Radical Hospitality – October 11

A sermon based on Matthew 22:1-10
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on October 11, 2020 *
by Rev. Scott Elliott

The story we just heard has invited guests failing to show up at a wedding banquet. Nancy and I sorta had the opposite occur at our wedding. My parents were going through a difficult divorce. So, Nancy and I decided the easiest thing to do was to get married in a courthouse with just two friends as witnesses. We set up a Friday appointment at 2pm with the judge forty-one and half years ago. When Nance told her mother about the appointment, well, one thing led to another and pretty soon twenty or so people were invited– including all of our close family and friends. It turned out to be a wonderful wedding. Afterwards Nancy’s parents treated everyone to a nice meal in a nearby restaurant banquet room. So, our wedding went from no guests to a banquet with all the people we loved. It ended up being a good day full of love, with those surprise guests all invited with love. I am happy to say our marriage has been full of love ever since.
And although the Lectionary story Laura just read from Matthew about the wedding banquet has violent edges, the story as Jesus probably told it ended kinda like Nance’s and my wedding story with a nice banquet and surprise guests all invited with love. I like this parable and scholars consider it historically traceable to Jesus– which always makes a parable more powerful to me. 1
At its core, it’s about Jesus’ open table, God’s open table, where everyone is invited. It is about radical love and radical hospitality in community. We are going to take a closer look at the story. New Testament and Jesus scholar, Prof. Stephen Patterson writes that the parable was originally about “a banquet; three guests, three excuses; and a surprising ending.” 2. Dr. Patterson points out the story’s connection to the shame and honor code in Jesus’ culture. Back then you did not want to be shamed. You avoided it like the plague. To be shamed was to be disgraced, it was to be truly dis-honored. Honor mattered greatly and you acquired it by seeking and holding a role in the society. You did it by being recognized in the role and successfully functioning in it. 3 In that context the parable is about a common risk of shame in the culture, holding a banquet, inviting people to it with the possibility of having few or none show.

We don’t have a shame and honor culture per se, but there is still such risk today. When I first did research on this lectionary text I “Googled” topics related to invited guests not showing up and I stumbled across stories by people who as children or adults prepared parties, invited guests and no one showed. It was sad to read people recalling, even years later, how no one came to their party. For example, one woman recently divorced, felt lonely and decided to bolster her spirits by hosting a BBQ. She sent out invitations, cleaned the house, made the food, otherwise got ready and then sat around waiting. No one showed.
I raise that type of story because it gives a sense of what is at stake in this banquet story Jesus’ told. Even today giving a party has uncertainty and a danger of being hurt when guests don’t come. In Jesus’ time and place great cultural shame went with it. No guests meant the host was unsuccessful, and unworthy, and dishonored the role of host. All of this cast shame, or was supposed to. This was a heightened concern since banquets were a main social event in the culture. There were no movies, music, TVs or the internet. Meals were all the rage. They were the social network of the day. Banquets were a place to honor one another and climb the social ladder. The very poor and marginalized were rarely invited, but for much of the rest of the culture it was how you socialized, made connections and felt your worth.
Jesus’ parable plays off of all this. Professor Patterson observes:
this parable is a social nightmare. What if one gave a party and no one came? Was it just a bad night? Did I misjudge my place? Is there a conspiracy out there that I am only now beginning to see? Have I any friends at all?
The embarrassment and shame should be palpable. In the event of such a social disaster, most people would lock the front door, close the blinds, take the phone off the hook, and retreat under the covers for the rest of the weekend in the hope that no one would notice they have become the community pariah. This is a classic transaction in honor and shame. When the householder asked, “May I have the honor of your presence at my table everyone said, “No.” He has been shamed and now must live with the consequences. 4
That is the way that invited guests not showing was supposed to play out in Jesus’ culture . . . and to some extent in our culture. That’s a part of why we feel sad for people with parties that no one comes to. But Dr. Patterson, points out that’s not how Jesus parable ends up playing out. He goes on to note:
But in this story of shame, a surprising thing happens. The shamed refuses to accept his shame. The servant does not even have time to pause before he is sent back out on the street and this time without a guest list . . . the social food chain disappears. His honor, his shame– none of it matters. The food is free and so is the company. Hospitality is not a transaction. Community is not economy . . .
This is a very different way of thinking about community. Jesus likened the empire of God to an open table, which all may gather, to which all are invited. His idea that IN the Empire of God THE means to life are offered freely, without requirement, was grounded in a new idea about community: that relationships themselves are not to be brokered. Jesus called people into a new experience of community that was itself offered freely, without requirement.
The good news in Jesus’ parable is that at his table, in his community ALL, are invited and all are welcome. Jesus’ Way is about a wide-open embrace of love. We can come just we are. It is about, what our invocation refers to as God’s steadfast and enduring forever love. That’s what Jesus’ parable is about. It’s what his Way is about. God’s love being unconditional. Jesus’ love being unconditional. Whomever is found on the streets gets love. Everywhere. All the time. As Jesus put it in the lesson both the good and the bad are invited and welcome. It’s a wedding banquet a little like Nancy’s and mine in there are surprise guests all invited with love. Only in Jesus’ story not just family and friends are invited – rather all types of people, everyone in the world is invited
“Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the banquet,” Jesus’ host says.
That radical hospitality and love is not just for parties, it’s for Jesus table and Jesus’ church AND all the community beyond it. That’s why week-in-and-week out we talk in this church about God’s steadfast and enduring forever love . . . and how we need to practice that radical love and hospitality too. Because. It. Is. Jesus’ Way. AMEN!

* The sermon is based in part on a sermon I first wrote in 2011
1. Funk, Robert, The Sayings of Jesus, 470.
2. Patterson, Stephen, The God of Jesus, p. 147. Many of this sermon’s ideas are derived from Patterson’s writing in this book on this parable.
3. Ibid., at 74
4. Ibid. at 148
5. Ibid.