Occasionally I’ll use the pulpit to advocate an almost indefensible opinion on food or admit that I dislike something in popular culture that everyone else seems to love. I thought I’d get a lot of flack for admitting that I hate the Wizard of Oz, but it turned out that an awful lot of you hate the Wizard of Oz. Today’s admission is that I hated the uber-popular show Friends. I hated Friends for the reason that anyone that hated Friends hated it: it’s the least realistic depiction of living in New York ever created. Outside of never being able to afford the lifestyle they were pictured having, they would do things like order one pizza for three people. On the way out after Mass you can tell me your opinion on Friends.
Nowadays, thirteen years after Friends blessedly went off the air, the sign of true friendship is that when you walk into someone’s house your phone connects to their wifi automatically. Friendship is one of the greatest gifts of God, but it’s not always easy; friendships can be complicated and heartbreaking as much as they can be easy and life-giving.
“In a seminar on Matthew’s gospel, Tom Long pointed out that in Matthew, it’s never a good thing to be addressed as “friend.” Every time someone is called a friend in Matthew, what follows is not pleasant! Jesus himself was referred to as a “friend” by the religious authorities in Matthew 11 but it was no compliment: they accused Jesus of being “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” In the previous chapter from last week’s lection, the master of the vineyard overhears the grumbling and grousing of the 12-hour workers over being paid the same as the 1-hour folks. “I am not being unfair to you, friend” the master says. But there is an edge to that—the grumblers were no friends of the owner! Later in Matthew we find the single most poignant such instance when, having been kissed by the traitor Judas, Jesus asks him, “Friend, what have you come for?”
“But a close second to that final devastating use of “friend” may well be here in Matthew 22 when a hapless wedding guest is addressed as “Friend” right before being most definitively thrown out on his ear!”1 Thankfully, I don’t think Stephen picked “What A Friend We Have in Jesus” as a hymn for the 10am Mass.
“In today’s story, a king is arranging a wedding banquet for his son. In any society, commoners will not likely be invited. Royalty associate almost exclusively with royalty or at least with VIPs. Among the king’s invited guests are a landowner and a business person, definitely members of the elite class.
“For some reason the guests disapproved of the arrangements the king was making. They offer flimsy and insulting excuses, implying that tending the farm or the business is much more important than the wedding of the king’s son. Other invited guests challenge the king’s honor in a more direct fashion. They seize his slaves who bring the invitation, beat, and kill them. Clearly this action demands redress, and the king obliges. First, he sends troops to kill the murderers and burn their city. But then the king does something that breaks the rules. He invites non-elites to the wedding feast”2
So far, so good. But then that “friend” pops up without a wedding garment, a guest who didn’t bother to “dress to the occasion.” St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians that if we are baptized, then we are then “clothed with Christ”, clothed with the garments of faith, hope, and charity, dressed for the occasion of following God’s will for our lives.
As Jesus’ parable tells us, everyone, absolutely everyone, is invited to the everlasting feast that is the Kingdom of God. No one is excluded except by their own choice, by their refusal to accept God’s invitation to the party or their willful refusal to accept the garment Christ offers us.
In our divided world and divisive culture, we find more and more ways to destroy existing friendships and hamper the process of making new ones. We argue over flags or statues or what color something is on Facebook, and all the while the South is flooded, the West is burning, and no one is safe even at a country concert. I have no simple answer to the things that divide our world, but I do know that the fix starts here, in clothing ourselves in Christ, in regarding all through the lens of faith, hope, and love, and remembering that even if we don’t know someone, even if we know that person and don’t like anything about them, we can be friends, because God has invited us all to the same party.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-23a/?type=the_lectionary_gospel
2John J. Pilch: http://liturgy.slu.edu/28OrdA101517/theword_cultural.html