Read Matthew 22: 1 – 10 and Philippians 4: 1 – 9
You never tire of us, and keep on inviting us deeper and deeper into your grace. We want to be people who respond warmly to your unconditional love, so nudge us again today Lord God, melt away our puny excuses, and draw us close to your heart.
May your Holy Spirit so overcome us this day that my words may be your words, and our thoughts your thoughts,
We pray in the name of our Risen Saviour, Jesus Christ,
The parable of the Wedding Banquet that we’ve read today from Matthew is found in Luke’s Gospel. In Luke, in chapter 14, the host is a rich man, the invited guests make excuses, and in the end the host sends out servants to gather in the poor and disabled beyond the city from the roads and lanes. This emphasises Luke’s call to the Gentile world, to all those who weren’t Jews.
In Matthew’s Gospel that we’re focusing on today, the host is the King, the invited guests attack the servants, the King retaliates by destroying the city, and there is the incident of the guest not wearing the proper garments. (We’re leaving aside today some of those tricky dimensions of this story as told by Matthew till an occasion when we have more time.
The parable is an allegory of Israel’s spiritual indifference to the invitation to feast in God’s kingdom – they killed the messengers of the Covenant, and the prophets of Israel were ignored time and time again– but the warning is that judgement day is at hand.
Matthew’s parable is harsher than Luke’s but then it comes later in Jesus’ ministry at a time Jesus was facing severe opposition from the Jewish leaders. The parable follows the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and immediately precedes Jesus’ teaching on the signs of the end times delivered on the Mount of Olives. This parable needs to be understood in the context of Jesus’ imminent suffering and sacrifice.
But back to the parable itself……..The banqueting hall was filled with people from all walks of life – the rich and the downtrodden. In Matthew’s time that would have been unheard of – they were politically and socially separated from one another, but he focuses on the ingathering of the bad and good alike, just as he does in the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30).
What would it mean for our church today to be gathering in on a Sunday morning the men and women sleeping rough on our streets, the couch-surfers; the “hung over from the night before”, the shut-ins, the mentally and emotionally challenged in our community.
What chaos! What joy! Everyone living life to the full! No worrying about which rung anyone’s reached on the social ladder!
A wedding is a great social occasion. These days they can become very expensive occasions also – so to receive an invitation is a great honour.
Brides, especially and those organising the wedding spend hours and hours making elaborate preparations, and emotions can flare!
In 2011 I had 3 weddings booked in to conduct at the end of February and beginning of March in mid-Canterbury, and although fortunately those 3 venues were all fine to use, one bride had her cake destroyed at a bakery in Christchurch, and another had to trespass through a cordon and sweet talk a policeman to rescue her wedding dress from an up market boutique in the city.
We all get dressed in our very best, and mainly, but not always, people also put on their best behaviour. According to Middle Eastern custom, the guests would have been invited and would have replied early on advising that they would attend what we call now the wedding reception. But the extra dimension to hospitality in that time and place meant that servants of the master who was hosting the feast would be sent out once all the preparations had been made to escort the guests to the wedding. It was at this point in Jesus parable as told by Matthew that the guests spilled out their multiple and lamentable excuses for missing out on the promised joy.
This parable reminds us that the invitation of God is to a feast as joyful as a wedding. God’s invitation is to joy. To think of Christianity as a gloomy giving up of everything which brings laughter and sunshine and happy fellowship is to mistake its whole nature. It is to total joy that we are invited as Christians; and if we refuse that invitation, we miss out on the joy.
The apostle Paul guides us in his encouraging words to the Philippian church, the first church that he had established on European soil, at Philippi, in the Roman province of Macedonia. Paul reminds us that true joy, in Christ, sparks gentleness, peace, and thanksgiving. Paul commands us to rejoice! Again, how surprising this is, coming from the horrors of a Roman prison. The reason is not difficult to find: “The Lord is near.” Paul expects the imminent return of Christ, who will put all things right. But as we see throughout his letter, Paul also experiences the nearness of God in Christ, even in his present captivity. So he commands us to rejoice.
And since we are often overcome with anxieties that get in the way of rejoicing, he tells us to pray in everything, bringing everything, no matter how trivial or how insurmountable, to the God who loves us. We cannot generate freedom from anxiety by our own efforts; the attempt only pushes the anxiety underground, where it festers and can lead to deep despair. But Jesus will meet us at the place of worry, because Jesus has descended to the depths of human despair. Therefore God has become for us the God whose peace “guards” our minds and hearts. Paul tells us to focus our minds on what is true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise. Is this just an exercise in positive thinking? If it wasn’t for the resurrection of Jesus, that would be the case. But Paul is holding two realities in view at the same time.
Yes, there is the immediate reality of a world in which human beings are constantly at war somewhere, in Syria, in the Ukraine, in the drug dens of Rio de Janeiro, betraying one another, brutally suppressing each other in order to get ahead, and denying human rights. This was true of the Roman Empire, and it is true today. Every day we hear and see a culture that focuses on what is false, dishonourable, unjust, impure, and shameful. We begin to think that to act hopefully in such a world is unrealistic.
But Paul also sees another reality, and it is the reality that means we can look to the future with hope. That is the reality of God’s redemption, already here and still drawing near. Training our minds to think of this reality, and thereby to act with hope, is a daily mental discipline. For such a discipline, we need to experience the counter reality of God’s rule in the midst of tangible human relationships. Paul offers his own relationship with the Philippians as just such a tangible counterweight to the temptation of despair and negative thinking. Creation
And we can do the same here, with the presence of Jesus among us. Because Jesus died and rose again for us, our relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ don’t’ need to bear all the hallmarks of competition, selfishness and greed that we see around us. We are, as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5: 17, a “new creation in Christ.” Therefore when people come to know us as a group of the people of God here in Mornington we would expect and hope that they would notice a difference in the way we treat one a reflection of the another, and care for those around us. The way we love, think, speak and treat one another is a reflection of the unconditional love of our Father God who gave everything for us.
For Paul is promising that the outcome of these habits of heart and mind is “peace that surpasses all understanding.” Written from jail, by a man under threat of capital punishment at the hands of a brutal and corrupt regime, these are extraordinary promises.
But Paul sees a different reality alongside the violence and duplicity of Rome. The small and struggling Christian congregation in the Roman colony of Philippi is itself a kind of “colony,” a separate polis,’ a city’ with an all-powerful Lord who alone has defeated death. Confident, therefore, in the ultimate victory of the God of peace, he encourages us to have quiet minds and hopeful hearts.
Let’s put our skates on then, and run joyfully into the waiting arms of our loving Father God. To him be all the glory.
Lord, may we always know the joy of living in your presence. Help us, we pray, to grow in the expectation of seeing you face to face in your everlasting kingdom, in Jesus, Amen