October 11, 2020
The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
(Isaiah 25:6-10; Matthew 22:1-14)
Basically, in today's Gospel Jesus is retelling the parable of the vineyard but in the context of a wedding banquet. Why is He going over this again? Maybe He focus-grouped the vineyard parable and got some feedback about folks being put off by the concept of land ownership. Maybe Peter pulled Him aside and said, “Teacher, John's having a real hard time staying off the sauce. Can we maybe not talk so much about vineyards?” Or maybe we simply need to remember that He’s God and knows better than we do and we nick-pick readers should stop criticizing.
Have all those people who talk about Jesus being super-love-hippy-dippy-flower-power-buddy-Jesus ever read this parable? It's some really dark stuff. People get murdered in this one. Towns get destroyed. People are thrown out of parties. This isn't exactly Sunday school material.
The whole thing sounds a lot like Game of Thrones. And you just thought the parable of the vineyard was juicy?! This one has a feast, a king, a murder, burning whole towns, weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Just what is gnashing of teeth anyway?)
God-made the nation of Israel His chosen people, but they repeatedly rejected Him. Like the first folks invited to the wedding feast in the parable, the Israelites just couldn’t seem to be bothered with God's invitation. Maybe His mother needed to prod Him into making more wine.
We want to hear a nice story about God throwing the party open to everyone. We want to be ‘inclusive,’ to let everyone in. (Of course, I am using “inclusive” a little differently in this context, from that of how it is commonly used today.) We don't want to know about judgement on the wicked or about demanding standards of holiness or about weeping and gnashing of teeth. Some of us might have really enjoyed watching Game of Thrones, but we don’t seriously want that in reality. Doesn't the Bible say that God will wipe away every tear from every eye?
Yes, it does, but you have to see it in its proper setting to understand it. It doesn't mean that God will act like a soothing parent settling a child back to sleep after a nightmare. God wants us to be grown up, and part of being grown up is that we learn that actions have consequences, that moral choices matter, and that real human life isn't like a game of chess where even if we do badly the pieces get put back in the box at the end of the day and we can start again tomorrow. The great deep mystery of God's forgiveness isn't the same as saying that whatever we do isn't really important because it will all work out somehow.
The parable we hear today follows straight from a devastating story of the wicked tenant farmers from chapter 21 and rams the point home. Everyone would know what a story about a landowner with a vineyard was referring to. Equally everyone in Jesus' day would know the point of a story about a king throwing a party for his son. This story is about the coming of God's Kingdom and in particular the arrival of the Messiah. The people of Israel had been waiting for this for centuries.
Israel's leaders in Jesus' day, and the many people who followed them, were like guests invited to a wedding - God's wedding party, the party He was throwing for His Son. But they had refused. Galilee had refused, for the most part. Think back to Jesus’ sad warnings. Now Jerusalem was refusing the invitation is well. God is planning the great party for which they had waited so long. The Messiah was here, and they didn't want to know. They abused and killed the prophets who tried to tell them about it and the result was their city would be destroyed. (Think 70 A.D.)
But now for the good news - though it wasn't good news for the people who were originally invited. God was sending out new messengers to the ‘wrong’ parts of town to tell everyone and anyone to come to the party. (‘Wrong’ parts of town, at least as far as the Pharisees and scribes were concerned!) And they came in droves. We don't have to look far in Matthew's Gospel to see who they were. The tax collectors, the prostitutes, the riffraff, the nobodies, the blind, and the lame, the people who thought they've been forgotten. All the low-life type of people (at least according to self-proclaimed entitled people were concerned). They were thrilled that God's message was for them after all. Truly ‘inclusive’!
But there was a difference between this wide-open invitation and the message so many want to hear today. We want to hear that everyone is all right exactly as they are, that God loves us as we are, and doesn't want us to change. People often say this when they want to justify particular types of behavior, but the argument simply doesn't work. When the blind and lame came to Jesus, He didn't say, ‘You're all right as you are’. He healed them. They wouldn't have been satisfied with anything less. When the prostitutes and extortioners came to Jesus, he didn't say, ‘You’re all right as you are’. His love reached them where they were, but His love refused to let them stay as they were. Love wants the best for the beloved. Their lives were transformed, healed and changed.
