Parables from the Back Side: “Pardon My Insistence”
Rev. Sandy Johnson
July 10, 2016
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This week was filled with more violence and division. Men were killed, lives cut short, and we are horrified by the events. People taking sides. “Black Lives Matter,” “Blue Lives Matter,” “All Lives Matter.” Some say, the officers were doing their job and the victims were criminals. Others say the officers acted too quickly and let their fear result in victims that were shot in error. How do we handle black men being killed by white police officers, or the white officers in Dallas being shot by a lone black man? The issue this week isn’t the specific details of each killing, but the overall recognition that we have a race issue in the United States and it isn’t likely to get better without our involvement.
“In this moment of crisis we realize that we no longer have time for debates, for arguing over slogans, over whose lives matter, over perceived failures in media coverage. We can no longer spend time disputing he fact that racism is in us, and is killing black men, women and children. We can no longer ‘other’ each other to death, over more than just race. We don’t have time to spend critiquing the individual lives and motives of victims or police officers or public officials. We have been “majoring in the minors,” as Martin Luther King Jr. said.”
As Christians in this country we must not stand quiet in the face of systemic oppression. “Our prayer vigils and moments of silence have become shallow, easy alternatives to actually using our voices as God calls us to do. We can no longer merely host and organize prayer vigils for reconciling that which we have never experienced. We can’t keep preying on each other and then pray for forgiveness. We can’t pray for God to do what we are unwilling to do ourselves. Quiet is safer, sure.” But we must not be silenced when our sisters and brothers are being killed and treated as subhuman. We must decide to be advocates for those who are marginalized and whose voices are not being heard. It is time for us to not wait a moment longer, but to understand that we must act now.
The parable we read earlier this morning is a call to action. Jesus tells those listening that the kingdom of heaven is like a party, a wedding banquet. A joyous, lively, dance-filled party that might last days on end. The story demonstrates for us that we are all invited to this party, to have the opportunity to be accepted into the kingdom of heaven and discover the joy that comes with knowing and loving God.
The parable tells us that the king sent out his messengers to call the guests to the party. Unfortunately those who had been invited changed their minds, they decided they didn’t wish to come. Perhaps they didn’t understand who was making the invitation or what kind of party it was and so they decided that tending to their business was more important. The slaves did what they could to encourage these guests, but some of them were beaten, some were killed. When the king heard what happened he was outraged and sent troops to destroy the murderers and burn down their city. Violence begets more violence.
Now who is the king going to invite to the banquet? He had prepared a huge celebration. His son was to be married and he wanted to throw a great party. You can’t have a party without guests so he sent his slaves out into the street to invite everyone they could find, to fill up the dance hall, to ensure that a party atmosphere would be created. The slaves were insistent, they were eager to do the job they were ordered to do and did so with enthusiasm. They knew that they had one job, to fill up the banquet room and ensure that the royal family had a celebration like no other. And so they did, they gathered both good and bad people, scripture says and brought them into the hall to enjoy the wedding banquet. Their insistence had paid off.
I’d like the focus of this parable to be about the type of reward we will receive in the kingdom of heaven. Won’t it be marvelous when we all get to heaven, to know that it will be one big party?! But Jesus didn’t share this parable for that purpose. He wanted to demonstrate to those listening that God had called the Jews to repentance and they refused. Christ came to Israel to bring the new covenant and his invitation fell on deaf ears. The Messiah whose reign had been foretold wasn’t recognized. Instead he was despised and rejected. Although this was disastrous for the Jews, it was an opportunity for the rest of us.
God then turned to the Gentiles and those considered by the Jews to be sinners; unclean and unworthy people that normally would never receive such an invitation. Jesus demonstrated by his actions his love and acceptance of all people. He chose to associate with people who lived in the edges of proper society. Being rejected by the Jews he went to where he knew he would be accepted. He came for you and for me; we have heard his invitation and accepted and have joined the party.
Those of us who have made the decision to follow Christ are compelled by the longing for joy in our quest for God. “Perhaps this longing is the essence of the soul’s restlessness to which Augustine referred or maybe it is the God-shaped void of Pascal. As such, it is a prime reason for the inviting servant to be insistent. What a privilege to be able to offer someone an invitation to the party for which they have always instinctively longed! How can we help being insistent when we carry such an invitation?”
We are all representative of the slaves who are sent out into the world, looking for those who aren’t usually invited to the party. When I was in 3rd grade there was a girl in my class named Teresa Timmons. Teresa was a clumsy girl, unattractive and unpopular. She often came to school in dirty clothes and didn’t bathe very often. She tried hard to make friends but was often shunned by the other children. When my birthday came around I planned a sleepover of the girls in my class. I didn’t want to invite Teresa but my mother told me I couldn’t invite the girls and exclude her, so Teresa was invited, and she came. My friends gave me a hard time for inviting her and I was embarrassed that she was there. In fact when it came time for us to go to sleep, I gave her my bed so that the rest of us could be together on the floor. Still separated from us. Teresa didn’t get many invitations and I wonder where she is today. I wonder whether someone invited her to the wedding feast of our Lord.
