Consulting the Emily Post Institute on proper wedding invitation etiquette I gleaned the following helpful tips. I thought these could help us see how well the king in Jesus’ parable scores on handling his wedding invitations:
“Do ask for help. Invite friends, family or bridal attendants to help assemble invitations.” The king sends his slaves to issue invitations and some people ignored the invitations, while others mistreat and even kill the slaves. Things are going off the rails pretty quickly here. The Emily Post Institute doesn’t offer suggestions if the people on your guest list kill the people delivering the invitations.
“Don't use a standby guest list. When possible, invite your entire guest list at the same time rather than waiting to see how many people accept before sending out a second round of invitations. When the guest list is carefully planned, and when you consider the likelihood that 10-20 percent of invited guests typically send regrets, this approach is much more straightforward than using a standby list.” The king deviates from protocol here, but apparently a lot more than 10-20 percent of invited guests sent regrets. They all sent regrets or rather just failed to show up. So the standby list made up of a completely different group of people becomes the main guest list. Again the Emily Post Institute not much help on how to navigate this particular wedding situation.
One trouble as you may have guessed is that we can’t use typical norms around wedding invitations in order to understand this parable. Emily Post is failing us and so are most of our own experiences with weddings. Often we look for allegorical meanings in parables, which sometimes helpful, can lead us astray when there is no 1:1 reference of the parable to something else. For example we head down a dangerous path as soon as we equate the king with God. We don’t proclaim a gospel in which God flies into a murderous rage. The treatment of the guest without a wedding robe is also extreme and bizarre.
So what is going on in this parable? Yung Suk Kim, New Testament scholar, suggests that we see these over the top parables as a radically subversive form of storytelling. Jesus wants to upset his listeners and make them lose their bearings. The king’s terrible behaviour is meant to be unnerving and unlike anything we would expect or find acceptable. What could be the case is Jesus suggesting that sometimes the old ways of doing things no longer work. The religious leaders could be interpreted as the ones rejecting the kingdom of God. And so new guests are invited. When ways of being church break down, God finds new ways of proclaiming the Gospel.
One way to think about this is when we mourn ways of being church that have faded, God is promising that something new is happening. That there are new ways of being Christian and being church together to look forward to. On this read there is no 1:1 reference of literal people who are being punished and others being rewarded, but rather an awakening that the kingdom of God is coming. The question is are we listening and looking for it? Certainly we are wrestling with these questions as we explore being church post-Covid lockdown. We recognize that while the gospel remains the same, the ways in which it is proclaimed, the ways in which people gather together are changing. And we won’t know in advance what that looks like, which is scary. We like predictability. We like to know what to expect. A parable like this that is topsy turvy pulls the rug out from under us. It challenges us to examine assumptions and prepare for God doing a new thing.
It also can’t be denied that there is a lot of violence in today’s gospel reading, in this parable. Just as there was violence in recent gospel readings. And it’s hard to listen to this in the context of the recent violence in the Holy Land. I know many of us have been caught up in the news which seems to get worse and worse. There were the ambush attacks on Israelis which were horrific and then attacks of retribution upon Palestinians including arial bombing and cutting off power and water to two million people. I’m not sure when I’ve felt more off kilter in a recent global crisis. We were urged to express empathy with Israelis which was forthcoming. But then when we also expressed empathy with Palestinians, some interpreted that as betrayal. It’s a tense and complex situation.
On Wednesday Boston and I had the privilege of talking with National Bishop Susan Johnson on the podcast “Let’s Talk Faith and Justice.” Primarily we talked about searching the Brady Landfill for murdered and missing Indigenous women outside Winnipeg and the time she spent at Camp Morgan nearby. But we also talked briefly about the joint statement in response to violence in the Holy Land she signed together with Linda Nicholls, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. One thing Bishop Susan emphasized is the importance of relationship. This includes the relationship we have as a church with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. The relationship we have with Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem in which Karen serves on the board. And knowing that their clinics and other hospitals in Gaza have been cut off from electricity and water how that endangers lives. It’s about knowing people, supporting ministries, and lifesaving care upon which we form an understanding of what is happening. Talking with Bishop Susan my first thought is why aren’t we giving her a bigger platform? Why aren’t we giving her more opportunities to share her insights she into the church in every synod across the country? You can catch our conversation with Bishop Susan which is available tomorrow morning, Monday, Oct. 16. Just search for “Let’s Talk Faith & Justice” in your podcast app or visit cfuv.uvic.ca and click on “Podcasts.”
Thursday night I joined the vigil organized by Congregation Emmanu-el, led by Rabbi Harry. Local leaders also spoke briefly. I was heartened that Rabbi Harry’s invitation asked people not make this into a partisan or nationalist rally. And he spoke plainly about the need for peace both for the sake of Israelis and Palestinians. He acknowledged the hurt of Palestinians with Israel’s current siege, while naming the mourning Israelis are experiencing following the recent ambush attacks. The vigil concluded with impromptu singing and drumming from an Indigenous man who offered a couple songs of peace.
After the vigil a Jewish couple I know a little invited me for dinner at Paggliachi’s which seemed fitting to go to a locally Jewish owned business. It wasn’t something I had planned for but the timing worked out with the family schedule, especially with my mother visiting. Sometimes God provides a way in times of deep mourning. And we didn’t spend the whole conversation talking about the recent violence. It was more about getting to know one another. Spending time together in a challenging time. The emphasis on relationship building, on building trust, on getting to know people’s stories. I felt a little better after that dinner. Not that the pain and suffering of the world goes away, but I felt more connected to people impacted by what is happening.
I know I need to build the same kinds of relationships with Palestinians and their advocates. We need to express skepticism if voices tell us we’re not allowed to have empathy for one side of a conflict, especially given the asymmetry of the situation in Gaza.
Wrapping up, I’m not sure whether I’ll be consulting Emily Post around sending out invitations. I know I won’t be emulating the king in the parable in any literal sense. But may we continue to dwell in the wonder of the parable Jesus tells. Reminding us that God finds new ways of building community, new ways for us to be church together. New ways of embracing people who were excluded from church previously. May you answer your own invitation to live into God’s love. Amen.