Matthew 22:34–46 (NRSV)
The Greatest Commandment
(Mk 12:28–34; Lk 10:25–28)
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ’?
45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Last week we were faced with one of the hardest realities that we must face as followers of Christ. The idea that all that we have really is not ours is something very difficult to consider. That concept that I am sure most of us would rather not dwell on because it goes against much of what we have grown to accept in our cultural identity. There is a reason that it is necessary to bring that concept to light again and again as we traverse the pathway toward eternity, because only when we begin to recognize the reality of stewardship over ownership can we begin to see beyond ourselves to see the image of Christ that is in all people. That one concept defines who is Lord in your life, and I admit that I struggle with that concept daily. I want to own, I want to call something mine, I want to be in control of my own destiny, and to blaze the trail of my own life. I want to be lord… I want to be lord.
Do you see why this simple concept of stewardship verse ownership can be dangerous?
The Pharisees came to Jesus asking Him questions and testing His teachings against their understanding of the Law. They liked how He silenced their opponents in the influence over people. But they needed to determine if He should be considered an ally or an enemy. So one of their leaders, a person that knew the Law intimately, came forward and asked, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” This question is one that is very similar to the concept of ownership verses stewardship, because at the heart of the question is the idea of control and lordship. What commandment is most important? They ask this question so that I can make sure that one thing could be covered allowing them control over every other aspect of their lives. This question is very important and speaks deeply into the spiritual condition of the first century culture in which Jesus made His advent. There has been a shift from the traditional and historical understanding of faith to something a bit more secular. A few years ago we watched a video called, “Everything is Spiritual” and in that video we were given a view that in ancient Israel there was not a division between that that is spiritual and that that is natural. That true spirituality is holistic incorporating every aspect of who we are as human beings. But this question the Pharisees ask shows an emergence of the compartmentalized human. There is an emergence of an idea that one can separate out and personally own one aspect of our lives and still be considered holy as long as we follow the most important commandments. Where did this foreign concept come from and how did it gain ground among a people set apart for the glory of God? This concept came from the western world, the Greek and Roman influence over the people. This idea of a compartmentalized man comes from the polytheistic culture where one can live as you want as long as you bring sacrifices to the temple to appease the gods.
Jesus answers them saying, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Have you really considered what that command is actually saying? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind? In the Gospel of Mark and Luke the same conversation is recorded and they add one other phrase, “with all your strength.” This concept is not new to Jesus but has always been the law, a concept alluded to at least three times in Deuteronomy, but what does it really mean?
Love the Lord your God with all your heart. The concept of the heart is one with very deep spiritual significance, and there is a reason that it is the first in the list every time this concept is alluded to in scripture. The heart was seen as the center of the man, that core or the very essence of who you are. The heart is the rhythm or the beat to which your life revolves. The wisdom of Solomon says guard your heart with vigilance for from it flows the springs of life. Protect the heart, guard it with vigilance because that is the core or the source of who you are. Now they did not have the medical knowledge we have today, but they knew that there was something very important about the heart because when the heart stopped everything else did as well. The ancient understanding of the heart was that all or our hopes and dreams, our passions and our temptations came from that central beat of the heart. It was necessary to guard our heart not because it was the source of evil but because what we allow deep in the core of our being will be pumped throughout. Love the Lord your God with all your heart means make God central above everything else, allow the spirit of God to course through the veins and capillaries of your life, saturating every aspect of who you are. Letting the rhythm of God become the beat by which you live your life.
Love the Lord your God with all your Soul. The concept of the soul is one of spirit or breath. So love God with every breath. May the love of God will every word that we speak, and may the love of God be a fragrance that we inhale and exhale. It is the breath that connects us to the world around us, it is the air that is filled with the spirit of God from the ancient Jewish point of view. That is why the law required their clothing to have a fringe to represent a connection to the spirit that was surrounding them, plugging them into the essences of God.
