By Joshua Weresch
Sunday of Week 28 in Ordinary Time
I really don’t like today’s Gospel reading about the wedding banquet, from Matthew, chapter 22, but I am going to preach on it anyway, because it’s not about what I want but about what you need. I think we both need to hear this reading because it’s hard and difficult and—like the teacher said, tongue-in-cheek, when the student asked what they were doing in class that day—we are ‘working hard and suffering greatly, because life is pain’. I don’t like the reading because I don’t want to think that there are those who are not welcome to the feast, simply because they aren’t rightly dressed or don’t fit in whatever way. To me, everyone is welcome, no matter who they are or what they have done, because I live in the hope that God’s mercy is so much greater than my own. Is it possible that Jesus told this story as a picture of the opposite way of the kingdom of heaven? Is it possible that many are both called and chosen, together? I’m sure many of us would like the reading to have ended at verse 10 where the wedding hall is filled with guests, good and bad, those who killed the king’s slaves and those who didn’t, those who said ‘no’ to the invitation and went to work at the family business and those who came. It doesn’t, though, and it keeps on going and some person who is not dressed right is ‘kicked out’ of the party, having apparently crashed it. According to one commentary, that outer darkness, replete with weeping and gnashing of teeth, was ‘where were heard nothing but the cries of the poor, for something to be given them, and of the persons that were turned out as unworthy guests; and the gnashing of their teeth, either with cold in winter nights, or with indignation at their being kept out’ (John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible). Another commentary writes, of the darkness, ‘How weird and frightful, for the wanderer who has lost his way, the night, when clouds cover the heavens, and through the deep darkness the howling and teeth grinding of hungry wolves strike the ear of the lonely one! Truly no figure could more impressively describe the anguish of the God-forsaken’ (Furrer, Wanderungen, p. 181).
Jesus is, I think, describing the very life of the poor, those who are leaning over the fence and paying strangers for a few cigarettes, those who only have enough to fold a few napkins into different shapes, those who are placed onto locked floors for wanting to wander away, to have some autonomy, those whose suffering may never be healed but only gamely, grimly borne, who are cold or angry with the fact that they are not allowed inside or outside. These are those who feel themselves cut out of the party, unloved and unvisited, worrying the bony question of God’s justice in the face of their suffering with their teeth. They feel like, at some moment in their days, God has left them outside or locked them inside, that God has put them there because they did something wrong. A commentary I read (Stephanie Crowder, A Biblical Case of Class Warfare) said that this parable is just Jesus’ description of class warfare, of the rich against the poor, again, as always. As the poet, W. H. Auden, wrote in A Walk After Dark,
For the present stalks abroad
Like the past and its wronged again
Whimper and are ignored,
And the truth cannot be hid;
Somebody chose their pain,
What needn’t have happened did.
The usual reading of this parable states that the king is God, that the king calls down violence on those who do not want to enter the kingdom. Another commentary I read (“The Kingdom of Heaven Suffers Violence: Discerning the Suffering Servant in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet,” W. Martin Aiken ) stated a reading of the parable that rings, I think, truer. Jesus is that man without a wedding robe, cast into the outer darkness, taking the violence upon himself for our sakes.
It is love that drags him outside to be with the poor in the darkness. It is love that should drag us outside to be with those who are hurting, to be with in compassionate action, and, in so doing, to be a part of the healing. If you are on the outside, hungrily looking inside, or if you feel you’ve done something wrong that’s put you there, people should be there with you, for God’s, their, and your sakes: you are not, and should not be, alone.