Matthew 22:1-14 & Philippians 4:1-9
I read an article this week that pretty much blew up my understanding of this story. What if the king in the story isn’t God? And the son, whose wedding everyone is supposed to attend, isn’t Jesus? That’s what we all have been taught over the years, right? We go on long discourses and sermons about how the chosen (read Jews) reject the invitation and instead others (read Gentiles) respond to it. Those who are in that second, but newly chosen group, show up, and quickly clothe themselves properly for the heavenly banquet. And then it makes someone a scapegoat of what will happen to us if we don’t.
The more I think about that, the more I don’t like this story and the more I don’t really like God. What if, instead the king is – just a king – and perhaps not a very good one. He throws a party, but no one will come. He finally drags people in off the street and they all show up including some poor schmuck who doesn’t seem to have a clue about how to attend such a gala event. He’s wearing the clothes he has on his back because – that’s who he was. In disgust and rage the king has the man bound, mocked, and hauled off to a hillside outside of town and killed. Remind you of anyone?
About this point my head explodes!
This is really a pretty violent, vindictive story. And it’s pretty easy to use it to alienate the good guys from the bad guys. And not just Jews and Christians, but what about whites and blacks, rich and poor, conservatives and liberals, insert whatever group you don’t like from the one you do.
The king is the establishment, the world, the prevailing mood of the day. The son? Not the one to save things, but just the next generation to come along to perpetuate the hatred and violence. The antidote or salvation comes from the one who won’t comply with the prevailing rules and takes the rage upon himself so that things might change for the people and the world might be saved.
I had never thought about things this way. Sit with that for a while! Maybe you have and I am just very slow in my understanding. But if it’s a new way of thinking about a story that most of us have heard a number of times, this is a terrible way to see other people and a terrible way to see God!
Maybe we should shift our vision. Maybe we need to “un-see” something in order to “see” something new. If parables are meant to make us uncomfortable and show us who God is and who God isn’t, then this story is such an opportunity.
What if God isn’t the king or the heir, but the one who refuses to comply with the standing empire. What if instead he is taken away into the outer darkness of Calvary because we are worth saving from the tyranny of a king who doesn’t care for us at all?
I can go for that kind of a story. I am tired of pitting one group of people against another. I am tired of seeing God as anything but One who is willing to risk everything for my soul and heart.
I need a God who cares, not just about me, but about everyone and everything. I need a God who goes by the name of Love. I need a God who will is always close by – even when I don’t realize it.
That’s why Paul’s words in Philippians can be such a wonderful antidote to my pre-conceived notions of who God is and who God isn’t.
The two women, Euodia and Syntyche seem to be at odds with each other and Paul encourages them to put down their grievances with the help of others and be at peace. He goes on to say,
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
These are a couple of verses of scripture to memorize.
In the prelude to her book, Help, Thanks, Wow, Anne Lamont writes,
“Nothing could matter less than what we call [God]. I know some ironic believers who call God Howard, as in “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Howard be thy name.” I called God Phil for a long time, after a Mexican bracelet maker promised to write “Phil 4:4–7” on my bracelet, Philippians 4:4–7 being my favorite passage of Scripture, but got only as far as “Phil” before having to dismantle his booth. Phil is a great name for God.”
Phil may be a great name for God. I’m not sure it matters so much because I’m pretty sure God will answer to anything if our calling out is in the form of a plea or gratitude or awe.
Before I read the piece about the wedding banquet I was going to focus on Paul’s words because I really resonated with how God is near and we shouldn’t worry about things. We’re all worried about a lot these days. The fatigue level from worrying is overwhelming. I’m pretty sure there hasn’t been as much collective stress among us in years. For some of us, never!
But for others, the stress has always been real. Black and brown people are constantly in fear for their livelihoods and their actual lives. Jews are still slighted and a staggering percentage of people don’t even believe the holocaust ever happened. Disease has somewhat leveled the playing field of all of us, but even then, those with means have a better chance of surviving the pandemic. And our government is on the verge of calamity because we the people and our leaders, are so entrenched in our political ideologies.
We are exhausted and someone in rags has come to make amends for all of us – someone who refuses to put on the garments of empire or self-serving power. We are offered peace instead. We are encouraged to be gentle with each other, not combative. We are told not to worry, but to remember to pray. We are given life, not death.
Is that ideal attainable? The world will tell us it isn’t. But in my better moments I think it is. Jesus certainly thought so.
Jesus or Phil or Howard loves us and doesn’t think less of us, but actually rejoices in our differences. That doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do. It isn’t about dividing us, it is about caring for each other by rejecting the powers that want to keep us apart. It is about doing honorable things, just things, pure things. It will always be a challenge to see things in a new way because someone or some thing will always try to undermine our efforts to their advantage.
But it will be worth it to try. It will be worth it to rejoice. Maybe that is the word for today. Maybe that is what we need to do today. Maybe that is what is out there around us amidst of all the anger and hatred, the divisiveness and hurt and injury.
Maybe we ought to find a way to rejoice. We could reach out in our prayer and ask that the worry be transformed into rejoicing and living and to hoping and reveling in the Peace we have been given, n the joy that we’ve been given in a life in Christ.
May the God of Peace be with us as we see in a new way and live into a new way that allows us to rejoice at a heavenly banquet where all are invited and all are welcome and all will be seated and all will be well fed and nurtured and loved in the heart of God.
The Reverend Patty Baker
St. Clare Episcopal Church
*Lamott, Anne, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, 2012, The Penguin Group, page 2.