Actually, nobody really believes that God wants everyoneto stay exactly as they are. God loves serial killers and child molesters; God loves ruthless and arrogant businessman; God loves manipulative mothers who damage their children's emotions for life. But the point of God's love is that He wants them to change. He hates what they are doing and the affect it has on everyone else and themselves, too. Ultimately, if He is a good God, He cannot allow this sort of behavior, and that sort of person, if they do not change, remain forever in the party He’s throwing for His Son.
That is the point of the end of this story, which is otherwise very puzzling. Of course, within the story itself it sounds quite arbitrary. Where did all these other guests get their wedding costumes from? If the servants just herded them in, how did they have time to change their clothes? Why should this one man be thrown out because he didn't have the right thing to wear? Isn't that just a sort of social exclusion that the Gospel rejects?
Yes, of course, at that level. But that's not how parables work. The point of the story is that Jesus is telling the truth, the truth that political and religious leaders often like to hide; the truth that God's Kingdom is a Kingdom in which love and Justice and truth and mercy and holiness reign unhindered. They are the clothes you need to wear for the wedding. And if you refuse to put them on, you are saying you don't want to stay at the party. That is the reality. If we don't have the courage to say so, we are deceiving ourselves, and everyone who listens.
So, the moral of the parable is simple. God loves everyone, even those we think He shouldn’t. He wants those who treat others poorly or in evil ways to stop and come to know His love. We are all invited to the banquet of His love, but we can’t live Game of Thrones style of living. We must live in the radical love of Jesus. Yes, we believe Jesus is a super-love-hippy-dippy-flower-power-buddy, but we can’t wear the clothes of rapists, murderers, arrogant businessmen, etc. We must wear clothes of mercy, compassion and love. Now Jesus, turn some water into wine already; we’re ready for the banquet! (Make mine root beer, please.)
Let us pray.
We pray for the grace to be always worthy of the invitation of the kingdom of God and enjoy life everlasting at the table of his heavenly banquet. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for those who reject the Word of God, that the goodness and wonder of our Loving Father be revealed to them. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for ourselves, that with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we may discern what particular mission God is inviting us to, as baptized members of the People of God. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for the vulnerable in our society, particularly the sick and the elderly who continue to experience fear, loneliness and isolation during this pandemic crisis. We pray that they receive the care, support and encouragement which they need to protect their health at this difficult period. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for all in our country, that they show consideration and care for themselves and for others and abide strictly by the guidelines which our governments and healthcare professionals recommend to defeat the very contagious Covid-19 virus at this time. We pray to the Lord.
For a greater respect for human life. For children who are neglected or abused. For all people who confront prejudice or racism every day. For a deeper concern for those who are marginalized by society. For those who identify as LGBTQ that they may be accepted and treated the same as those who are not. For the aged and the terminally ill. May we appreciate the dignity and sacredness of every part of human life. We pray to the Lord.
For an increase of vocations for our small denomination. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may receive swift answers to their needs and that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
God our Father, strengthen our awareness and commitment to the mission which we have inherited through your gift of Baptism. Merciful Savior, the parable of the wedding banquet reminds us of your ever-gracious invitation to be part of your family, to receive the gift of your salvation, to respond to your call to follow you.
We confess that far too often we act like ungrateful guests. We allow other priorities to crowd you out. Our addiction to busyness leaves us no time to celebrate with you. We erect other gods that require our attention and loyalty. In our vain attempts to look "successful" we polish the veneer of our lives without attending to our deepest needs and longings, including our need and longing for you. Sometimes we get caught in Game of Thrones type of lives; help us to know that You are always beckoning us and will always welcome regardless of what we have done, because You love all your children and are ready to forgive us and lead us on a brighter path. Forgive us, we pray, and restore us to health and wholeness. May we always wear the clothes for the banquet of love. We ask all these things, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
We are beggars – These turbulent times are economically difficult for many, and as such, non-profits see reductions of donations to keep ministries open. We ask, if you are able, to donate and help us keep our progressive voice active in our community. God Bless You +++