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.”
The Question about David’s Son
(Mk 12:35–37; Lk 20:41–44)
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.
If you were to know the one thing, the secret to life, or the revelation of the mystery if the universe how excited would you be? Would you share this knowledge with others or would it be something you would keep to yourself?
For the past couple of weeks, we have been hearing the teaching and parables of Jesus during his last week of ministry. The religious leaders, government officials and everyone of importance in the political spheres of Jerusalem were present, listening, and testing Jesus.
They were testing him for a very good reason. They had set up a lucrative religious tourism business surrounding the temple. There were sacrificial animals to be bought, temple currency to be exchanged everything a person would need to make their worship experience complete. And Jesus came in and trashed the place. Their entire religious system was threatened. The very core of the Jerusalem economy was threatened. Who gave this traveling preacher the authority to cause such a disruption?
The Pharisees, Sadducees, the Herodians, the lawyers, and everyone that profited from this system joined together to challenge Jesus. One by one the challenges fell. Each one was redirected or a clever parable was given to show not only the answer but the hypocrisy of the religious leaders.
Each group sent in their champions. It was an epic battle of the minds like that of David and Goliath. Each champion fell short before Jesus. So today they send in the lawyers. Consider this for a moment. They sent in the theologians the ones that knew the scriptures and the implications of each interpretation. Each major group challenged Jesus attempting to cause Jesus to speak in some way that they could discredit him publically. Each group challenged using key arguments from each denominational tradition. They even attempted to prove that Jesus was attempting to start a revolutionary movement against the Roman Empire. Each of those movements failed to corner Jesus, so now they send in the lawyers to place Jesus up against the one thing all the groups agree on, the law provided to them through Moses.
This shrewd lawyer stands before Jesus and asks, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” According to the religious traditions this is a very loaded question. The teachings of all the major denominations of the first century Jewish faith make no distinction between the laws. Each is equally important and to break one is to break them all. We often feel that this is the teaching of Jesus alone but it was the common understanding. By asking Jesus this question this lawyer was attempting to corner Jesus by some indication that he would place moral or ceremonial law above another. Which the religious leader could then use to challenge Jesus’ authority before the people. Which commandment is greatest.
The interesting thing is Jesus did not even hesitate with this answer. He did not make any comment about the intelligence of the challenger, he simply answered the question. “’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.’”
Without hesitation Jesus gave this answer. This answer is what scholars say is the closest thing to the creed of the Jewish faith, because it is the Shema. “Hear O Israel the Lord your God is one. You shall love the lord with all heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Jesus then say, “the second is like it: ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
When we look at this we might say Jesus gave two commands not one. But this is one of the weird things about language, when Jesus said the second is like he is saying that the first commandment, the creed of Israel, is equivalent or the same as the second statement. To love God is to love your neighbor and to love your neighbor is to love God.
If we were to look at all Jesus’ teachings, they would all center on this same theme. Jesus goes on to say that all the law and teachings of the prophets hang on this. The entire law, every statement of the prophets from Moses to Jeremiah, from Daniel to John the Baptist, and to Jesus himself revolve or are dependent on these things. Life with God depends on love for and to God and to humanity or all of creation.
Everything we believe or say we believe hinge on this one thing self sacrificial love. It is active participatory love. It is building and restoring relationships. Every thing about the Christian life revolves around loving God and humanity. There is no room for hate, because every person is created in the image of God so to hate anyone is to hate the image possessed by that person.
Let that sink in for a moment. Do we live that way? Do we actively show love to our neighbors? Or even a more revealing question, do we live ourselves as image bearers of God?
In that one statement Jesus shut down the lawyer’s attempt to trap him. Leaving the lawyer without any fuel to continue the fight. If all the law, both moral and ceremonial hinge on this statement what else is there? This is the exact defense that any lawyer would give if asked. So, the lawyer faded back into the crowd of religious leaders who were still gathered close by.
