Although I hoped otherwise, I knew last Sunday's sermon would not present my view of the text.
It was the parable of the wedding guests. First, the elite are invited. Not only do they not give a shit, but they rampage and kill members of the wedding. So then the hoi polloi are invited. The eagerly accept. So far so good. JC is down with the hoi polloi.
But the host notes one guest who is not wearing wedding garments. He bitterly excoriates the ill-clad guest, who is "speechless," and has her hog-tied and flung into the "outer darkness." You know, that place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Then comes the clincher (at least for me.)
Many are called and few are chosen.
I've (mis)interpreted this text before. I did a little digging, once, and discovered that clincher may be spurious, a misappended text, a scriptural glitch. But, ill-clad guest that I am, I will once again break out my hermeneutic of exclusion and venture this:
That consignment to the outer darkness is a vocation to which few are chosen.
Many -- multis ! omnes !-- are invited to this wedding. It's the chosen few who get bounced out the back door into the deserted alley
where it is always night, and (probably) always snowing.
The last time I considered this most sympathetic text, I did not notice "speechless."
So now I'll venture even further into misreading and posit that "speechless" holds the key. Here's the guest, violating every tenet of the dress code, unable to muster an argument in her defense. Or perhaps unwilling ? There can be no justification in breaking the house rules. They have the weight of Everything behind them -- scripture, reason, tradition.
So, unwilling or unable to be a proper guest -- sociable, convivial, connected, voluble, gracious -- and unwilling or unable to offer a counter-narrative, or any narrative for that matter, that could deploy itself in a useful dialectic, the ill-clad guest is granted access to (seizes ?) her unspoken vocation:
The outer darkness.
After awhile, once she has wriggled free of the ropes, she stands and dusts herself off. The night is cold, and very, very quiet. The light and sound of the wedding banquet remain confined behind thick, steamed glass. The darkness and silence -- inner and outer -- are nearly absolute.
A good place (eh, Basho? eh, Ishmael?) from which to (re)start a journey ?
So, yes, a chorus of voices from John Wesley to Katherine Jefferts Schori, rises in objection to my little venture into louche homiletics. As in all categories, there is a beyond which one cannot venture and still be deemed a member.
The outer darkness qualifies.
Then why call it a vocation ? Why not simply call it what it is -- a failure ? Or, less harshly, a mismatch ?
Or why call it anything ?
I am glad there are weddings, and generous hosts and sensitive guests. May they increase and flourish ! I am glad there are readings of difficult stories that end with loving mindfulness and not a squalid back alley. The world (this one, the mean one) is dying of lack of love and hospitality.
But for me ?
Forgive me for quoting myself --
And then I'll shelter under the startling call
of geese who cross the night-time winter sky
in ragged Vs, dark-of-moon dull, no more
than air wrinkling between the naked trees,
and, at the eye's cold corner, sybilline,
a sudden blinking of the pleiades.
and, shamelessly, again
Beyond the stubblefields,
between the sumac and the lean-to shed,
and beside the rusting plow
a compost heap --
dung, straw, gourds, stalks, leaves --
squats on a flat of ice and mud.
Fragrant smoke rises just so far.
New snow reaches and blankets the ground.
Lord, open my lips and my white breath ascends
just so far before it disappears
and snow falls past my teeth and tongue,
our corporate prayer,
a mass, an open grave.
and, again --
O gracious twilight, linger long enough
that I might read the wayside book of hours
from touch-me-not to loosestrife just once more
before I’m called to seed, to night, to ice
from Vesper’s interzone of neither nor.
What hides here, wordless, cipher absolute ?
So perhaps I'm not the prototypic speechless guest after all.
But poems are not arguments, philosophies, theologies, or even parables.
And speech, like everything, runs out in the end.