Julius Henry Marx was born in a room above a butcher shop on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on October 2, 1890. By the name Julius, this man may be unfamiliar to you. Most people know him as Groucho.
Groucho Marx, who died in 1977, developed a trademark look for stage and screen. Greasepaint mustache and eyebrows, glasses, a cigar, and an exaggeratedly loping stride. Strolling the streets of New York in a normal gait and without the disguise, he would go mostly unnoticed by passersby.
As distinctive as the Groucho character’s appearance was, his brand of humor was what set him apart, at least for me. It resembles what we might call snark today: irreverent, sarcastic responses frequently intended to deliver a serious message.
My favorite Groucho quip was repeated later by Woody Allen: I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.
In a few words Groucho summarized one of the key human dilemmas. We struggle to live peaceably with each other because we’re not entirely comfortable with ourselves. And, whether or not Groucho intended it, the real-life circumstances that prompted the quip helped me to clarify the nature of this abiding human challenge.
You see, I had assumed that Groucho was wittily refusing to join a club. Instead, he was resigning from a club to which he already held membership. And there’s the key.
We don’t begin life as isolated individuals faced with the choice of making connection with others or standing on our own. From the start God has woven us into a web of relationships. Our choice is to tend and mend those relationships or to strain and fray them.
Jesus said as much in what we sometimes call The Parable of the Wedding Banquet. The short version goes something like this. (Matthew 22:1-14)
A king threw a wedding reception for his son. Nobody RSVP’ed, so the king sent servants to issue a personal invitation. No takers. In fact, some on the original guest list even abused and murdered the king’s slaves. Furious, the king sent troops to kill the original invitees and burn down their town.
Next, he sent his servants into every street, alley, and seedy dive to invite everybody—and I do mean everybody—to the big party. When the hall is full, the king bumps into a guest with no wedding garment and tosses him out on his ear.
Before unpacking this, let me say something about reading parables that my regular readers will recognize. Parables are not analogies. I won’t be trying to match up who the king is supposed to stand for, who the various guests are, and how the guy just dragged from a back alley could be expected to have a wedding garment handy.
Nope, parables are more like Zen koans. You know, what is the sound of one hand clapping? Instead of teaching a set of principles for us to memorize, parables challenge us to rethink our most basic and perhaps tenaciously-held assumptions about who God is and who we are.
So, here’s my take.
God is throwing a party. It’s already going on and everybody has been invited. Actually, we’re all already at the party, even if we can’t or won’t see that we are. God never uninvites anyone.
God just keeps urging us to party on. To love all those crazy, quirky, imperfect people that God decided to put on the guest list. But to love them, we have to acknowledge that we are one of them. No better. No worse. Simply God’s beloved.
And that’s what it means to put on the wedding garment: I’m one of God’s beloved oddballs just like everybody else. It’s nothing we did or said, really. It’s just how God is.
The only choice we face is whether to enjoy the party or to uninvite ourselves. To echo Groucho’s phrase, we have to decide whether or not to belong to a club that already has us as a member.
You’re invited to join me for a series of in-person Zoom conversations called “A Love Shaped Life” Thursdays (6:00 p.m. CDT) in October. This coming Thursday (Oct. 15) we’ll be talking about how to forgive yourself
Missed last week’s session? No worries. Each conversation stands on its own. Hope to see you there!
There’s no charge. No registration. All you need to do on Thursday is click this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81224620632?pwd=V1V1dmJGQW12djZmb2hDVWp0a1lZZz09
All talks are based on my book A Resurrection Shape Life. Click here to learn more and read reviews.
Note: Hurricane Delta may knock out power and compromise internet connectivity this weekend and for the days following. I’ll put up a notice if we are unable to support a Zoom meeting.
Interesting how so many of us have tried to earn God’s love (as you mentioned, via achievement) when God already loves and delights in us! Of course, we know this from so many scriptures (e.g. Romans 5:5) but may still have trouble taking it in – deep down in our bones so to speak. A helpful prayer may be to ask God to help us experience more deeply this amazing love and grace! Surely God understands where we are coming from and can supply this need! (Ephesians 3:21)
What a wise prayer suggestion! It does seem to me that Jesus’ teaching seep into our bones very gradually. Maybe that’s as it should be, I don’t know. But as you know, I’m sort of a late bloomer anyway.
surrounding you and your diocese with prayers.. I can’t believe you are being hit again.. Joanna Seibert firstname.lastname@example.org The Rev. Joanna Seibert MD email@example.com Joannajseibert@gmail.com Deacon, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Emeritus Professor Arkansas Children’s, UAMS Follow my daily somethings on my Facebook page or sign up at joannaseibert.com
Thank you, Joanna! It’s pretty unbelievable. Delta is taking very nearly the same track as Laura. We’ve got solid partnerships for emergency relief and long term recovery. Everybody will be stretched thin, but we’ll press on.
We had a big tree fall over in front of our complex. It caused no damage. The top of it landed on the roof of a two story building. Praise God for lack of damage. It has since been cut up.
So glad there was no damage!
Thank you so much bishop Jake. See you tomorrow at the zoom meeting. They are a real blessing.
Your favourite Groucho quip is so damn funny, love it! Sometimes the web of relationships we’re woven into is already torn before we’re born.. I guess what I’ve realised recently (as you know) is that even when significant others have already passed away before one’s birth, there’s still a degree of ‘tend and mend’ that’s possible, and meaningful. Thanks for this lesson, it’s really beautiful and means a lot!
Bless you Jake with your helpful posts. Agape!
I recently came across your blog. I am truly enjoying it. Thank you!
I’m wondering if there’s a way to receive the information shared on zoom. I’m not able to join, but the topic areas feel as though they’re made for me.
Also, wishing you all the best from here in Canada, as you await the next hurricane. May it be gentle on you.
Hi Colleen! I’m glad we’ve connected and that these essays are meaningful to you. Thanks for your interest in the Zoom conversations. One of my team members is recording each session and we will be sharing those videos soon. I’ll make sure to pass on the news at the blog and on Facebook. Hurricane Delta is arriving now. Our power is out but we are secure. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and insights in the future
I just finished rereading Deacon Lois’ Facebook share about white supremacy and feel parallels to what you wrote here. I am what she called a “white supremacist in recovery.” I represent the privileged and I don’t want to belong to that club any more. Groucho and Woody Allen nailed it!
I’m definitely a groucho fan. Thank you for this. God’s peace.
see y’all at the zoom meeting Thursday. I’ve really been blessed by it. Thank you.
How can we get the video s from the zoom meetings?
We’ll be getting them out soon via email, my blog, and social media. I’ll let you know! Thanks
Thank you so much. God’s peace.
Bishop Jake thank you for last night’s zoom meeting. It’s was so helpful. God’s peace.