Love the Lord your God with all your mind. The word translated as mind means thoughts, intentions, and purposes. So to love God with our mind means letting our all of our thought and actions be directed by the wisdom and spirit of God.
So Love the Lord your God with all your Heart, Soul, and Mind literally means every aspect of your life should be devoted to honoring God. Honoring God from your very core, your thoughts and actions and with how you connect with the world around you. Jesus is telling the Pharisees that they have corrupted the faith, they have brought in foreign concepts of religion into a lifestyle of devotion to God, and that the first thing that they must do is God back to the faith of their fathers. Live, breath, and become a holistic person made complete in the relationship with God.
We live in a culture that likes to compartmentalize our lives. We like to be able to have our business life, family life, religious life, social life each aspect of our life divided up into nice little boxes where that are easily managed. We like to be lord. Jesus is telling us that that kind of existence is contrary to the life God intends for us to live. That type of life is disconnected and dead, there is no rhythm, no breath, and no mind. This is the very thing that the early Friends saw when they rebelled against the Church of England, a life that was disconnected and compartmentalized. Where people could have facades that they would wear into the steeple houses that were religious and then a totally different face when they went out and lived the other six days of the week. So they said that all of life should be a sacrament, holy and devoted to God.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your Mind. But that is just the beginning. The Pharisees asked for the most important commandment, Jesus gave them two because they are connected. Love your neighbor as yourself. I want us to stop and consider this along with the idea of loving God with all that we have and are, and connect it to the concept of ownership and stewardship. If we are lord the core of what we do is devoted to building ourselves up, but if God is at the core of who we are then the things of God would then be the purpose of everything that we do. Last week Jesus taught us to give the emperor what is the emperor’s and what is God’s to God. It was mentioned last week during our time of open worship that the image of the emperor was stamped on the currency but the image of God is stamped on the human. That image is stamped on every human. So if God is at the core of all that we have then we give all that we have to honor His image that is in every human around us.
Think about that for a bit. Let the laws of God flow through your mind, the dietary laws, the laws about mildew on clothing and in buildings, and the laws of hospitality and fair treatment of even the aliens living among the tribes of Israel. Every aspect of the law is devoted to honoring and preserving the image of God that is present in every human life. Take care of the body, take care of the dwelling places, take care of those around you, honor God with everything that you have because all that you have is not yours but God’s, because everything we have is stamped with His image.
This leads us to a very difficult questions, do we do this? Do we nurture and feed that which is God in ourselves and honor that which is God in those around us, not that we ourselves are divine but because we have the image of God within us. Do we divide our lives up into nice little manageable portions in which we can lord over or do we allow the Spirit of God to course through our veins and become the very essence of who we are and what we do? Do we hoard up the things of this earth stamping our image on them and saying that they are our own or do we allow the image of God to seen on every aspect of who we are? Are we living our lives, every aspect of our lives, our work, family, our community, environment, and our faith, as a sacrament and sacrifice to God? Are we honoring the image of God in our neighbor, even if that neighbor is different than us in some way?
These are very tough questions and if we are honest we each would have to say no. No. Each one of us in some way has failed to love God completely. Each one of us has failed to allow God to completely weld every aspect of our lives together so that we can completely honor God and love our neighbor. But there is hope. Jesus came because we as humans cannot do this alone, all have fallen short, but Jesus who is fully human and fully God did it for us. He took on our humanity, lived the perfect human life for us so that those that call on his name can be joined into his humanity and stand complete before God, not by ourselves but in Him. And if we seek to join Him in His life He will empower us to be made more like Him, molding us to become the people we were created to be, complete in him to love God completely and to love our neighbor. We join Him in his life by making it our customer to worship to or to acknowledge that we are not God. By taking time to withdraw from our daily grind to join with him in prayer in an isolated place speaking to the Father and being filled and directed by the Spirit, breathing in the very breath of God and connecting with Him so that we can then be directed to love and to live the love of Christ with others. That rhythm of life, that holy rhythm shown to us by Jesus Himself is where we will find the strength and the power to live our lives as a sacrament fully devoted and saturated by God. It is in that lifestyle that we can be covered with the life of Jesus where it is not ourselves but Him that people will see, and we give back to God what is his.
