Sometimes, the messages I read in Scripture are not the same ones I hear.
That was the case this Sunday with the combo of the story of the Golden Calf from Exodus, and the wedding banquet parable from Matthew which ultimately ends up with the guest who is not in party clothes getting thrown out where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Like other parts of Matthew's gospel, one could hear in the story of the King throwing this great banquet for his son that many ignore that the wedding guest who does show up and isn't dressed for the party is an "undesirable"... whatever that "undesirable" might be. One could call into question the grace of God (the King) in this story for rejecting this one unfortunate guest. One could do and think a LOT of things about this and any passage of Scripture. And I imagine each of our interpretations would have some kernel of truth, but it wouldn't be the whole truth.
I was familiar enough with the Exodus reading as I was one of the readers at our 11:15 service. So, I had already prepared myself for this passage, likely a post-exile interpretation of events happening out in the desert which portrays Aaron as an opportunist making a Golden Calf out of the Hebrews jewelry while his brother Moses is up on the mountain getting instructions from God. Naughty Aaron!
I was having a hard time relating this story to the Gospel lesson. I read the Gospel, and read it again, and just couldn't see the connection.
But as I listened to the Gospel, I was struck that there was a parallel between what was happening with the Hebrew people who--again--were growing impatient in the desert and turning their attention to a Golden Calf rather than God. In Matthew's account of the King's amazing wedding banquet, the King is throwing a lavish wonderful party to celebrate his son's wedding. But the invited guests didn't bother to show up and instead went about doing other things.
And I could hear it in my head: "Click!"
"Ladies and Gentlemen: the creators of the church lectionary would like you to hear in this portion of the parable the story of the complaining Hebrews out in the desert with their molten idol." In fact, the whole idea of armies sent forth by the King to wipe out the ungrateful guests is very reminiscent of much of the lore in the Hebrew Scriptures.
But the King still has a banquet hall full of food, and a son who is getting married. So he tells his slaves to round up everyone and bring them in.
Suddenly, the hall is filled with people, the good and the bad, all there at the banquet table.
That sounds like my idea of Heaven!
So, what is this with the one guest who gets booted out? What's wrong with that guy? Didn't the slaves bring everyone, the good and the bad, to the banquet?
I don't think this is about whether or not this particular guest is good or bad... and I don't think this is about the garments he's wearing. But this guy probably came in the door and refused to accept that this invite had come from the King. It's not that his clothes are in disarray, but he's ungrateful for what's been placed before him. He is the proverbial party-pooper. And so the King places him out with all the rest of the party-poopers. And perhaps, once he's wept long enough, he will come to the party with a better attitude.
This parable is one that Jesus tells after he has arrived in Jerusalem and is preparing for the showdown that will lead to his death. He's been trying to tell everyone that there's a party going on and they're all invited. And while he has some takers on this idea, he also is threatening to the establishment, and they are party-poopers.
And so while some in the Church may like to see the last line about "many are called, but few are chosen" as proof that some are elect, special, saved, etc., I prefer to see this story as more of Jesus' efforts to get his Jewish audience to get back to God... the one from Exodus who "brought you up out of the land of Egypt." Recognize that God is the source of your lavish banquet, and the appropriate response to the invite is to say, "Cheers! Thanks a lot!"