Breyten Breytenbach, the well-known Afrikaans poet, painter, and anti-apartheid activist, wrote the following line in one of his poems: “Die liefde is ‘n aaklige woord wat op ‘n toiletmuur uitgekrap is.” Loosely translated it says, “Love is a disgusting word that is scratched out on a toilet wall.” Of course, he used a more colourful word for toilet, which starts with an s and ends in house.
After reading the Gospel passage for today, it seems one can also add that life is a disgusting word that is scratched out on a toilet wall. Especially when we look at the news and sees what is going on in the world.
And, as with every story and every atrocity and with every good thing, there are two sides at least to all of them, and not least with today’s parable.
Of course, this is easier said than done, especially in our world of social media and instant information where there is no or very little time for nuance.
Having said this, however, parables do not come more obscure and unsettling than the one about the wedding banquet and makes finding two sides of the story quite challenging. Where to find the good news when a city is burned, and people killed for not attending a feast?. Well, yes, after they have killed emissaries of the King first. Or where a man is bound and thrown out of the said wedding feast into darkness for not wearing a robe?
Yes, we have to find the Good News. We are dealing with the Gospel.
I can sort of try to understand when Jesus tells a story about how “clothing makes the person.” I grew up in a large family and wore a lot of hand-me-downs. I remember I got my first pair of new shoes that were bought just for me, when I went to high school. What a treat that was. Anyway, hand-me-downs or not, my father was very particular that our shoes always be clean and shining, especially when we went to church. And our clothes had to be extra clean. And we would not dare to do otherwise, because the outer darkness and gnashing of teeth would be a walk in the park compared to what would befall us.
So, one side of the story is thus: A king throws a wedding feast for his son, who by the way, does not really feature in this parable. I would have loved to hear his take on his father’s brutality on his behalf.
I imagine that part of the reason for throwing this party is the king’s desire to demonstrate the legitimacy of his rule and his importance.
And that means that when the wedding guests refused to come, they were denouncing his rule over them. Not a very polite way to respond to a wedding invitation!
So, the king responds in the way any petty ruler of the day would, with force. Judging from the world around us, so would most so-called leaders of today, as well. He sends his soldiers in, and they attack the people, kill them, and burn them out. No surprises there. But then the king does a surprising thing; he decides to invite all the common people to the party.
After all, he is throwing a party to celebrate his rule and its continuation of his dynasty through his son. When you throw yourself a party, and nobody shows, it is not much of a party. So, he decides to save face and fill up the banquet hall with anyone and everyone his servants could find on the streets.
Just in case you are beginning to think this guy must not be all bad if he is willing to throw a really nice party for those that do not make the usual lists of the exalted, the story includes his not-so-friendly interaction with one of the guests. When the king sees one of the people who have been whisked off the street to fill the party, not dressed in the appropriate clothes, he throws him out.
After all, perhaps the fact that he did not wear the right wedding robe was a blatant reminder to the king that his “guests” were really just there to make the party look like a success. And so, he vents what is left of his anger over being snubbed by the original guests, on this unsuspecting fellow. And the justification for his temper tantrum sounds reasonable enough: “many are called but few are chosen.”
That is the way the world in which we live, works. Clothing, or you can add here what you like; car, iPhone, house, makes the person and if you are not dressed appropriately do not bother showing up.
Now, let us look at the parable from the other side.
Jesus is always opposite of what we expect, anyway. So, let us see how he might perceive the kingdom of God in this parable.
In the strange kingdom of God that Jesus envisioned and proclaimed, there is no dress code. In this strange kingdom, everyone is welcome at the table. In this strange kingdom everyone is accepted. In this strange kingdom all are called and all are chosen. In this strange kingdom everyone is invited, and you can come to the party dressed just as you are.
I think if we have to look for God in this parable from that perspective, I would have to ask myself if God is the king who invites citizens who murder and then imitates their brutality? Is the violence from God, or is it just the way we often treat each other? Or is he the man, in the person of Jesus, thrown into the outer darkness because he did not wear a wedding robe? Could it be that Jesus was not wearing a wedding robe because he gave it to me, to you, so that we could attend the banquet, and so he becomes the man who is cast out and suffers pain?
I choose to see God in the man who suffers violence, God meeting us in our darkness.
And therein, for me, lies the good news of this parable; God is always with us, and we can either choose this God, or we can choose the God that throws us out.