Let us now enter into this time of open worship, seeking to Love God with all of our heart, and with all of our soul, and with all our mind, and be directed in how we can love our neighbor as ourselves.
Matthew 22:15–22 (NRSV)
The Question about Paying Taxes
(Mk 12:13–17; Lk 20:20–26)
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
There is an interesting phenomenon that happens in religious groups, something that happens with nearly every type of religious group no matter what the religion is. They make images of a god that meets their personal or corporate desires. In the pagan cultures there were gods of war, goddesses of love, gods of death, and gods of the harvest each of these gods represented facets of our human desires for hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. Around each of these gods cults developed with religious rites and activities that one could participate in to gain favor with whatever deity they needed help from. You may say but that is pagan, in our Judeo-Christian culture we do not have a pantheon of gods like that, we worship one God. There is a problem with that statement because often we focus on an aspect of God more heavily than other aspect and even in our monotheistic faith we have set up images of God that often resemble personal ideologies.
I bring this up because faith and culture seems to be highlighted in the media constantly. For many of us we find this to be a great comfort, for others we find it discouraging. Our response has a lot to do with the image of God that we have idolized. But guess what this is not new in the history of religion. Similar situations like the ones we find ourselves in today have cycled throughout history. It was a cycle such as this that brought about the emergence of the Religious Society of Friends from which our church is rooted, it was a cycle like this that brought about the reformation of the church in the days of Calvin and Luther, it was a cycle such as this that separated the east from the west, it was a cycle like this that the first century Jewish culture in which Jesus lived and ministered to found themselves. These cycles are uncomfortable, they make us question everything about our society and the future of the world as we know it, but it is during these cycles that God brings about a new era and revival.
God is about to do and is doing great things around us. The kingdom of God is about to expand in a way that will lead us into a new era of the Church. But as time cycles on those of us caught in the whirlwind of history are left wondering what He is about to do. We look at the world around us questioning if this is the end or a new beginning. The answer can be found in the image of God that you have based your faith.
The first century, in which Jesus lived, was a social and political hot spot, war was always electrifying the very air that the people breathed, thunder bolts striking at any random moment as the energy ignited. There were groups of people drawn together by common goals and ideas, each of these groups would argue and fight over which was right and if for a moment you did not toe the line you would become a threat and an enemy to the common good as seen in their eyes. In today’s passage we meet two of those groups, the Pharisees and the Herodians, but they are not the only two groups by any stretch of the imagination.
It is important to note these two groups because they are not often seen in the same circles. The Herodians were a faction of people within Israel that supported the royalty of the Herod family. This is important because we often see rule of Herod as being a puppet of Rome, so we often think of the Herodians as being those that supported the rule of Rome. But that is not exactly the full truth. This royal family can trace back to the rebellion of the Maccabees which brought the nation of Israel to independence for the first time since their exile in Babylon. Herod the Great gained this kingdom and title by marrying the last heir of the Hasmonean Dynasty. So although he was a king under the rule of Rome, those that supported his rule and the rule of his heirs were not exactly happy with their overlords, but sought an earthly kingdom of Israel.
The Pharisees are a group we are more aware of, but often our view of them is skewed. The Pharisees wanted to bring about a spiritual and pure nation devoted to the books of the Law and teachings of the prophets. They were missionaries that actually converted gentiles into the Jewish faith. The Herod family was one of those gentile families that converted. The Pharisees set up schools, built synagogues, and took the faith out of the temple and into the communities where people spent their daily lives. But they were strict in their teachings. If you were a member of their synagogues you had to follow strict rules or face consequences.
The Pharisees promoted a theocracy and the Herodians promoted a monarchy. The Pharisees promoted a kingdom based on their teachings, while the Herodians promoted a kingdom based on cultural heritage. Both opposed outside influences from the polytheistic empire that ruled over them.