Jesus looks up and seeing no further test he poses one to them, “What do you think of the messiah? Whose son, is he?” This question probably caught the leaders off guard. They were discussing everything from theology to politics, and then Jesus asks this seemingly simple question, a question that even the youngest boy in Hebrew school could answer. Whose son is the Messiah. It is obvious that the king would be from the line of David. This is an established fact that was confirmed through the words and actions of the prophets of old. This is the reason the kept track of their linages especially if they happen to have a heritage from the royal line. Suddenly the leaders are caught off guard, they wonder and search their minds to see If maybe they had missed something in their learning. Did they overlook something important? Jesus then says, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord…”
They are silenced. How can the promised king of the linage of David be the Lord of David? This turns all of history upside down. David looked toward the promised messiah as his Lord while the contemporaries of Jesus were looking back. David looked forward with great anticipation knowing that the glory of Israel is in the future. He is humbled to be used by God to be one of the men who would participate in this great linage but he knows that it is in this promised king that glory resides. David in the Spirit wrote in a psalm, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’.” Imagine that statement in your mind. David the great king of Israel, has some vision of glory and he sees God speaking to David’s Lord. God and this anticipated king are speaking together face to face, and God asks him to sit with Him at his right hand. Then God says that he will place all the Lord’s enemies under his feet. Even this psalm shows that the anticipated kingdom is not exactly what we as humans imagine. God is the one that is going to do the work. The enemies are going to be put under the Lord’s feet not by the military might of a king but by God. And the Lord that David speaks of is Lord not by his earthly power but by his relationship with God and through that relationship, humanity.
Whose son is the Messiah? What command is greatest? What is our purpose? What is the secret of life and the revelation of the mysteries of the universe? It is all summed up in one word, love. This one word is the active self-sacrificing care given to others. We give our all to God, we give our all to serve those that God loves. Everything else in static and clutter. It is just money changing tables set up in the courts of the temple. It is not about you or me but us and God. Are we doing all we can to encourage others? Are we doing all we can to honor God? If we do that the psalm tells us that all the enemies we perceive will be put under our feet. This is through God’s action not our own. Our action is to give self sacrificially to the care of all those around us.
After Jesus spoke these things the religious leaders were speechless. They did not dare to answer Jesus’ questions or ask another of their own. Jesus would then leave the temple, and teach the people about the hypocrisy of these religious leaders. These leaders that know so much yet know nothing. With all their knowledge they missed the most important things of life. It is not about the shows of success, it is not even about success. Life is simply about loving. It is about the intentional care we give to those God brings to us at this moment. As we enter into this time of open worship let us focus on that secret of life. It is not about what we get but what we give. The measure of success is how well we love.
Sermon by Jared Warner
Presented at Willow Creek Friends Church, Kansas City MO on October 29th, 2017
Love Lets Go of Power, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55273 [retrieved October 28, 2017]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/taniwha/7186824/.
The Question about Paying Taxes
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.
The more I read the gospels the more I love Jesus. The teachings he gives through his parables continue to enlighten my thinking. It seems that each time I read them they hit me with something new. Maybe it is because I understand a bit more, maybe it is because the events surrounding me at that moment are such that it garners a unique perspective, or maybe I am just easily amused. No matter what it is, I love Jesus more today than I did a year ago.
The past few weeks we have encountered parables that Jesus spoke at the temple the last week of his ministry. He came into to Jerusalem and the crowds surrounding him began to shout and cheer, they grabbed palm branches and removed their coats and laid them on the ground before Jesus who was riding into town on a donkey. They shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” The crowds were jubilant and uncontainable, causing the religious leaders to beg Jesus to quiet them down.
Jesus did not quiet them down, instead he walked into the temple courts and began to throw tables, and release animals. He began to scold the religious leaders, telling them that they had made his Father’s house a den of robbers. After which he proceeded to teach the crowds with parables and healing those who needed divine encouragement.
For nearly a week the religious leaders had listened to Jesus’ parables, all the while they stewed and fretted in the background. Jesus compared the Kingdom, the kingdom they all longed for in ways they had not considered. They envisioned a kingdom like the kingdom they recalled from the annual of history. A great and mighty king who would bring economic prosperity to the land, one that would bring military victory, and a restoration of the palace and temple government. The kingdom Jesus says is like a vineyard, what? The kingdom is like a landowner? No, they are thinking, that is not the kingdom. The kingdom is power and domination, not a vineyard. The kingdom is not a land owner with mouthy kids.
Jesus then tells them another parable, “the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a wedding banquet a king has prepared for his son.” We might remember this from last week. The king threw this massive party with fat calves, and oxen. Remember these are plural, a fat calf can feed a family for a year and there are multiple calves plus oxen. Tons of meat. This is a party larger than anything any of us have ever attended. Well maybe you have attended something like that but the largest party I have attended was a hog roast with two hogs, and that fed an entire county. But let us remember this banquet, invitations were sent out and those that were invited said they would attend but when the time came they had excuses. The king sent servants out two times and these invited dignitaries made light of the refusal and others treated the messengers with violence and murder. The resulting actions was that the king annihilated the community, burning the city to the ground. He then sent servants out to gather the common people from the streets.
