those who are invited but instead kill the messenger.
This morning we read only this story of the king who has a party and no one wants to come. How are we to understand this king who gets so viciously angry when the invited refuse the invitation? Is this really how a loving God works? Or is Jesus having a “no good, very bad day?”
The king is excited to celebrate the upcoming wedding. He wants to share his joy with those who live throughout the realm. He believes that they care for him and his heir apparent. He sends his messengers with invitations to the most important people in the kingdom. But for some reason, the guests are just not interested in attending the feast, they find one excuse after another to stay away. For some reason, they are not willing to recognize the importance of the king in their lives; they do not acknowledge that everything they have is really part of the kingdom, is because they are part of the kingdom.
Rebuffed once, the king sends another round of invitations with another group of messengers. This time he is more explicit about what the banquet will be like. “Tell them about the food, and the decorations, how grand it will be.” Surely this time they will be enticed; they will know that they are wanted and welcome. But the potential guests once again turn their backs on the king and his generosity. Perhaps the invited guests have a deeper loyalty to the local governance, or believe themselves to be an independent fiefdom. They are unwilling to recognize the authority of the king. They kill the slaves who deliver the invitation.
Hearing about the indifference and the violent way that the desired guests respond to the invitation – by killing the messengers – infuriates the king. He retaliates using all the power he can to get rid of the people from the first guest list as well as their city.
But the wedding banquet must go on. The feast is prepared. So the king decides to expand the guest list, to include everyone. No longer will it be just a certain class of people, or those who have the right connections. Now everyone is welcome, people off the street, “good and bad alike” are invited.
We see in this angry parable how the Jesus movement begins to spread beyond the Jewish community. Those who were close to the king, (the religious leaders) did not accept the invitation to come to the celebrations for the heir. So they are no longer invited. (The fig tree – a symbol of the Jewish people – is cursed and will no longer bear fruit.) Now the banquet table is open to everyone.
We also see here the very human side of Jesus, the side that gets angry and impatient and speaks in hyperbole. The king in this parable might be God with Jesus as the son. Or maybe the angry king is a stand in for Jesus himself who is getting tired of inviting people to follow him and is most often rebuffed by those who see themselves as the religious faithful.
But the anger and the lengths to which the king goes with his anger are still confounding for peace people. Does the end justify the means? Is it okay to kill – or have others do the killing for you – if in the end you invite everyone and your table is full? Do we even want to go to a banquet hosted by such a violent king? Can we celebrate a king like this? A God like this?
Jesus’ parable continues to be true today. Now it is not Jewish leaders who turn away, it is all those religious people who claim to be part of the “kingdom” and yet are not willing to receive the invitation to the party. There is the possibility of joy for all, the possibility of a celebration and yet many people who call themselves Jesus followers turn away from the invitation to the banquet.
If this parable really is a commentary on those who imagined themselves the inevitable guests (the religious faithful) but were too good to attend, one wonders what it says about those same folks today – the religious who would guard the guest list, block the doors, build a higher wall, hurl invectives and preserve their own seat of honor.
We live in a time when people are longing for an invitation to the banquet, longing for food to eat, for a place to feel loved. There is no shortage of people who would like to be invited to a meal of good food, with good company like the king offers. Life in this country must look like a glorious banquet to those who are fleeing their homelands to preserve their lives. To those who see the banquet from afar, it must seem unfathomable that there are some who believe there is not enough to go around.
Yet, those who are first on the guest list too often do not respond, do not receive the messengers kindly or perhaps do not recognize the messengers. It is easy to be overtaken by fear, pride and greed so that the invitation to the banquet, delivered in beauty and love, gets obscured. We do not even see the celebration to which we are invited. Thankfully this feast is hosted by the one who says “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” How can the food or fun ever run out when the host is the beginning and the end?
The risen Christa has the bread and cup in her womb, the broken body and blood are essential to who she is. Each time we share the bread and cup, Christa shares with us her very body and blood and we are given new life. The bread and wine give new life, new birth, new possibility and we are created anew each time we share with each other. How much more so then the wedding banquet to which all are invited, the banquet that celebrates the possibilities of new commitment and new love.
Today, instead of sharing a symbolic meal of bread and juice, we will share a bigger symbolic meal, a banquet of breads and sparkling cider, cheese and fruit and olives and chocolates. As we eat and fellowship together, we remember that we are Jesus followers, we are part of the kindom of God. Christ/Christa prepares a banquet where the tables are prepared, there is plenty of food and drink, and there is always room for one more.