These two groups usually at odds with each other found common ground in their opposition of Jesus, because Jesus did not meet either groups’ ideologies. So they decided to put Him to the test. Notice how they approach, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.” They acknowledge that there is truth in what Jesus has to say, yet they reject his teaching. This speak to the image of God that each of the groups hold. They say that He speaks truth because Jesus taught straight out of scripture, but he did not put the same twist on the words that they did. They did not know how to handle his indifference to their idolized images of God. Because He refused to judge people in the same way the Pharisees did He was seen as an enemy of God, and because he did not show partiality to position as the Herodians did again he was seen as an enemy of God. Each group had an image of what God regarded as important and what the anointed messiah would be. The problem with Jesus is that he did not fit in their image.
“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Remember this is a question from the first century not today. Although we can see parallels due to the cyclical nature of history. Is it lawful to pay taxes to a government that you oppose? The conversation continues, “’Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax. ‘And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’”
I want each of us to really contemplate this discourse, let it soak down into marrow of your being. This exchange speaks deeply to our image of God and His relationship with mankind. It leads us to question where we draw the line between what is holy and what is common. It speaks to our understanding of sacred and secular, spiritual and material. It asks, “Who is the lord of our lives.”
This was not an answer that they expected. Both groups wanted Jesus to take a political stance supporting an independent Israel, but Jesus stepped around the question and made them face the reality that their image of God was nothing more than an idol. Jesus looked them in the eyes and told them that their view of God was in error, that they were chasing after the things of man and totally missing what was important in the eyes of God.
So often we equate success and wealth with God’s favor, but it is what we do with what God has given us that matters. These two groups opposed the government that ruled over them, and justified their rebellion in their religious fervor, but what they were actually supporting was not Godliness but greed. That is why Jesus asked to see the coin, and that is why Jesus asked whose image was on the coin. They wanted to keep their worldly wealth to themselves maybe throwing some out into some charitable cause but ultimately they were living in rebellious greed. They wanted the benefits of living in a system that provided their wealth but rebelled against the demands that system required. We could sit on this for some time debating, but we need to move on.
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” What is the emperor’s and what is God’s? Our image of God, the image that so often times is skewed to justify our own actions, will dictate our answer to this question. But there is an inference In Jesus’ statement that is shocking, “You own nothing!” There can be only one ruler over mankind, man or God, and all that we are and all that we have belongs to one those rulers.
I know we do not like to hear that, especially in America. To speak those words makes me sound like a communist, but it is the truth. How can I say such a thing? I say this because where does all the fruit of our labors go in the end, we ourselves do not take anything with us when we go beyond the veil. All we have will be left to others.
We own nothing but are stewards. A steward in ancient cultures did not own the property they managed but was given the authority to make investments for their lord. So when Jesus says, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” He is asking, “Who is lord?” Are we ruled by the ways of man or are we ruled by God? Do we invest the wealth that has been entrusted to us in the things of man or do we invest in the things of God? Are we building empires of man or expanding the kingdom of God?
How are we answering those questions? Be careful because it may reveal something about our image of God. I hope that it has made us a bit uncomfortable. I hope that these words have caused us to consider, even for a moment, that we might be wrong. I hope that in that discomfort we will be driven to seek an answer.
These were the questions that those of first century faced, and they are questions that we face today. This is the very reason why Jesus came at that moment, because it is in moments like these that the answers shape the future for the next generations. Jesus came to reveal God to us. He came to show us what is important to God and how to live a holy rhythm with Him. He not only show us by the example He has given but provides for us the way to live that life, through Himself. And He is calling each of us to join Him in that life of worship, prayer, and service. Through that holy rhythm we discern how to invest in the kingdom though investing in the lives of the people He has called us to minister to. If we choose to neglect that rhythm we are then ruled by the empires of man.
We own nothing, but are stewards. Are we stewards of man’s empire or of the Kingdom of God? As we enter into a time of Holy Expectancy let us consider this, struggle with the discomfort that it gives us, and consider who our Lord really is. And as we answer that question, ask your lord for wisdom as you invest in the kingdom you choose to live.
