Real Hunger & Real Thirst
Real Hunger & Real Thirst
Rev. Robert P. Hoch, Ph.D.
First & Franklin Presbyterian Church
Baltimore MD 21201
October 11, 2020
Gospel Matthew 22:1-14
1Once 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. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again 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.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those 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, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then 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.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”
I’m not sure I like this parable. Actually, let’s just say it, we don’t like it. Why? Well, it doesn’t feel like a very nice party or an especially attractive host. First, it didn’t appeal to the invited guests. They had better things going on. So, the king sends out another invitation, this one was glossy. It was supposed to grab their attention and tantalize their taste buds. But no, they still didn’t come. Actually, the text says they went off to do their own thing. Some caught a movie, others decided to put a few extra hours in the office. Those were the ones who ignored the invite. Other invitees saw the messengers who were holding this invite and roughed them up; some they killed. And then this, the king has had it, lashes out against them, and says, “The guests that I had in mind really don’t deserve this. I’m giving my party to someone else, someone who knows their own hunger.”
Who knows their own hunger? The hungry. The king of the parable sends word out to everyone who was hungry, everyone who was thirsty, everyone who was hurting . . . you come to this party. Today, I’m doing this in honor of you!
The hungry, thirsty, hurting people that came weren’t all good; they weren’t all bad. But they all came. And when they got to the banquet hall, they partied. They weren’t hungry; they were fed; they weren’t thirsty; their thirst was quenched; they weren’t hurting anymore, they were healed; they weren’t all good and they weren’t all bad, but they were all welcomed.
Inclusivity is important around here. And it’s also important in the Bible. From Matthew, Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy burdened. Or, from the book of Revelation, God will wipe away every tear. Inclusive. But there’s a larger context to God’s inclusive love. Maybe it is this context that leaves us feeling uncomfortable — it’s not this loose idea of inclusivity. It’s got a bite to it. Because the king in this text concludes that some are just never going to accept the invitation. For them, there’s judgment. And there is exclusion. The king fails to persuade the invited guests to join the party.
That’s not the way we would write the story that ends happily ever after. We would say that God invites everyone. God loves everyone. God accepts every one. That part we like. But the part we don’t like — we don’t like judgment. Except maybe for a few really bad apples. We’ll judge them. But in general, can’t we get God without judgment? You know, for the ordinary sinners. You probably can, but not in Matthew. And not from Jesus. In this text, the wicked are judged. These are the ones who kill and abuse God’s servants. We know from last week that this a reference to the way the prophets of God were killed and abused by the religious establishment. But perhaps especially troubling to us is that basically good people are judged. What’s wrong, we ask, with having a busy social calendar? What about going to work and maybe cutting a little bit out of God — there are other people who need God more than I do. Is that really out of bounds?
The issue here is not a busy social calendar but the knowledge that actions and inaction have grave consequences. We tell our children not to lie about little things because we know that, when they’re older, those lies could be deadly. The message is that deception has consequences. Manipulative parents can leave their children with long term pain and psychological trouble. Corrupt leaders sow chaos and social unrest.
Life isn’t a game. Loneliness. Poverty. Oppression. Corruption. Intimidation. Callousness. Gossip. Malicious slander. All real.
The gospel judges these things. We want to think that the wedding banquet is symbolic, that what we’re about on a Sunday morning is symbolic. But think about the last time you felt you were symbolically poor, or only relatively wealthy, or symbolically oppressed.
Maybe there’s some truth to being relatively something or other, symbolically poor as opposed to being actually poor. Still, intellectual honesty asks us to be truthful. At the end of the day, there is real corruption, real inequity, real oppression.
And God judges these realities and the parties that persist in these divisive and self-destructive agendas. In part, God judges these realities by breaking out of the sanctuary of the symbol and into the street of the real human condition. In Matthew’s world, that means inviting those who are definitely not symbols, e.g. tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners, into the communion of saints.
If you feel like you’re in the first group, the invited guests, you knew your way to church this morning. But if you’re a part of the second, you may stand out. Among the guests in a new member class a few years back was a person recovering from the ravages of an addiction. And it showed. She wasn’t symbolically in Backus House. She was in Backus House with the marks of a devastating addiction and poverty, too real to hide. And she stood out to everyone who was maybe symbolically addicted to the latest NetFlix series. She would have fit in better if NetFlix were her addiction. But maybe she was only the most obvious patient in need of a healer.
Here’s the question our text poses to us: Do you think that when Christ meets an addicted person, Christ says, “You go on being addicted?” Everything in us tells us that’s not the case. God changes and restores for the better, to return us to our true selves. Do you think that Jesus meets the person with the disability and says, “You go on living as if your disability defines you because you’re accepted”? No. Jesus says, “You’re accepted, fully and completely. Now take the dis out of your disability and glorify God!”
We get it. But if that is true for the actually disabled, or for the actually addicted could it be true for the symbolically or relatively disabled, the acceptably addicted person?
People who practice inclusivity with integrity don’t believe that God wants us to stay exactly as we are. Real inclusivity is bold to say that God loves brothers who cannot stand the sight of each other; God loves bullies; God loves greedy and manipulative people; God loves backstabbers. That goes far further than pallid pulpy promises that God accepts us just to accept us. God hates sin in all its forms. God asks us to renounce sin, to be changed, and to accept Christ’s change in us.
That’s the issue. This confronts us with the prospect of radical change. Jung, the psychologist said that when confronted with change, we resist it. We’re like children who treat anything strange or different with suspicion. It frightens us. Julia Samuel, a psychotherapist, likens our attitude to change to the “scary Jaws music” — the shark is coming and we’re going to have to face it. Maybe there’s some Jaws music in the parable today.
But the parable also points to a world where real people are loved by a real God. There’s no power in the “scary Jaws music,” at least not compared to the saving and welcoming love of Christ. When we embrace the real Christ who embraces our real life, there’s no putting that kind of humanity back in prison. Any prison, symbolic or real. Because our most real reality is Christ’s embrace.
Combined with last week’s parable about the wicked tenants and this week’s, Jesus’ teaching feels a bit like a jack hammer. It drives its point home, almost giving us a migraine, but you get the idea: Jesus’ invitation is not to be trifled with. And our response, it too is substantial. Both have real consequences.
Which brings me to this last person, the one who comes in without the wedding garment. Whose fault was that? Surely not his! Does God go a little over the top here? All these people in the banquet and God sees one person that’s not quite dressed as they should be. And God makes a stink out of it. Makes a scene. Sloppy inclusivity would judge God.
But I think we know that attire is not what this is about. This is not about, “Dang I thought it was business casual!” It’s not about that. It means that someone came in and tried to stay, mingle, and blend in, without an actual commitment to change their heart in consequential ways. They pretend that love is just a symbol. That justice is a praiseworthy idea. That mercy and forgiveness and reconciliation . . . are optional or at best symbols of the Christian life.
See if that’s true: next time you see a hungry person, offer them some symbolic bread, some symbolic justice. See if it satisfies.
We know that Christ is not reducible to a symbol. And neither are we. Let’s not offer God our symbolic lives, but our real lives. How we live out our faith is a lot like living out wedding vows. A vow binds us together. If we refuse to fulfill our vows, or even believe in them, can we seriously continue to insist that we have answered Christ’s invitation? Do we treat our vows lightly? Do we imagine that the one who said, Take up your cross and follow me, that the cross is a symbol only? Or that resurrection is only relatively like life? Or is resurrection life itself?
And if it’s not real life, what are we doing here? Blending in? Mingling with our symbolic lives, and our symbolic thirsts on show?
Jesus says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
May God add wisdom and understanding to this word. Amen.