Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
On Monday night, in Lubbock, Texas, a 19-year-old Texas Tech student named Hollis Alvin James Reid Daniels, III was arrested by campus police because they found illegal substances and drug paraphernalia in his dorm room. While they were processing him at the police station this young man (who was not handcuffed) pulled out a gun and shot and killed the police officer who was with him. The gun was somehow missed when he was arrested. He fled the station which led to Texas Tech being locked down until he was recaptured later that night. He has been charged with Capital Murder of a Peace Officer and bail has been set at 5 million dollars. This was national news, some of you may have seen or heard it.
This young man, Hollis, is from Seguin, Texas. That city name might sound somewhat familiar to you because that is the town where I lived and served as youth minister prior to attending seminary. Hollis went by one of his middle names, Reid, and he was a member of my youth group. I’ve known him since he was 12-years-old.
It is heartbreaking and devastating to know that the sweet, goofy youth that I knew and who I watched grow into a caring, hardworking, young man, made such poor life choices, that this is now reality.
It was equally as heartbreaking to watch how corporate media painted the picture of Reid and his family; and how people on social media, who don’t know he or his parents, were quick to condemn and judge. Some of what people had to say was just cruel and ugly.
It made me realize how many times in the past, when events like this have occurred, I have been quick to condemn and judge and be cruel and ugly.
But the thing is, Reid, although a horrible sinner who made a devastating choice with hugely expansive and overarching consequences for many, many, many people, is still someone’s son. He is still a brother. He is still an uncle. He is still a friend to many. He is still the goofy, sweet, hardworking, caring person young man I knew. The paradox of his identities makes for a very fuzzy and blurred overall picture. And we in modern America, don’t like blurred lines. We want sharp definition. Black or white. No grey. Good or bad. Not both.
Which is why I think many modern Christian traditions are often drawn to this morning’s Gospel. They like what comes across as hierarchy and justice. They like the perceived judgement and condemnation.
In it, Jesus tells a parable. In the parable there is a king whose son is getting married. He invites all of his friends and colleagues to the wedding banquet. He does this as convention at the time dictated – first with a formal invitation that one would accept or decline (almost a save-the-date, if you will) and then reminds them with a personal summons the day of the event.
For some reason, the guests who formerly accepted, do not come. The King even tries enticing them with descriptions of slaughtered oxen and fatted calves. Because we all know people show up for barbeque!
This still doesn’t work. In fact, some of the invitees go away – one goes on a business trip, another to his farm, and the rest – well they just seize, mistreat, and kill the slaves delivering the message. Because that’s a rational and normal response to a wedding invitation!
The king is furious (obviously!) and destroys those who slighted him. He burns their city to ground. Then he tells some of his slaves – we’ve got to have guests, clearly those I just smote were not worthy – so go out and find me some people! The slaves go out into the streets and gather everyone they can find, both good and bad and fill the wedding hall.
When the king arrives he notices one guest who is not dressed appropriately. He is not wearing a wedding robe – the king asks how he got in??? When the guest does not answer – he has him bound and thrown out.
Upon first review, it seems pretty harsh, at least for those who offend the king. Often this is interpreted that those people who reject God and/or do bad things in the world are the ones who get destroyed or thrown out of the banquet. It fits into modern societies need for vengeance, justice, judgement, and absolutes.
The only problem, is that this, like all parables, is not meant to be taken literally. It’s allegory. Matthew had a strict Jewish piety and therefore minimalized the use of the word “God” and instead chooses “King” which was a common metaphor for God. The wedding was also a common metaphor for God and God’s relationship with Israel. This is meant to tell the tale of salvation history.
So, the king represents God. The original guests are the Kingdom of Israel, God’s chosen people. Whom God sent prophets and messengers to, informing them that the Messiah was coming. Yet many of them still rejected him and killed him when he arrived. The son who is getting married represents Jesus. The wedding is his act of salvation on behalf of the world. The guests who are gathered from the streets are Jews and Gentiles alike. Good people and bad people.
And the wedding clothes that they wear – is the cloak of love, grace, forgiveness, mercy and salvation that we receive when we are baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Sharon Ringe states that: “The final invitation that will fill the banquet hall is inclusive in the extreme. In that sense it mirrors other instances of Jesus’ table community that embodied the hospitality and inclusiveness of the divine project or empire he proclaimed. Questions of social status or observance of Torah regulations, or even ones ethical behavior are set aside in favor of the urgency of the host’s plan.”
Erick Thompson states that: “Our culture resonates deeply with Christopher Nolan’s Batman when he says, “it’s what we do that defines us.” For many of us our world creates jobs and family situations where our performance is deeply tied to our sense of worth. Many people in our culture want to be the best employees or best parents because that will dictate whether or not they are okay… For many people, we know that we are okay, that we are justified, because we have fought the good fight, done our duty, been a good person, etc. In the parable, the king responds by turning our systems on their head. By sending out his troops to destroy the people and their ‘city,’ the king is destroying our human notions that what we have done and built has value when it comes to the wedding banquet, the kingdom of heaven. Instead, the king invites everyone in the main streets: the good and the bad, the non-elite. No longer are we worried about the elite, the wealthy, or those who control society. Instead God is declaring [God’s] preference for the marginalized. This might be like hearing that one’s workplace is giving bonuses to everyone; even the bad employees, or even employees who have been fired… If we remember that God’s grace is what saves us, we won’t worry about how we are clothed, or who else God has decided to include in the Wedding Banquet. There is no room for piety or first-rate Christians in the kingdom of heaven. There is only room for those whom God has chosen.”
We are really good at creating hierarchy and structures of moral superiority. We are really good at passing judgments. At criticizing others. Of telling ourselves that our sin is lesser or that we are better people because – well – it’s not like we’ve killed anyone.
I know I have done my fair share of making assumptions and forming opinions based on media stories or perceptions. I’m sure we all have.
We want that role of first-rate Christian. We want to condemn and cast aside the Reid’s of the world. In this parable we are being told that we can condemn and cast aside all we want, but God will not do this. No sin is greater than another, and in baptism, we all receive an invitation to the wedding banquet. The good and the bad. God doesn’t care how great we are or how much we fail. There is plenty of room for everyone. God has chosen all of us. Me. You. The highly successful. The abysmal failures. The criminals. The socialites. The rejects. The scholars. The middle-of-the-roaders. Everyone has a place.
This is the comfort and security that I have clung to this week. Earthly consequences are appropriate and necessary for Reid, but that doesn’t negate God’s love for him. He will always have a place at the banquet table. He will always be clothed in Jesus’ grace, mercy, and forgiveness. We all will. Every last one of us. Thanks be to God this. Amen.