I want us to consider this parable again this week, because it ties into the question posed to Jesus by the Pharisees. Who is invited to royal weddings? Those that were invited would be the elite of a nation, the most well-connected government officials, and many leaders from other nations. To attend a royal wedding would be an honor. To be invited to such an even would be a testimony of the power and influence you had within a nation. To be invited to any wedding is a testimony of the importance you or your family has in the lives of an individual, and to restrict any person from the mailing list is a painstaking endeavor.
The king invited everyone he thought was important to this event, and each of them accepted at first, but then rejected the king. This is more than a simple something came up and I cannot attend. This was an all-out rejection of the power and authority of the king. We might think Jesus was being a bit dramatic when the king sent out his army, but this parabolical kingdom was on the brink of a civil war. They were rejecting their king, they rejected his authority. Not only the people of his own nation but those outside the allies and enemies alike viewed this king with little or no importance to them. This dynasty was facing extinction and the king did what he thought was required to preserve his nation.
We live in a world of nations and we live in our own nation. We take pride in our heritage and what that means to us and to the world. We are concerned with anything that might threaten our national honor. We might consider that parable as a simple story but consider the outrage many have over football players kneeling during the national anthem? Many perceive dishonor and they shut out any discussion or debate. Yet Jesus in this story has taken it even deeper, it is not just a perception of dishonor but a reality. They looked at the king’s servants and they laughed and even killed the messengers. This would not be football players sitting during the anthem but every senator, every representative, every governor, every state representative and senator in every state, and the prime minister of Canada not even taking the time to show up.
Let that sink in while we listen to the question of the Pharisees again. “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?”
What are they really asking? These religious leaders and the crowds, were looking forward to the restoration of an independent nation of Israel, under the linage of David. For a brief period following the return from exile and after the conquest of Alexander the Great, they were free from overlords. But with the rising threats from their neighbors they asked Rome for help, they willingly entered an alliance with the Emperor with the promise of protection. They gave away their freedom for security. Now after a lifetime living within this alliance, they decided that maybe it is not working out as well as they had hoped. Unfortunately for them they no longer have any say. Rome had efficiently moved into this nation and gained dominance. Portions of the nation were given to them by the family of Herod and other portion were annexed outright because of the inability of the king to keep order. Rome did not conquer Israel until after Jesus’ life, until the Jewish wars which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the relationship between Rome and Judea was basically like that of the European Union, except to be included in this alliance there were certain tributes that would need to be collected and paid.
Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor? The nation of Israel had benefited from the protection and economic security of the empire. They had moved from a tiny nearly powerless nation under the constant threat of defeat and exile, to be a semi stable tribute state. If they were to stop paying the taxes to Rome they would lose their protection, they would lose their economic stability and would again face the threat of imperial conquest. At times ideology does not see the picture clearly. Jesus prophetically spoke in the parable what would happen if they did the very thing this question implied. The king would come in and level the city and place others in the seats of power that the religious leaders currently enjoyed.
Jesus calls them out. He calls them hypocrites. Because they like to sit around enjoying the benefits of the empire yet are asking can we some how religiously justify evasion. Rome had built road, aqueducts, provided security forces all at the request of the people. And now they ask Jesus can we stop paying the taxes. They knew full well that if they stopped they would be signing their nation’s death. But could they get rid of this thorn in their side by saying that he was the one that was calling for this revolution?
Let us look again at their question. They begin by 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.” They recognize that Jesus is sincere, and speaks truth. They themselves cannot argue with the words that he speaks. They just do not like what he said because it does not give them any prestige. Jesus calls them hypocrites because he can see they are trying to trap him. He knows that they could care less about the religious ramifications of their question and have no real intent on doing anything but profit from any unpaid taxes. Jesus asks them to give him a coin for the tax, so the give it to him. Whose face is it on that coin and whose title? Why does this matter? The coin was minted under the direction of the Emperor, the metal from which the coin was minted belonged to the emperor. The very source of their wealth and profit was under the system and currency of the emperor. They are standing in the temple courts with over a day’s worth of wages in their pockets asking can we get away with not paying the emperor taxes. Jesus tells them this money this tool of the economy is the emperor’s it is his money, if he wants it give it to him.
If the government wants our money they have every right to it. It is theirs their name is printed on it. It does not have my name or your name on it, and it we were to write our name on the currency we have committed a crime. We might say but it is our money, we earned it. But the reality is that the actual currency is the property of the government. The actual value of the currency is not the number printed but the amount of energy it produces when it is burned. Which is approximately 12.44 BTU per bill, and if it is converted to electricity it would run a hair dryer for a couple of seconds. Jesus says give the Emperor what is the emperor’s give to God what is God’s.
