Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What if?: Year A, Ordinary 28

This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Exodus 32:1-14 or Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 or Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

For worship resources, scroll to bottom of post.

This Week's Reflection:
Hold on to your hats. It is one of THOSE weeks. Seems like God gives us lots of THOSE weeks. The gospel text this week is that story Jesus tells about the wedding banquet that no one wanted to attend. This is Matthew's version which doesn't end with everyone being invited, but with the king finding someone dressed improperly. Upon finding the man not wearing a wedding garment, the king throws him out to where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

A few weeks ago, one of the oldest members in my congregation came to me asking me what to make of this same parable. He was flabberghasted by a Jesus story in which "the good and bad" would be invited in and then end with someone being punished for not dressing properly. Being the seminary trained scholar that I am, I answered his questions with the profound statement, "Well, I just don't know. It is hard to understand, isn't it?" I'm sure that was extremely helpful to him!

What are we to make of this parable? There are plenty of biblical scholars who could explain this to the church member, I'm sure, and have it make perfect sense. I've read some of them. The king is God. Those refusing to come to the banquet are those who were hostile toward Jesus. The king opens the doors to EVERYONE, but the man who came dressed improperly didn't put his whole being into answering that call. God extends to us this grace, but we do have to bring our all to the table.

Let's take a little detour for a moment. I had a conversation with a scholar once about the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). For my entire life, the only way I had read that parable was as if it was a call to each of us to do the very best with what God has given us. But, this scholar pointed out that the servant who simply buries the one talent, returning only that and no more to the master, says that the master is harsh and takes what does not belong to him. This doesn't sound like God, does it? Suddenly my eyes were opened to a new interpretation about a servant standing up against an unjust system, someone who was willing to risk his life in order to say to the master, "No more. You steal from the poor and take what does not belong to you. I will not help you do it." Guess what happens to that guy? He is thrown out to where "there is weeping and gnashing of teeth."

So, I'm finding myself looking at this wedding feast parable from Matthew and wondering if there is another way to read it. In fact I wish I access to that scholar right now so I could ask his opinion. What if we get so caught up in the opening line, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared . . ." that we mistakenly believe that Jesus wants us to think of the king as God? What if, and I have to ask it as a question because I truly do not know, but what if what Jesus is really talking about in this parable is an uprising of the people against a ruthless leader? Do you know what happens in the text immediately following this? It is when the Pharisees come in an attempt to trap Jesus and ask about paying taxes. Are you with me here? What if Jesus tells a story about the people finally saying, "We've had enough!" and the Pharisees hear and understand so they come to question where his allegiances lie?

If these are valid questions and a different reading is appropriate for our congregations, what does it mean for us? Where is the good news? Who is saying "For many are called, but few are chosen?" Is that the character of the king in the story Jesus is telling? Or is that Jesus? What if it is the king and Jesus is trying to contrast the ways of the world, the ways of an evil system, that seek to keep common folk down, to the ways of God?

The prophet Isaiah says, "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 . . ." What if the lesson for this week is that God does not stand with the powerful? What if the lesson for this week is that God does not stand with the ruthless nations?

These are, as a dear friend of mine would call them, "real questions." I don't know what I think about it all, but I do think there is further exploration to be done here. The Exodus text is the story of the Israelites building the golden calf, something that other scholars say was not necessarily a replacement for God, but a replacement for Moses who had disappeared and they feared would never come back. For them, Moses was the very representation of God. Without Moses, they felt lost. So, they created something that would stand in for Moses as the representation of God (another way of looking at a text that I never thought of before!). Is it too much to make comparisons this week between that golden calf and the Wall Street Bull as demonstrators Occupy Wall Street in an effort to stand up to what they believe is an oppressive system?

Just for argument's sake: The kingdom of God is like a righteous people who stand up to what is wrong in the world, fight for "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable," as Paul writes, "if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

This Week's Artwork:
(in order of appearance in reflection)
The Wedding Feast by Nelly Bube
Question Mark
Asking the Right Questions by Jim LePage
Philippians by Jim LePage 
golden calf idol courtesy of  Dwelling in the Word
wall street bull by O. Viera

This Week's Resources:

Call to Worship:
One:  What if, God?
Many:  What if we admitted that we can't possibly comprehend you?
One:  What if, God?
Many: What if we read scriptures as if we are in conversation with you?
One:  What if, God?
Many:  What if we relinquished our hold on our idols?
One:  What if, God?
Many:  What if we focus on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable?
All:  What if, God? What if we truly worship you today?