19th Sunday of Pentecost October 11, 2020
First Reading: Isaiah 25:1-9
Second Reading: Philippians 4:1-9
Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14
Prayer of the Day:
Beloved God, from you come all things that are good. Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right, and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen
Hymns of the Day
If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.
Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life (ELW 719)
Sent Forth by God’s Blessing (ELW 547)
God Be with You Till We Meet Again (ELW 536)
As We Gather at Your Table (ELW 522)
Shelter from the Storm (Bob Dylan) (see Isaiah 25:4-5)
Reflection on Matthew 22:1-14
by Pastor Tim Dean
God’s relentless grace for all
Another tough text for the week! The parable of the wedding banquet. Pastor Kelli said she would rather have something from the Gospel of John. I would probably choose Luke…or Mark…or John…or another unheard of person. Anyone for the Gospel of Frank? Anything but this. A pastor friend summed it up when he said after a bible study, “No one likes this parable.”
But here we are—the Gospel of Matthew! So we need to wrestle with it, and see if it gives us a word of truth and grace.
The historical context is huge. Matthew’s community was going through painful internal conflicts, disputes with religious leaders, and external persecution from the Roman Empire. Remember, just a few years before this gospel was composed, Jerusalem and the temple were razed by the Roman army. You can see this historical background reflected in the parable.
The setting of this story within Matthew is important, too. This is the third parable Jesus tells to religious leaders in the temple, two days before the celebration of Passover and Jesus’ arrest and betrayal. The religious leaders arrest Jesus in the middle of the night because they are afraid of the crowds. The next day Jesus is brutally killed by the Roman Empire, abandoned by his closest friends.
Jesus tells this parable in a highly polarized, fearful context. No wonder it is so disturbing.
The first question we need to wrestle with is what to do with the extreme violence. After having his invitations rejected, the king goes ballistic, puts the wedding banquet on hold, and wages war against a city. Later, when new people fill the wedding banquet, he throws a man into “outer darkness” because he’s not dressed appropriately. The violence in this story is outrageous, almost cartoonish.
How do we deal with this violence? How do we hear this in our own highly polarized country? How do we hear this in a time of extreme violence—violence against people of color, violent threats and plots by extremist groups, a toxic level of hate speech on social media and the internet? Honestly, there is much fear in the world right now, and fear is the breeding ground for violence.
Perhaps the exaggerated nature of the parable—hyperbole—serves as a kind of mirror, showing us our own human inclinations. Debie Thomas says the parable warns us about how we can unknowingly project an image of a wrathful, violent God. “We don’t generally go around professing belief in a God who turns cities into ashes. But do we—consciously or not—present to the world a God who is easily offended, easily displeased, easily dishonored? A God whose holiness rests on the foundation of a righteous and even violent anger?” (Christian Century, “Living by the Word,” Sept. 14, 2017)
This parable is a mirror that helps us see our true selves—and how easy it is to project human fears, our inclination to violence, our vengeful speech, onto God.
This may be true, but it’s hardly good news! We don’t need the parable for this mirror—we can just go on the internet!
So where is a word of grace?
Perhaps it is this: Jesus is not like the king in this parable. When he is arrested, one of his disciples pulls out a sword to fight off the guards. But Jesus says, “Put your sword away. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
When his closest friends abandon him, Jesus does not cut them off forever. When Jesus is mocked by Roman soldiers and taunted by the bandits crucified with him, he does not mock them or ridicule them in return.
Three days after his death, Jesus does not rise from the tomb to settle the score—against the Roman Empire or religious leaders who put him on trial.
No, when he rises from the dead, he brings grace and love to a broken, fearful world. He meets his disciples on a mountain—a mixed crowd of believing and doubting people—and he includes them in this new business of bringing resurrection life. He doesn’t send his disciples to an “outer darkness” of punishment, but loves them in their believing and doubting, in their mix of failures, fears and courage.
Even as the parable shows how imperfect we are as human beings, it also drives us to the grace of Jesus, God with us.
David Lose writes, “We are all hampered by, and sometimes harm others because of, a limited vision of God’s grace. And yet Jesus still comes for all. The invitation is still being made, but less by a capricious and violent king and more by a loving and persistent parent who [comes] bearing the twin and…simultaneous truths that we are woefully fallen, and at the same time completely accepted and beloved, children of God.” (“In the Meantime” blog, Oct. 5, 2020)
The parable reveals twin truths: we are sinners desperately needing forgiveness, and at the same time, saints completely loved by God without strings. This gracious God is the One whom we worship. This is the God you and I are called to share with those around us, with those who have been badly traumatized by violence and vengeance.
Jesus continues to relentlessly invite us to the banquet. The Risen One, so deeply in love with us, keeps inviting us, and keeps inviting everyone—the good, the bad, and everyone in between.
Jesus is not like the king in the parable. He is the host that Isaiah describes: the one who swallows up death, the one who wipes away our tears, the one who gives the poor a refuge, the one who provides rich food for the hungry, who gives everyone a place at the table, who shelters us with grace.
This is the God for whom we have waited. This is the crucified and risen Jesus, for us and with us.
Dear friends, Christ Jesus is God’s promise of truth and grace, and in him, we can rejoice and be glad. Amen.
Let Us Pray
God of redeeming grace, forgive us when we have limited vision about who is included at your table. Shower your love and healing upon those who suffer because of violence and hatred. Bring the comfort of your abiding presence to those who are ill in mind, body and spirit. Help us to see the renewing, surpassing and surprising grace of your Son’s resurrection in our neighbors, and to welcome each other has he has welcomed us. In the name of the crucified and risen Christ, God with us. Amen.