Psalm 23 (NRSV)
The Divine Shepherd
A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Song: Be Still, My Soul, by Leigh Nash
Psalm 106:1–6 (NRSV)
A Confession of Israel’s Sins
1 Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Who can utter the mighty doings of the Lord, or declare all his praise?
3 Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times. Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people; help me when you deliver them; that I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory in your heritage.
6 Both we and our ancestors have sinned; we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.
Psalm 106:19–23 (NRSV)
19 They made a calf at Horeb and worshiped a cast image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 Therefore he said he would destroy them— had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
Song: Breathe, by The Brilliance
Philippians 4:1–9 (NRSV)
4 1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 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.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 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. 9 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.
Song: Hands and Feet, by The Brilliance
Matthew 22:1–14 (NRSV)
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
22 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 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.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 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.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 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.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Song: Open Up, by The Brilliance
There are few things more festive as a marriage. The celebration of marriage is a beautiful mystery that spiritually binds two people together as one, but it also extends bonds and roots of two families, and even communities forming connections that span through time and space. Yes I agree I might just be a little dramatic but marriage is an amazing things. In all of our discussions on divorce, premarital relationships, among others I think we often forget to express just how powerful and amazing marriage can and should be.
Because of this powerful symbolism marriage has been used as an illustration in many different faiths, but probably the most prominent of those illustrations comes through the symbolism of God and Israel. In most cultures marriage was performed as a business contract, or property transfer, but among the Jewish culture marriage was and still is a symbolic representation of the bond that binds the people of Abraham with God. Every aspect of their celebration from the canopy the bride and groom stand under, to the wine and the breaking of the glass point to this relationship between the people and their God. Every element of the ceremony has symbolic and deep theological meaning, but it does not stop with the ceremony. The feast is just as filled with meaning. The feast is where the community is strengthened and they celebrate the joining and hope of extension into the next generation. Often we forget just how powerful a good celebration can be to the spiritual health of a community. This is why Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding feast, and this is why Jesus uses the illustration of the feast to teach about the kingdom of God.
“The Kingdom of God can be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” Jesus begins. The Kingdom of God, the nation of Israel, the king and a wedding. It is often said that when the tribes of Jacob left Egypt and were waiting at the foot of the mount Horeb that the tribes were standing under the canopy of God’s presence while Moses received the law or the covenant, under that canopy the people of Israel were united to God. They were married to God, which is why so often the prophets of old speak of the adulterous nation that chases after other gods.
So we have a king giving a banquet, and he sends out his servants to call those invited in, but they would not come. He then sends the servant out another time to tell them that the dinner is ready. Before we think too ill of these people it is important to know that in ancient cultures they did not send out invitations like we do today for many reasons: 1. it would be extremely expensive and 2. Not everyone could read. They would send out servants first to tell them that the preparations were being made, so that those that were invited could prepare for the feast. Then when the animals were slaughtered and cooking they would send out the servants again to announce that the banquet is about to begin. At this time the entire community would come and celebrate. But this is the twist in Jesus’ story, instead of the community coming to the banquet they made light of the celebration, they continued to work on their farms, they went on selling their goods in the market place, and some out right refused violently.
This is where the story gets into the deeper meaning. The king has invited people to his son’s celebration and they refuse. Why, they have to run their farms, take care of their business, and be nasty to others. Jesus is saying the community is broken. The term community is an important one, it is a compound word built with common and unity. There is no unity in this area, they are all just out there doing their own things. They are so involved in their own lives that there is no room to celebrate the uniting of families and the expansion of their nation. This is something that our culture struggles with as well. Our culture is built on individualism, which is not always a bad thing, but it can become sinful if we become too focused on self and neglect those around us. All too often we use our busy schedules to neglect spending time with our families and our friends, and this same busyness often causes us to neglect the ones that need us the most. But Jesus does not find our busy schedules to be a legitimate excuse, in fact he condemns it. Those that reject the king’s invitation were found to be enemies of the state and their cities were burned to the ground.