What are the things that a government cannot take from you? They cannot take your mind, they cannot without force take your labor. They can value or devalue the currency all they want but we are still human, we are not made in the image of a dollar, we are not made in the image of a government, but we are made in the image of God. Humanity is God’s. Every human being on the face of this earth has value because they are made in the image of God. God transcends all governments because he created the very land which they lay claim, he created the resources that they value, and he created the people who utilize and manipulate those resources for mutual profit of all. Money the currency we pay taxes with is merely a tool. When we value the tool more than those that wield the tool we have become a lover of money and have placed that tool above God.
The church at one time had to come to an understanding of this. At a time in our history no one could use currency within the empire without giving the emperor honor and worship. Those that followed Jesus refused to worship a man, so they could not buy or sell good, they did not have access to the tools of the economy. Yet during that time they survived. Those that had land to grow food offered their produce to the church for the good of the people within it. They shared what they had each offering their labor and gaining their bread. They used the abilities that they had the things that God had gifted them with to serve each other. And they survived and even grew in number and influence.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were asking can we use our faith to deny the government what it requires to function while still benefiting from it’s services? Jesus says shut up you hypocrites. They easily produced on a coin worth a day’s labor, a coin that would be used to pay the tax, they readily had available to them in a purse and abundance of currency. Currency the obtained under the system they enjoyed and profited from yet they are asking can we keep more for ourselves, and by doing so bringing the threat of war to the entire nation. The question they should be asking is how can we honor the image of our God, those around us? How can we through this tool the empire gives us access to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit and live the love he shows us to others more fully.
There is much to consider in just one question. A question that is just as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago. A question that causes us to consider what and who we truly live for. It is one where the answer we give can lead to vastly different conclusions but one thing remains humanity. If we do not pay the taxes are we willing to provide the services to those in our household along with all the employees that serve us? Are we willing to honor all people as bearers of God’s image if they come into our community with no partiality? Will we use all the gifts God has given us to benefit the kingdom? And are we willing to enable those around us to use their gifts more fully? It is easy to answer some of these questions, but like most they compound. But what remains is will we love God, embrace the Holy Spirit and live the love of Christ with others no matter what our circumstances may be.
 Whitcombe, Todd (2005, November 3). Re: How many btu are there in a dollar bill? (Or a piece of paper?). Retrieved from http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/2005-11/1131041118.Ph.r.html
Sermon by Jared Warner
presented at Willow Creek Friends Church
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.”
The past few weeks we have been looking a bit deeper into the series of parables that Jesus used while teaching in the last week of his earthly ministry. In Matthew chapter twenty-one, we see what we now call Jesus’ triumphal entry which is followed shortly after by Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. Where Jesus basically becomes the incredible Hulk raging against the worship/business complex. After this Jesus teaches in the courts of the temple each day and while he teaches he performs many healings for those in need. The religious leaders confront Jesus demanding to know who gave him the right to challenge their accepted traditions. And at that moment Jesus begins to define the truth about religion and true obedience.
The first teaching was about the man with two sons who were asked to work in the vineyard. The first refused and the second said sure thing dad. The second said the right words but did not put the words into actions where the first initially refused but later obeyed the will of his father. The next lesson, again about a vineyard, Jesus spoke about a man who planted a vineyard building a wall and watch tower to protect his investment and then leased the land to tenets. When the harvest came the landowner send a representative to collect his portion of the produce only to have them face repeated rejection ultimately resulting in the death of his son.
The Pharisees rightly interpreted these stories as a direct challenge to their teachings with the accusation being that the religious leaders of that era were missing the purpose and divine call. Their response was not to take ownership of their own short comings but to seek the removal of prophet that was shining a light on their failures.
I can identify with the Pharisees. One of the most difficult things for a human to face is their own personal weaknesses especially if the individual is a leader of human kind. It is uncomfortable, a threat to your identity, and has a potential to disrupt your livelihood.
Yet Jesus does not back down. He persists by telling another parable. This time He says, “the kingdom of heaven is like a king throwing a wedding banquet for his son.” The wedding in ancient Judea was very important. It was not just an event that lasted a day, but often a full day of festivities. It was a tangible reminder of the covenant God had made with the people of Israel tracing the roots all the way to their father Abraham. It symbolized the continued fulfillment of the promise of land and nationhood for the people and the continued presence of God and his blessing. The very first miracle that Jesus performed, the first event where Jesus shows his divine appointment was during a wedding feast of a friend.
