Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Reflections from The Hill – Parties and Clothes

It’s like something out of “Ripping Yarns”, the TV series of mayhem and murder by Terry Jones and Michael Palin. The one difference between those scripts and the Gospel Reading this week is that Jesus isn’t trying to be funny.

This story is scary and violent while the king is petty, murderous and cruel. It’s a story that shouldn’t be read by people under 18 and would cop at least an MA(v) tag from the Censors if anyone tried to make a video and then release it.

Then again, it is about a party, and each of us loves good parties, eh. Ask Prince Will and his stunning Princess and I’ll wager London to a brick that everyone who was at theirs, including those grey-clad CSC nuns, would say “Oh, yes”.

The king in this story, however, is a biblical version of The Godfather, Don Corleone. That character knew a lot about eliminations and it didn’t have anything to do with diets. To say “No” to an offer you can’t refuse could make life a little unstable.

Make no bones about it, the king here is a bully and gets really antsy with those who are not only brave enough to refuse the initial invitation, but who, successfully, stage a counter-attack against the king’s own men.

Straight away we are in Underbelly country. Retaliation is what it’s about now: the troops get sent in, the opposition get obliterated and the city gets razed. It’s not a fun time.

Just as we are relishing the thought of yet another fight we remember that there’s still the matter of the party. (You’ve got to hand it to the king. His persistence in the face of rejection, murder and destruction is beyond belief.)

Imagine being one of those rounded up to attend the party on the second list of invitees. Maybe it’s an understatement but I can’t imagine them being delighted by the menu or kicking their heels up on the dance floor.

More than likely, if they were eating at all, they’d be choking down their Wagu Beef Medallions and Tempura Barramundi with lime zest and barely touching their lips on the ‘52 Grange Shiraz as they waited to see what was going to happen next.

It happened alright: the king spotted someone sitting at one of the tables not wearing a wedding robe. The music stops. The silence is heavy. Heads turn in anticipation of another round of blood sport as the king sucks in his breath and eyeballs the hapless guest.

What comes out of the king’s mouth cannot be repeated here, even if we knew the words. The gist, though, is that he orders his servants to prepare that guest like a lamb for slaughter: stripped, hands and feet bound, mouth stuffed, then to be chucked into outer darkness.

How the king could expect anyone to be dressed like Pippa Middleton or Patrizio Buanne in that kind of circumstance and in the middle of all that carnage is beyond me. Properly dressed? Get a life.

However, as it is with Matthew on other occasions, so it is today. The story-teller is Jesus and the yarn is not about a king who’s having a hissy-fit because people aren’t coming to his party.

Clearly the issue is not the man's clothing, either, but there’s something about how the man presents himself at the banquet that Matthew wants us to note. As he’s done before, Matthew sees something extra when it comes to matters of discipleship.

Folding our wedding clothes of righteousness and putting them in our duffle bag maybe an option if we don’t want to get them dirty. In itself, that has been described as saying yes but doing nothing.

There is something quite challenging in the implication that our wedding robes are to be worn for the whole world to see, isn’t there?

More than that, by wearing them with integrity and by living appropriately will ensure they will be soiled but, soiled or not, it will also ensure that there will be a time when we couldn’t imagine wearing anything else.