It is our job to share God’s love and salvation with those we know and those we don’t know. We are called to love as Jesus loved, to share his invitation to the saint and sinner; with the Muslim and Jew; with black and white; gay and straight; we are called to invite everyone, regardless of their background, their worthiness, where they come from, or where they are going. It is not our job to decide who will be accepted, our job is only to invite.
When I look around at the times we live in, at the horrors that are perpetrated on one another in the name of religion and in the fight for supremacy and power, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we truly behaved like the servants in this parable. If we were sharing God’s love with everyone we met, how might our world be different? How might we be different by channeling God’s love into our fellow human beings?
There are three things that I would like to suggest we do. We must “acknowledge that everything is not right, first with ourselves, and then with our systems and our world. We must affirm one another’s pain, understanding that it is real, and that the other’s pain is also our own pain. Finally we must act in ways that brings healing and hope to those places of pain.”
First we must “acknowledge that all is not right, and do it truthfully.” We must listen to our sisters and brothers who look different, who believe differently and who have lives that are different than our own. We must choose to be in relationship with the “other.” We must meet those who make us uncomfortable and sit down and listen to their stories. When we listen to the stories of our enemies, we become friends. We are able to recognize ourselves in the other and have a greater empathy for them.
Next we must “affirm that the pain, both yours and mine, is real, and that it is connected. What moves me, moves you. What hurts me, hurts you. What inspires me, inspires you. In affirming another’s pain, we affirm that we are entangled in it. When we become entangled, we are changed.
“In order to affirm we must listen, and model listening for each other. Affirm that others’ experiences are real, even if they are unreal to us. Emanuel Cleaver III, a pastor in Kansas City, expresses the conundrum of black parental and pastoral counseling. “If you are a black man and you are stopped by the police,” he says, “here is what you do: Comply with everything they tell you and then pray they don’t shoot you anyway.” This is a reality for millions of people of color. Why must our mothers of black sons, have to instruct them in the ways of behaving with police. White mothers don’t do the same. Those are conversations I never had with my son Calvin, even though he is of mixed race because he looks white. I don’t worry about him walking down the street in a hoodie, or feel the need to council him on how to act when pulled over by police.
As I watched the violence unfold this week I felt compelled to act. “We are called to act in ways that bring healing and hope. There is no escaping our responsibility. None of us are exempt, no matter our political bent or church setting or social location. No matter that we feel helpless and lost. Not knowing what to say or do is a shared experience, from pulpit to pew to parking lot. “Many pastors are afraid to risk with their congregations; and congregations are afraid to let their pastors be real, let alone be prophetic. When a man asked Jesus to heal his son, he said, “I have faith,” and then “help my lack of faith.” (Mark 9:24 CEB) You can have faith and still wonder why or when. What’s never in question is who. It is clear who needs to help, who will be the source of help and hope. That’s Jesus, through us, by our action.
“What exactly are we to do?
“First we must get out of the micro. Move to the macro. We must teach grace. What can we do in our community to get everybody under the canopy of grace? What steps can we take to realign ourselves and those in our influence with the fact that grace is real, unmerited, for all, for always? We must be relational, move in, and get closer to the points of pain. Talk with people you don’t know. Get to know them and their reality. Now is not the time for us to sit back.
“We must find ways to bind people together, to facilitate new relationships in your community. Examine the civic structures and policies and systems that need to change. Work cooperatively and productively with others to change them. We must examine the structures and policies and systems in your denominational connection that need to change and work cooperatively and productively with others to change them. It is time to speak out and work proactively to change gun laws. No more quibbling, no more excuses.
It is up to us to bring light and life. Every day, do things in our personal and public spaces to lift ourselves and others up. Enjoy creation. Love life. Make joy. Don’t stay in the heavy. Turn off the TV. Wherever we are, I pray we are holding up our corners, lifting hurting people to Jesus, lifting the hope of Jesus for others to see.” It is my prayer that we would be the insistent servant, who is out inviting others to join the wedding feast, to come in out of the cold and harsh world and enjoy the banquet that the Lord has laid.
 Adapted from “Parables from the Back Side: Bible Stories with a Twist,” by J. Ellsworth Kalas. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 1992.
 Kalas, J. Ellsworth. “Parables from the Back Side: Bible Stories with a Twist,” Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 1992. Page 76.