Pentecost 22

Proper 23  ~  Lectionary Year  A  ~  October 12, 2008

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

 

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;

thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over..

 

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

 

There are two ways to excite the displeasure of the King in today’s parable: to snub his invitation or to come inappropriately dressed. For us, who sit around the banquet table regularly, it is easy enough to see the first mistake. We can shake our heads and tut-tut at the farmer and businessman ~ all those who are too busy with the trivial affairs of this world and the life of this world to pay attention to Eternal Reality. And when Eternal Reality catches up with them, it’s awful. At least we have not made THAT mistake.

          But then there is that other guy. Whenever I read this story, I feel uncomfortable. I guess I must IDENTIFY with him. (Why else would I feel uncomfortable?) He wasn’t expecting to be invited to a royal banquet (he was a poor, street-person, after all). And not just ANY banquet, but the Crown Prince’s wedding feast! How on earth could he be expected to prepare himself for such an invitation, even if he knew it was coming, which he didn’t?  It doesn’t seem fair to punish him for his poor attire. And if throwing him out were not sufficient, the King has him tied up so that when he is cast out he will be REALLY helpless. The only thing he will be able to do is weep and gnash his teeth!

          Mean old King! If the Reign of God is really like that, I am not sure I want to participate. And anyway, haven’t we always learned that we don’t have to do anything to deserve the banquet? What the hell is this ”wedding robe” that I  am supposed to wear? It sounds like some kind of personal worthiness I have to prepare in advance and keep always ready. But of course it CAN’T be that. I must be missing something.

          Indeed, all the other readings are about God’s Providence ~ God’s initiative in supplying our need, God’s grace preceding and following us, God’s feast of vintage wine on Mt. Zion and the wiping away of every tear, God’s preparing a table before me in the presence of mine enemies and my cup runneth over (in the beloved words of that red-headed, teenaged shepherd, who was so talented and attractive that even Almighty God fell in love with him!) And then there is the detail that the King invited EVERYONE, “both good and bad.”

          Both good and bad. Apparently what the speechless man lacked was not a good enough character, or a good enough record of activities. Wicked people got to stay at the party. So what DID he lack?

The Lord is my Shepherd; therefore can I lack nothing.

in the Coverdale translation of the original Book of Common Prayer. So maybe if you DON’T accept the Lord’s shepherding you CAN lack something? And then there is the Collect for today, which implies that the ONLY way we can be given to good works is by grace. Only if, as we pray, divine grace “precedes and follows us”  ~ only if we are willing to have the Lord be our shepherd ~ only if we are willing to let ourselves be SURROUNDED  by grace; only if we are WRAPPED UP in it. Like a cloak.

          All of the late-invited guests, apparently, were so clothed, good and bad alike. And here is a little fact that is not mentioned, but which would have been known to our Lord’s hearers. You know how fine establishments that require coat and tie often keep some on hand for unprepared customers? Well, it is thought that rich people in Jesus’ time had the same custom. In case their guests arrived unexpectedly under-dressed, they kept a supply of  banqueting robes on hand. An unprepared guest could put one of them on over his street clothing and become presentable. (I think of this parable every time I put on the eucharistic vestments. That is what they are for. There is really nothing I have of my own, nothing I can bring to the banquet that fits me to go to the Table of the King. That is all WRAPPED around me, preceding and following me, and obscuring the shameful appearance of my personal unworthiness.

          Something like that has to be the meaning of the man with no wedding robe. All of the other guests ~ good and bad alike ~ had cheerfully accepted the garments that transformed them into decent guests for the King. They accepted the grace that precedes and follows. But this other one must have figured that he didn’t need it. He thought he was ok on his own: that he deserved to come to the Banquet by his own merit. He had the illusion that there was nothing about him that needed to be transformed or uplifted. Like those who had better things to do, he really didn’t VALUE the banquet all that much. It was no more than his due, in his own deluded opinion.

          Those of us who are habitual banqueters have to watch out for this presumption, which can creep up on us. Because in the end, self-satisfied people are speechless and paralyzed. There is actually NO WAY in which a self-sufficient, self-satisfied person CAN participate. He has no words of thanks to say. In his own opinion, he already “lacks nothing”. What need has he for the Lord as his Shepherd? And so the Lord CANNOT prepare a table before him in the presence of his enemies or anoint his head with oil or cause his cup to run over. And he has no tears to wipe away: nothing to thank anybody for.

          The Messianic Feast of vintage wine on Mt. Zion is a prophecy of the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist, in turn, is a mystical representation of the Kingdom of God, which is the subject of the parable. That is why we enact the Holy Eucharist with as much royal splendor as we can manage, even in the most humble of circumstances. It is our formal “thank-you” - eucaristw ~ creation’s Great Thanksgiving. All that is required is a thankful heart. Not an emotion of thankfulness, but the WILL to give thanks, the SPIRIT of thankfulness. And the King provides that, too: what the Collect calls the GRACE that precedes and follows. That is the indispensable wedding garment.

Traditionally, the Upper Room of the Last Supper has always been located on the mountain of Isaiah’s prophecy, Mt. Zion, in the part of the Old City of Jerusalem called the City of David. A few block across the same height of land is the place, then outside the walls, called Golgotha, where the prophet’s words came true: where God took away the disgrace from all the earth, wrapped us with the wedding robe, and swallowed up death forever.

 

Amen

Maranatha

Come, Lord Jesus