Reading Ramblings – October 15, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 15, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:4-13; Matthew 22:1-14

Context: While we struggle to make our world better, both individually and as a society, events continue to remind us that our efforts are flawed at best and oftentimes seem pointless. The power of sin in a broken creation rages, whether in the power of hurricane winds and rain or in a rain of bullets on unsuspecting people. As Christians, we continue to strive for improvement regardless of the setbacks. We do so in the understanding that one day, not by our power but by the power of our God, creation will be remade. Perfection will be attained. Peace will come. Suffering will end. Struggle will cease. In the light of those great promises we continue to place our shoulders to the wheel here and now, being shaped in the process into people suitable for life in such a beautiful future.

Isaiah 25:6-9 – God is the actor in this passage, the one who sets the feast for his creation, people who come from every background and walk of life. The richest and most desirable of food and drink are offered, food fit for a king! Mountains in the Old Testament are symbolic of the power and presence of the divine. It is in God’s power and presence that his creation will be feasted, once He has removed from creation the pall that lies over it, the shadow of sin and brokenness and rebellion. Death itself He will destroy and remove, setting his people truly free to celebrate not just for a time but for eternity. As we wait for this day we sometimes seem foolish. We are sometimes defined as part of the problem rather than heralds of the solution. It is easy to see our pointing towards the horizon as foolish and unfounded optimism. We bear these reproaches in good grace. One day the truth will be revealed, and our waiting will be shown to be faithfulness that leads to eternal joy.

Psalm 23 – There are those who take exception to the depiction of God’s people as sheep. It’s not an attractive comparison, to be sure. Sheep are not particularly bright or creative or brave. They very much need someone to watch over them. Some people find this offensive, and argue that Christians are now, in Christ, to consider themselves lions rather than sheep. But this is a patently unBiblical change of roles. We are sheep, and we have a shepherd whether we want it or know it or not. In Christ we have the good shepherd who knows how best to care for us. He knows where the best food and water is – not the stuff that will give us indigestion or make us sick. He knows when we need rest and insists that we do so, echoes perhaps of God’s love and care for us in giving us the Sabbath day of rest. His care extends to the edge of and through to the other side of the Valley of the Shadow of death. Nothing can separate us from our good shepherd who leads us to the feast on the other side of that dark, silent valley. Once again the imagery is of the God who provides a feast and celebration for his people. We are solely the guests, lavish recipients of God’s outpouring of love on his children.

Philippians 4:4-13 – Paul concludes his letter to the church in Philippi with final exhortations and encouragements. First and foremost they are called to rejoice in the Lord’s forgiveness and grace. This is the constant spirit of the Christian, regardless of the difficulties of life. We give thanks to God and rejoice that He sustains us even in our tribulations. In this state of gratitude our difficult times are mitigated, so that we can be reasonable in all situations, knowing that our Lord is coming back for us. This assists us not only in being reasonable, but also in avoiding excessive worry or anxiousness. Not that we have to hide from God what is on our hearts and minds (as though that were possible!). Rather, knowing that He has given us all things through his Son, we are bold to come to him in prayer, lifting up not only petitions for what we need but also thanksgiving for what He daily provides us. In this flow of rejoicing, giving thanks, praying, and anticipating our Lord’s return we will find that the peace of God sustains us in all things. This peace has a source and a context, and it is Jesus the Christ. It is not something that we create for ourselves or can provide to others. It comes only from and is based only in our relationship with the Son of God. This peace comes from God through Jesus Christ, but we take an active participation in that peace by choosing to focus on those things that are good rather than on things that are not. Paul concludes this section by thanking them for the gift that they have sent him via Epaphroditus (2:25). Paul does not want to focus on his need – that would be in contradiction to what he has just exhorted them to in the previous verses! His situations have been varied indeed, but he exudes the peace of God that he has just assured the Philippians that they too can experience!

Matthew 22:1-14 – Once again a feast is prominent in the story, but there’s a problem. Those who are invited to the feast don’t wish to attend. They have better things to do than celebrate with their king. Note the patience and persistence of the king! He has gone to such elaborate preparation, yet still takes time to pursue the invitees. Yet they persist in rejecting his pleas, to the point of violence. Seeing that their hearts will not be changed, the king sends his soldiers against them and destroys their city. The opening verses target God’s own chosen people, the Jews. They are the ones invited to his celebratory feast, yet they do not wish to come. They refuse to come and will resist his persistent pleas with violence. Many scholars see the king’s punishment of these people as prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans, following a large Jewish uprising.

The king now extends the invitation to those who did not previously receive one. These guests recognize the bounty and grace of the king and fill his hall as the invited guests had been intended to. Jesus now points towards the Gentiles – the non-Jewish people – who will receive the Gospel and respond to it where God’s own invited people would not. Yet among those who do respond is one – at least one – who does not bother to prepare himself for the event. What is the wedding garment that the man should be attired in? Some scholars say it is the works of faith appropriate to someone invited by the king. Others say it is the grace found in Christ. The parable seems to rule out the former. None of this second group of invitees is likely to have on hand a garment suitable for a wedding. It remains then that the king himself has provided the appropriate attire yet this man sought to enjoy the king’s generosity inappropriately, flouting the king’s graciousness and insulting his host. Might this be the one who insists that she needs no forgiveness, no grace – she is good enough on her own merits! Surely the king will be pleased with the humble and honest life she has sought to live?

This is not possible. The king invites, the king clothes, the king provides the feast. Those who attend do not do so on their own terms. The idea is ludicrous and insulting! As though no invitation was necessary, as though anybody who so desired could wander in and out at their leisure, without regard for the king. Such a misunderstanding is a dangerous and potentially eternally fatal one. Scripture describes a loving and gracious God but this does not mean a God who can be ignored – either in his invitation or in the manner in which his invitation is accepted. The king remains the king, after all.

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