2nd Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, June 11, 2023
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Good morning, St. Aidan’s.
Not long after my family and I had come to be among you and settled into our neighborhood, some folks near us threw a block party. It wasn’t in our immediate vicinity – it was on the cool people’s block a few streets from us. They know how to party, and much if not all of the town was present. The street was blocked off, and there was music playing; food served from people’s sidewalks, garages, or driveways; chalk art and other craft activities; and most strikingly to me, couches in the street. It was a whosoever kind of event: bring yourself and your friends, your family, connect with people you know and don’t yet know. I’ve been to a number of these gatherings over the years in the different places we’ve lived, sometimes not on a block but in a town or neighborhood square, at a beach or in a park. These are events and spaces where the gatherings somehow extend beyond themselves. Yet the space created in them is more than simply an open invitation where all are welcome. They are parties yet also more than spaces of celebration – they feel to me as though all that the attendees have experienced along the way, all that they carry, is somehow acknowledged. I get a sense of telescoped time as I step into such spaces, with layers of past, present, and future – generations behind me, among me, and yet to come –upheld in community, their life watered together like growing plants. This is block party or neighborhood gathering as heavenly banquet.
You may think I’m preaching from the wrong readings, but such a banquet is a key background or shadow-scene of our passage from the Gospel of Matthew this morning (our passage is Mt 9:9-13, 18-26 – the missing chunk is verses 14-17). It’s only shadowy because the editors of the Revised Common Lectionary, which governs the readings we hear from Sunday to Sunday, edited it out of our passage. When a chunk is taken out of the middle of our readings, the conspiracy theorist in me always wants to know why. Was there something juicy they didn’t think we could handle on a Sunday morning? Sometimes I’m pretty sure that’s why. I might even be grateful for the decision. Today, I imagine it’s because there are already several things going on in our gospel passage as assigned. Yet the missing chunk casts the whole in a light that, to me, makes a significant difference.
The missing chunk flows from the beginning of our Matthew passage, the exchange Jesus has with the Pharisees about the people he had been eating with: tax collectors and sinners. Why did he eat with them?, they wanted to know. Because he wasn’t interested in only gathering with people who had all their ducks in a row, everything figured out. Jesus was about gathering all of us, being with us as we struggle and muddle through, putting one foot in front of the other, supporting us when and as we go wrong and not simply when we have it together. The divine Physician comes to gather all of us who need healing. Then comes the missing part of the passage. The disciples of John come to Jesus, and they ask him why he and his disciples don’t fast as John has them do (Mt 9:14). Jesus answers, “The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Mt 9:15). This answer reveals that the wider context for all that had just unfolded – the gathering with usually rejected guests, and what goes on to happen in the second part of our reading – is a divine wedding banquet at which Jesus is the bridegroom. As a banquet, it is not the moment, the context, for fasting. Those contexts exist—Jesus is not denying their validity or throwing them out. But his actions were unfolding from the logic of a banquet, realizing afresh the bond and covenant between God and God’s people, and indeed all of creation itself, God’s dream for the renewal of all things at the end of all things. At the same time, Jesus’ description tempers a simple move from fasting to celebration– not when the bridegroom is also naming the reality that he would be taken from them. Somehow this banquet context telescopes present and future, joy and loss, holding them all together, inviting a communal meal in their presence, binding and bonding all of God’s people. From the banquet evocation, Jesus goes on in the missing chunk to use the images of new cloth needing to be sewn onto fabric of a similar vintage, and new wine needing to be put into new wineskins, rather than old, not so the old can be discarded but so that both can be preserved (Mt 9:16-17). The banquet context serves as an outstretched canopy, a mode of gathering that makes space for new life and possibility while honoring continuity, gathering us in all our history, our struggle, our longing and hope, binding us together in the midst of this mystery.
While Jesus was saying those things (Mt 9:18), he is then tapped to attend to a scene of tragedy. We heard Mark’s much more elaborate version of this story two years ago (Mark 5:21-43). It is a sandwich story containing two healings. In the first part a father, a communal leader, asks Jesus to lay a hand on his daughter who had died. As Jesus makes his way, he is approached by a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. Then Jesus arrives at the scene of mourning, disperses it, and empowers the daughter to rise. Over all of this packed, life-giving activity, the banquet context stretches. Jesus the bridegroom, extends the gathering in a sense to the scene of the house where the girl was being mourned. He disperses the mourners – not because mourning is in any way wrong but because its timing was off. And then, entering the house, he does not simply lay his hand on the daughter, as the father had asked, but takes her hand, joining with her in fullness of life, empowering her to rise. In a connected manner, on the way to this scene that banquet-whosever context had welcomed a woman who had been terribly suffering for over a decade, physically, emotionally, and likely communally. Without doing anything, and in Matthew’s version without noting that power had flowed out from him (as the other versions elaborate), Jesus affirms the faith-filled agency of this woman who sought out what she needed and was healed in the process. The banquet of God creates anew. As its ambassador, its inaugurator, Jesus extends the invitation, he lives into it, making room for all. And he invites us too to live in its light. He invites all of who we are, all of what we bring along the way, honoring our mixtures of triumph and joy, loss and pain, connecting us in community to welcome the in-breaking, healing reality of God’s dream in a broken-hearted world.
I think of this banquet hovering over and around our readings this morning, our communal life at St. Aidan’s, and our city, region, and world right now. I think of it as much more than a block party, perhaps an eschatological season of Queer Pride, a space of uplifting and life, of acknowledging all that we have passed through, are currently struggling with, the strength we need to push back the threats to our lives and communities. In these places, on this journey, we are invited to be and bring all of ourselves, all of our loved ones, all who are struggling, all who are healthy and whole. Pull out the couches, set out the crafts and glitter, share good food and music, love one another in the midst of grief and struggle. On this journey, mixture as it is of already and not yet, the God who loves all whom God has made, promises to stand with us, uplift and renews us, affirming our faith, taking us by the hand, strengthening us and drawing us with love and care into the promise of God’s dream. May our hearts be opened, healed, inspired by that vision, that invitation, this morning. Amen.