(Isaiah 25:1-9, Psalm 23, Philippians 4:1-9)
22 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
So, what sin is being exposed in today’s readings? More importantly, what is Jesus trying to get us to reflect on and where is the good news? Many of us were taught at an early age about the importance of giving thanks. We were told to show a sign of gratitude or give a word of thanks in exchange for whatever it is we are given. As a helpless kid, that pretty much amounts to everything! We’re given clothes, toys, food, shelter, parents, siblings, comfort, education, love, and affection. As helpless children, unable to provide for ourselves, we rely completely on the generosity of others to provide for us. Those of us who receive, in way or another, eventually come to realize that, though we’re helpless and can give little in return, we can always express our gratitude in one form or another. We’re ALL able to show our thanks for what has been so graciously given to us.
If you are like my kids, you learned how to say thank you through sign language. Sure, words can befuddle a child but simple hand gestures can also express our thankfulness. I believe the gesture for ‘thank you’ in our household is (make the gesture). All of the children in our household learned at a very early age how to make that gesture. But as the spoken vocabulary develops in children, our children included, they learn how speak the expression ‘thank you.’ What a fun and exciting thing to learn! “Thank you for dinner, mom!” “Thank you for the toy, dad!” “Thank you for changing my diaper, mom!” “Thank you for sharing, sis!” We learn that whenever we speak these two words, the person who hears them invariably smiles. What a glorious way of diffusing ticking time bombs! Who knew that two words could have such power?!
Of course, once we master the ‘thank you’ expression, we are quickly tasked with learning the appropriate response: ‘you’re welcome.’ This one is a bit trickier to teach your children. Perhaps it’s because this expression doesn’t receive the same smile. It’s more of an afterthought…a way of getting the last word in. When we thank a child, the child doesn’t feel a need to respond, or so I’ve come to realize. I suspect they recognize our thanks, even expect our thanks, but don’t want to give us the satisfaction of recognition! Children can be tricky that way…
Years pass until we eventually learn how to write and express our gratitude in written form. Suddenly it’s no longer go enough to simply say ‘thank-you.’ We have to mull over our words and come up with a myriad of clever ways to express our thankfulness through the DREADED thank-you note! Sure, housing and food and clothing and LOVE and AFFECTION are simply ‘givens’ in any developed relationship but birthday and Christmas gifts warrant a written thank-you.
This is the typical arc of development in thankfulness. There are some of us who don’t receive in the same way or amount as others. Thankfulness can get skewed. We can become too thankful or not thankful enough depending on how little or how much we receive. Over time, we can forget the necessity and importance of thankfulness. We can become numb to what we receive or don’t receive. We can take for granted all that we receive. We can harbor resentment towards people for not giving enough. We can ignore all that is given to us and only focus on certain things. This one is amazingly easy to do. We can lift up thanks for certain blessings in our lives without fully recognizing all the others blessings that help us realize those few blessings.
This blissful ignorance can be illustrated in a story I came across in my reflections this week:
“During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. “Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say “hello.” I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.”
This student, like most students, failed to realize the blessing of Dorothy in his life. Without Dorothy, the student would be expected to learn in a filthy school. Anybody who’s ever been to school knows that it is quite difficult to learn in a messy environment. It’s hard to focus on the chalkboard when all you see is the overflowing trashcan. With the help of the professor, the student was able to fully grasp all the blessings in his life and respond with an adequate amount of thankfulness.
Our readings assigned for today help us to fully grasp all the God has given us. The prophet Isaiah, King David, and Jesus all used the feast imagery to convey what God has prepared for each of us. Isaiah writes, “On this mountain that Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” King David, though he walked through the darkest valley (valley of death), knew what the Lord had prepared for him. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” His cup overflows! The reward for having walked through the darkest value isn’t just a filled cup…it is an overflowing cup!! The king in Jesus’ parable has prepared a wedding banquet. The oxen and fatted calves have been slaughtered. What a feast of abundance!! More than enough to feed and delight his guests. And YET, and yet…they refuse to come. They refuse to appreciate all the blessings the king has to offer.
Not only did the invited guests fail to fully grasp the blessings of the king but they made a mockery of his gifts, mistreating and killing those sent to invite them to the feast. This sounds awfully similar to last week’s parable about the wicked tenants. They, too, mistreated and killed those sent by the master to collect from the harvest. Whereas in last week’s reading the Pharisees simply suggested the master put the tenants to a ‘miserable death,’ this week’s reading actually has the king destroying the murderers and destroying their city. Similar situations with different results. In both cases, the tenants and guests didn’t fully consider the privilege of growing the vineyard or attending the wedding banquet. They all suffered the consequence of their actions and negligence.
Today’s parable takes it one step further. As if the refusal of the initial guests wasn’t insult enough, one of the replacement guests doesn’t fully grasp the privilege of being invited to the banquet either. He comes to the event without the proper attire on! Now scholars debate over what Jesus means by “a wedding robe.” Some say it is the baptismal waters; some say it is Christ himself. Regardless of what is meant by “a wedding robe,” the point is that there was still a guest who arrived to the feast not fully understanding the magnitude of the blessing he has been invited into. He wasn’t one of the initial guests, he was a replacement guest. He wasn’t the king’s first choice. He was someone the king had mercy on. He should have realized the king’s mercy and dressed appropriately!
What the poorly dressed guest lacked, what the initial guests lacked, what the tenants lacked, and what we can lack at times is an adequate sense of appreciation. This is our sin: a lack of appreciation. Because we don’t fully appreciate all the blessings in our lives, we fail to give proper thanks. Hand gestures, verbal, or written thanks are just not enough unless we fully appreciate all that the Lord gives us. Proper appreciation is necessary for proper thankfulness. We need to live our daily lives with complete appreciation for all that the Lord gives us. In many ways, we are no different than the children we were long ago. EVERYTHING we have in this world is given to us by our heavenly Father. We are just as helpless in providing for ourselves as we were as children. We NEED our heavenly Father. Perhaps more accurately, we need the GRACE of our heavenly Father. Without God’s steadfast grace and abundant mercy, we would be lost. We must always keep attitudes of both appreciation and thankfulness.
In my reflections this week, I also came across a story about a boy’s appreciation.
In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10 year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. “How much is an ice cream sundae?” he asked. “Fifty cents,” replied the waitress. The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it. “Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?” he inquired. By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient. “Thirty-five cents,” she brusquely replied. The little boy again counted his coins. “I’ll have the plain ice cream,” he said. The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies. You see, he couldn’t have the sundae, because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.
We are no different than this little boy. Each of us has been given a portion in this life, “50 cents” if you will. How we spend our portion ought to show appreciation and thankfulness. God graciously opens the banquet up to all of us, the deserved and undeserved alike. We need to fully appreciate God’s graciousness and go to the banquet with an appropriate thankfulness. God calls to us, “Come one, come all, but come dressed!”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.