Sunday October 15 Year A, Proper 23, Track 1
Exodus 32:1-14 Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 Philippians 4:1-9 Matthew 22:1-14
When Moses, the driving force, departs from the people for 40 days we see what happens. Pretty much the same thing that happens to us. We lose our good habits. When we stop going to the gym, jogging, or exercising, we lose our momentum to go back. We have to put in a great amount of effort to start up again. If we stop balancing our checkbook or keeping up on our finances; much in a similar way, we have to put a lot of effort in to reconcile our accounts and start the good habit again. Our spiritual life also requires certain habits in which we contribute to and participate in our communal life through routine prayer, participating in worship, and contributing financially.
These Israelites wanted a figure, the golden calf, if for no other reason than they wanted it to be a visible sign of the invisible God. Or possibly in those 40 days in which Moses was on the mountain they had already lost their faith and were returning to old ways; the ways of Egypt and Babylon. Unlike the Israelites in this passage, we do not have a golden calf sitting on a pedestal or our mantelpiece to worship. Anyone walking by could easily see what their god was. They were singing and dancing around it. They were making offerings on its behalf. But if I were to ask if something was your god, how would you know. How do we know if something besides God is our god? For example, if money were your god, how would you know?
When something is our god, we are afraid to let it go. We may think about it all the time. We may desire it more than other things in our life. We may turn to it in times of crisis. This is what happened to the Israelites. They hadn’t seen their leader in 40 days. They were unsure where to turn. Instead of turning to the one true God, they believed they needed something tangible to turn to and based on their past experiences, they turned to idols. In our modern society, most people also turn to something tangible, money. When some people are unhappy they go shopping. Purchasing things seem to makes them happy…at least for a while.
I have known people who use money to manipulate their strained relationships. “Come and visit me, I will pay your expenses and give you some extra spending money.” “Why don’t you live in my old house? You can live rent free and be close to me.” There can be legitimate reasons for using money in these ways, but the ones I have seen are often where a parent has a strained relationship with an adult child, and the parent is trying to sweeten a deal so they can see more of their child who really doesn’t want to be around their parent. Buying your relationships with money usually just adds more tension instead of healing the relationship.
Along similar lines we have probably known people who say things like; “If I can just get out of debt, I’ll be happy.” Or “when I have enough savings, I will relax.” I have also known people who were looking to climb the career ladder so that they could go on nicer vacations; have a larger house, and a better car. I have never heard a person say they wanted to climb the career ladder so they could spend more time with God, give more to the church, and help more people in their community. We live in a society where we are told over and over again that money will make us happier, more beautiful, more likable or lovable. But money cannot do this for us much as the golden calf could not lead the Israelites out of the wilderness.
I think, in some way, this is what Jesus’ parable is trying to tell us. The king is throwing a wedding party for his son. The king invited the elite of society, the landowners, and shopkeepers. Much like the parable from last week, some even killed the king’s messengers. In the king's wrath he “sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” Now the king opens the doors of the banquet to all the people, “the good and the bad.” The hall is now full but there is one seemingly innocent person who is not dressed appropriately. This person gets bound hand and foot and thrown into the darkness.
What I must point out first is the hyperbole in this story. It is absolutely unrealistic and over the top. First, the privileged few would never turn down an audience with the king. There would be no way to destroy all these people plus the city and still have time to have the banquet. And then there is the king throwing out an underdressed person who’s house may have just been burned down. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
When we go back to who Jesus is speaking to we realize that he is speaking to the Pharisees, temple priests, and elders. The same audience we have been hearing about for the last three weeks. Hopefully it is obvious that these are the elite spoken about in the parable. These are the few leaders who claim to be doing what is right but they are not actually doing it and they are taking their faith, their covenant with God for granted.
Through the banquet, we see that the kingdom of heaven is open to all people; good, bad, Jew, and gentile; or even as far as saint and sinner. So why then is this one person thrown out of the banquet; out of the kingdom of heaven “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth?” This person is thrown out because God still has expectations of us. Since we know we are not to take this parable literally, this story is not about how you dress for church. You can come as you are; whether that is in a suit and tie, a dress that covers your ankles, or a tee shirt and shorts. This person was thrown out because there are expectations for us to be a part of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of heaven is like a wonderful celebration in which there is singing, dancing, wonderful food, and drink. And just like any party that we throw there are expectations. Even in ruckus collage parties, at least in my day, there are things that are beyond the pale in which someone is sent out.
When we read the Bible, we find many commandments, laws, and ordinances that we are to keep as a part of our covenantal relationship with God. In our covenant, we agree to conform our lives to that of the kingdom of heaven. A place that radiates with love and joy; a place where mercy and justice are granted, not in the ways of the world but in the generous ways of God.
There is no doubt that we will fail in trying to uphold this covenant. The Israelites failed just 40 days after they witnessed the voice of God giving the covenant to Moses. When they failed Moses mediated for his people, even offering his own life if needed. Through Christ we no longer need Moses or any other person to mediate for us. Through our faith, we have Christ who mediates on our behalf. And when we fail, which we do all the time, we are to repent, return to Christ, and our covenant.
Today’s story is shocking. It is meant to shock us out of our complicity in which we take God, and our faith, and our covenant for granted. Our faith requires certain practices in which we contribute to, and participate in, our communal life. This is usually done through routine prayer, participating in worship, and contributing financially.
The feast that God offers us is more lavish than anything we can experience. No president, queen or king can offer us what our Lord does. We have agreed to this relationship with God in our baptism, confirmation, or even just by our claim of being a Christian. For a Christian is a Christ follower and we cannot follow him if we are not willing to let him lead us.