Don’t Starve Yourself at a Wedding Reception

wedding reception tablesettings
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tracyhunter/133901826/">Tracy Hunter</a>

Mark 2:18-20

John’s students and the legalists were fasting. So people came to Jesus and asked, “Why do John’s students and the students of legalism fast, but your students don’t?”

“Nobody goes to a wedding reception,” Jesus answered, “and doesn’t eat the food when the groom is right there celebrating. While the happy couple is in the room, you’ve got to eat the food. Someday, after the bride and groom are swept away, it will be time for going on a diet.”

Well, maybe there are dieters at a wedding reception, but more often than not they use it as an excuse to take a break from their diets.

Jesus’ point is similar to the famous line from Ecclesiastes: “For everything there is a time, and a season for everything under heaven.” (Turn, turn, turn.)

Any comedian will tell you that timing is everything. And so will just about every stock trader, real estate agent, fertility clinic, and auto mechanic.

Where we run into trouble is when our timing is off. We’ve misread the situation and show up to a black tie dinner in bluejeans and a sweatshirt. We wear white to a funeral and black to a wedding. Or, we miss the chance to be a part of something wonderful because we, “just didn’t see it coming.”

John’s students and the legalists aren’t doing wrong. They’re just doing it at the wrong time.

Three hymns and a sermon aren’t wrong. It’s just that their time is past.

Camping out in Zuccatti Park isn’t wrong. Staying there for days and days wasn’t wrong either. But it’s time for something else.

Windows of opportunity open and close. That’s life. You can take it or leave it. But Jesus’ advice is that when life opens one, take it.

A Paradox of Opportunity

Friendship Parados MathMark 1:16-20

(See also Matthew 4:18-25)

As Jesus went along the Galilean seashore, he saw brothers Simon and Andrew, fishermen, casting nets in the sea. He said to them, “Follow me and I’ll show you how to capture people’s hearts. Without hesitating, they followed him. A little further on he saw James and John Zebedee in their boat fixing nets. As soon as he saw them, he called them, too. And they left their father and their hired help and followed him.

Both in the calling and the following, there is no hesitation. No second guessing. No “let me think about it for a while and get back to you.” The response to the opportunity is immediate. The moment Jesus sees the people he needs, he calls them. The moment they see the leader they have been looking for, they follow.

According to the Friendship Paradox, “most people have fewer friends than their friends have, on average.” Strange, but mathematically true. It happens, though, because generally speaking, you’re more likely to find and interact regularly with people who are, on average, more socially active. The people who have the most friends are the people who are most outgoing and receptive to new friendships. On the other hand, they, by being more active, are more likely to find less active people – like you and me.

The connection to this story about Jesus calling the first disciples is this: opportunity works the same way. And opportunities expand with the number of people you know.

Finding the right people for your movement doesn’t happen every day, of course. But it certainly won’t happen if you’re not open to the possibilities. You’ve got to be looking. Even when there are other routine things to be done (mending nets). And, if you’re not ready, the people who are looking for the opportunity to be a part of your movement will probably find something else.

But the opposite is also true. The more you look, the more you find.

Strange, but mathematically true.

Royal Wedding Gets Crashed: A Parable

Prince William and Kate MiddletonMatthew 22:1-14

Jesus told yet another story:

The goal is like this:

Prince William was engaged! So the royal family began making plans for the reception, and when the time came the Queen sent couriers to bring the invited guests. But they wouldn’t come. She sent them out again with the message: “Hey, the reception is ready. I’ve even got fillet mignon and caviar. Come! But they made fun of the whole affair. One went on a cruise, another went to her corner office instead. More than one of the couriers were kidnapped, mistreated, and some even executed as spies.

Well, the queen was furious. She sent shock troops out to round them all up, brought them in and slaughtered them all, and laid waste their lands and businesses. Then she sent her couriers out again into the streets. “The wedding is going ahead regardless,” she told them. “Invite everyone you see.” So they did. They brought in everyone they could find, saints and scoundrels alike. Soon Westminster Cathedral [Abbey] was filled to capacity.

Then the queen came in, and looking over the crowd she saw a fellow who wasn’t wearing a suit. She said to him, “Sir, how did you get in here without a suit?” But he just stood there in shock. So the queen said, “Arrest him. Shackle him. And send him to Siberia. He belongs with those haunted by regret and anxiety.

Many get the chance. Some take it.

Of course, the real wedding didn’t go that way. It’s a story to engage your imagination. What if… And the location in which Jesus tells the story (while leading a people’s occupation of the Temple court during the run-up to Passover) is significant. He’s holding a “teach-in” with a story about the people occupying a place once reserved for only the elite. In that moment, it’s their story. In this moment, it’s ours.

If you mistake the Queen for God, you end up with the spoiled-rotten God of today’s Exodus story without Moses to talk her down. Be careful! Jesus never says, “God is like the king who…” but “the kingdom of heaven [the goal] is is comparable to a king who…” It’s an important distinction. Jesus is trying to get us somewhere: to the kingdom, to the goal. The parable is not about the character of God. Rather, it imagines how we might get there. And how we might not. And how we might seem to get there, but miss.

The goal (the kingdom of heaven, the wedding banquet, Westminster Abbey) begins as something the well-connected, powerful movers and shakers, rich and successful in business seem to have at the beginning. And yet, when they are invited to participate in the goal, they don’t realize what they’ve got. They turn away. They ridicule it in pursuit of other things. On the other hand, ordinary folk are excluded. The great reversal happens when (again, as in the Exodus story) the failure of those who have it all to claim it all ends up in their losing it all.

So, the parable suggests the goal is within reach of everyone and anyone who wants to claim a ticket. Only the ticket does require doing a little work. You’ve got to put on a suit. Your best suit, no matter the condition, will do. It doesn’t matter if it’s old and ratty, but you’ve got to put it on. Failure to change yourself on the way is every bit as much a misunderstanding of the goal as the elite folk ignoring and making fun of it. If you arrive as you were, you haven’t really arrived. And that, too, ends in oblivion, albeit of a different sort.

While much has been (rightly) said of “God’s preferential option for the poor,” the parable is a warning that to reach the goal, even the poor, the average, the ordinary people need to claim it or miss the opportunity. That’s the anxiety and regret.

The upside: Now, this moment, is your opportunity. Many have the chance to make something of it.

Will you take it?