This says quite a lot about the things we set up as priorities. I myself often struggle in this area, I have worked since I was in Jr. High on the farm, I feel like I must work, when I do not have things in my schedule I can become depressed and feel worthless. But as I walk further down the pathway of life with Christ I have found that it is those times that I invest in others that are the most meaningful. It is the times that I am not at work that the greatest memories are formed. Yet I still struggle in this area, and ask for prayer in this area of my own life.
The king in the story does not let the banquet wait though, he then sends out the servants a third time. This time he sends them out to the main streets or highways, out into the countryside to bring in anyone and everyone to celebrate the joy of his son’s marriage. The servants go out and they bring everyone, the good and the bad. Think about that for a moment. The ones that were considered worthy to be invited first were destroyed and then those considered unworthy were brought in, no strings attached, the good and the bad. Does that make us squirm just a bit? The good and the bad were brought in accepted as they were at that moment.
These people were brought into the new community, a community built around the king and his son, there is no regard for history, or current state. They are just accepted as they are and celebrate. As they come into the banquet the king treats them with the same respect as any invited guest to a wedding. They are each given a wedding robe. This is a custom that we may find odd, but it is very interesting. It is a symbol that all present in the celebration are equal. The wedding robe conceals everything that may be used to express personal pride. Think of it as a sort of uniform. When we wear a uniform, everyone in that uniform is equal, they are seen as employees of a company or as students of a particular school. The idea of a uniform is to provide equality, and to celebrate membership in some common group of people. The wedding robe is a symbol and expression of celebration for the one being married, it is to provide an equalizing factor to everyone around so that all attention can be directed to the ones being celebrated. It is a wonderful symbol.
But the king looks out at the guests and he finds one person that has refused to wear the robe. If everyone else was wearing a robe it would not be hard to spot the one person that was out of uniform. This one person is attracting attention to themselves instead of allowing the attention to be directed to the bride and groom. This is a powerful statement, although the guest is speechless before the king the judgment is swift, the guest is removed from the community.
This is a powerful story. The judgment of those that refuse to participate in the feast of fierce and for the one that is not covered by the wedding robe it is just as harsh. Jesus finishes this parable by saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Those are strong words, they scream out at us that our lives are not to be our own, but that every aspect of it should be focused on one thing, to bring honor to the son of the king. How well do we do that? We speak about being clothed in righteousness and being covered by the armor of God, but do we actually allow that to happen in our lives? When people look at us do what do they actually see?
This is the very reason why the early Friends distilled our expressions of faith down to the very simplest form possible, because every aspect of our life should reflect the light of Christ. Every word that we say should be of simple speech not filled with flattery but truth and equity. That our attire should be simple and modest, not to attract attention to ourselves but so that it would not distract from Christ in us. That worship should focus on the very core properties of faith, true words and actions.
Many are called to Christ, but only a very few will choose to live for Christ. We live in a culture that focuses and takes pride in individualism which is contrary to the call of Christ. The call remains, it is given to the good and the bad, the honorable and the disgraced will you come to the banquet of the son, or will you let the things of this distract us from the celebration? The chose is ours, we can come in common unity or we can stay focused on ourselves. All those things that we find so important will be burned to the ground and the memory left to blow like dust in the wind. It is the community that is important, it is the expansion of the kingdom to the next generations, it is the binding of families though time and space that we should celebrate, it is the marriage of God to the people that should be our desire, clothed in the wedding robes that are Jesus. God Himself taking on human form to live among us and for us. Who take our goodness and our failings and wraps himself around us so that all that can be seen is his glory. Let us be that kind of a community. A community built on unity and equality in Christ: loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the love of Jesus with others around us (the good and the bad.)
Open Worship: A time of holy expectancy, where we as Friends commune with God in Prayer and silence expecting to hear His voice and answer His call to speak or act.