Jesus begins the story by saying that invitations were sent out but those invited refused to attend. There is a bit of a cultural understanding that we might miss. An invitation to a wedding has two parts. The first is the announcement of intention, which means the guests are informed of the coming celebration and they either accept or deny the invitation. The servants would then carry the response back to their master and the meal would then be prepared for the guests. This first part is like our current wedding announcements with a form to be returned telling the host how many people would be attending.
The second part to the invitation is where Jesus starts the parable. When the food is being prepared the host would send the servants back out into the community to inform the guests that it is now time to come enjoy the celebration. This second invitation only goes out to those within the community that had accepted the first invitation. They informed the host that they would be in attendance. So, the king sent out the servants because the food was being cooked at that moment and that the invited guests should begin their journey to participate the festivities. It is important to know that tradition because it give us a reference to why the king might have gotten upset.
The servants go out they tell the people come eat, come drink, come share in the joy. These people had informed the king that they were coming yet when the time came they rejected the invitation. The food was being cooked yet one by one the invitation is being rejected. These people are basically saying we reject you king and we could care less if your inheritance will be passed down to the next generation. They in all reality are saying we reject the king.
The king again sends out the servant telling them to deliver the message again, the meat has been slaughtered and the fires are burning. Again, the invitation is rejected. The people laugh at the servants and return to their farms and businesses while some violently oppose the king by abusing those that carried the message. This is a full-on rejection of the king’s authority, and in response to this rejection the king sends out his men of arms. These men annihilate these traitors and he even has them burn the city to the ground.
This parable is telling the Pharisees that they not only have rejected Jesus and his teachings, but they are rejecting the very God they claim to follow. In place of true faith, they place their focus instead on their own selfish desires. They were invited, they were the chosen ones, yet in their pursuit of religion they had left their God and his way and instead focus on the things of the world.
Imagine your son or daughter, your niece or nephew is the one being wed, you have helped prepare the meal and it is now ready. Enough food to feed an army and the chairs are sitting empty. You have just spent a fortune on this event, and it is about to go to waste. Everyone you regard as a friend has rejected you and in that rejection, they state that you and your family are worthless. Every one of your friends. Imagine how you would feel.
The religious leaders of that day closed their ears to the voice of God and placed their trust in their own goodness and abilities. Jesus continues his story, “the king then tells his servants to go out and gather everyone from the countryside. Bring the beggars to the table, bring the poor tenet farmers bring anyone you can find to fill the seat at the king’s table. Bring them all do not worry about their social status or education just fill the seat and let us celebrate.
This second group comes and the halls are filled. The king then looks out at the crowd and he sees something that unnerves him, amid the celebration someone still rejects him a man among the celebrating masses who were refused a gift and was not wearing the wedding robe. Those at the feast we the marginalized segments of their society. They were poor and did not have the garments that should be worn at a royal wedding, so the king provided the guests with clothing fit for a king.
These garments are offered to the guest freely just as the grace of God is offered to each of us. The robe is offered yet this one individual refused to put on the covering. What Jesus is saying is that the religious have rejected but even among the marginalized of our culture there are those that can be just as sinful. They can sneak into the church and act as if they belong but fail to put on the lifestyle of Christ.
Who do we identify with in this story? At times I can fall into a trap going through the motions of religion yet my mind is off somewhere else. Instead of focusing on my relationship with God or mankind I am consumed by the maintaining a façade. At times the faith I claim is empty and I seek to make my own way through the journey of life rejecting the gift of grace freely given through Christ. It is hard for me to admit it but it is true. I like everyone else can be broken, unwilling to admit that I might be wrong and often failing. I can find myself being legalistic and judgmental, I can find myself being haughty instead of being honest with myself or others. I can easily get trapped in a prison of my own creation.
When I get trapped where is grace? Where is hope? Where is mercy or justice? Where is the ministry that reflects the joy and life of Christ? Where is the celebration and worship? With who do we identify? The religious who focus on their own merit and their own desires are lost and consumed in the fires of the king’s judgement because they reject mercy and focus on the ritual instead of reality. The one who does recognize their failures yet reject the gift of grace are equally bad. They too like the Pharisee strive to become perfect in themselves, only to find themselves in bondage.
Jesus sends his servant out to find the good and the bad to bring them in. The servants then offer all who come the garments of Christ. Both the sinner and the saint are clothed in Christ. Do we believe that? Do we believe that people can be changed? As we enter this time of open worship and communion as Friends consider your place in this story. Who are you? And does that bring or reflect the joy of God?