Above: Parable of the Great Banquet, by Jan Luyken (1649-1712)
Of God, Banquets, and Guests
The Sunday Closest to October 12
Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
OCTOBER 9, 2011
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #1
Exodus 32:1-14 (New Revised Standard Version):
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, `These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, `It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, `I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures for ever.
2 Who can declare the mighty acts of the LORD
or show forth all his praise>
3 Happy are those who act with justice
and always do what is right?
4 Remember me, O LORD, with the favor you have for your people,
and visit me with your saving help;
5 That I may see the prosperity of your elect
and be glad with the gladness of your people,
that I may glory with your inheritance.
6 We have sinned as our forebears did;
we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.
19 Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb
and worshiped a molten image;
20 And so they exchanged their Glory
for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.
21 They forgot God their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt,
22 Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham,
and fearful things at the Red Sea.
23 So he would have destroyed them,
had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach,
to turn away his wrath from consuming them.
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #2
Isaiah 25:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):
O LORD, you are my God;
I will exalt you, I will praise your name;
for you have done wonderful things,
plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
For you have made the city a heap,
the fortified city a ruin;
the palace of aliens is a city no more,
it will never be rebuilt.
Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;
cities of ruthless nations will fear you.
For you have been a refuge to the poor,
a refuge to the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.
When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,
the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,
you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;
the song of the ruthless was stilled.
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited on him, so that he might save us.
This is the LORD for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
Psalm 23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Philippians 4:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):
My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
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.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Matthew 22:1-14 (New Revised Standard Version):
Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, `Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, `The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, `Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, `Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Canaanite mythology held that, after the apocalypse, the storm god Baal will become become king of the pantheon after defeating Yamm, the god of chaos waters. So Baal will hold a great banquet on a mountain, but the forces of chaos will reassert themselves and Mot, the god of death, will swallow up Baal and take him to the underworld.
I repeat this story because it is the foundation upon which our reading from Isaiah 25 is based. One of the strategies of Biblical authors was to rewrite the mythology of others. We see it in the first creation story and in the Noah’s ark saga, for example. In this case, YHWH hosts the banquet and destroys death on the mountain. One way of making the case of YHWH’s supremacy and greatness was to contrast YHWH with weaker deities from the pantheons of the competition.
Paul and the author of Psalm 23 remind us that we have no reason to fear if we are on God’s side, for,as Paul writes, “God is near.” The nearness of God can be frightening, too, depending on one’s self and one’s circumstances, but Paul, in this case at least, finds it ennobling. Since God is near, we ought to trust in God, be gentle, and pursue noble enterprises. We need not react defensively because God is our defender. Often we commit our worst deeds out of anger and defensiveness. In these circumstances we lash out against against and insult each other. We might even use violence against each other. These are not loving and noble ways of acting.
I have been reading and struggling with Anabaptist Biblical ethics. The Anabaptists are pacifists, of course. My inner Menno Simons is a pacifist, but my inner Reinhold Niebuhr is a realist with an uneasy conscience. Can I love my neighbor and rejoice in his execution or the bombing of his village or city? No, of course not. The late Robert S. McNamara, in The Fog of War, a brilliant documentary, says that we humans need to think seriously about how much evil we must do in order to do good. Yet, I wonder, how much evil does one commit before one has condemned one’s self to Hell? And what would Jesus do? What would Jesus say about any given situation, based on what we have in the canonical gospels? I leave myself and you, O reader, with questions, not answers, in these matters. I intend to continue to struggle with these matters, and I invite you to do likewise.
The original audience of the Gospel of Matthew consisted of Jewish Christians (in the 80s C.E.) living at the margins of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. These were involuntarily marginal people, and the parable reflects their displeasure with their circumstances. The social custom was to issue two invitations, the second of which consisted of, ” We are ready now, so come now.” Know then, that everybody who refused to attend the wedding banquet had previously announced his or her intention to attend. These are stand-ins for the Jews who have not become Christians. The servants who round up people on the streets are missionaries and the replacement guests are Christians. But some of these servants meet with martyrdom and murder. Finally, at the banquet itself, one man has not attended in the proper attire. This was a sign of disrespect, so the king had him removed.
This is a difficult story, but understanding the post-Jewish War context of the writing of the Gospel of Matthew helps explain much about it. How much of the story comes from Jesus and how much comes from Matthew? The scholars can sort out that question to their hearts’ content. I, meanwhile, care about the devotional side of the text.
In Luke 9:51 Jesus “sets his face toward Jerusalem.” Shortly afterward, in 9:57-62, unnamed people offer excuses why they will not follow him. So, in 9:62, Jesus says,
No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
That was what the originally invited wedding guests did. They said “yes” the first time but “no” the second. They put their hands to the plow then looked back. But the banquet would be full one way or another.
Here we have the intersection of judgment and mercy once again. May we be on God’s side, by grace, without excuses, and lacking undue defensiveness which detracts from the love of Christ.
Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on May 2, 2011