Altar…Ego

Scripture: Exodus 32:1-14; Matthew 22:1-14

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Today’s parable from Matthew continues in the same vein as last week’s challenging passage.  You may recall that it sits within a string of allegorical parables stretching from Matthew 18:23 through today’s passage. These parables

“…seem to cast God as, variously, a king angrily settling accounts, a capricious employer, an aggrieved father, a landlord who seems inclined to violent revenge, and [today’s parable of the] host of a wedding banquet with anger management issues.”[1]

I can imagine why the revised common lectionary has paired today’s parable from Matthew with the account from Exodus of the golden calf.  I find it interesting that Jesus teaches about a king giving a wedding banquet for his son, when there is no mention of the son after the first introductory line.  It seems, from reading the rest of the parable, that the king forgets about the son, instead making it a production, a symbol, a gesture of his own greatness.  At least, that is what I read into his reactive responses to the shifting wedding guest roster.  It also led me to wonder, did the king created a calf?  Has his Ego taken over, losing sight of the intended gift?  Remember to whom this parable is aimed: the reigning religious authorities, the chief priests and the Pharisees.

Now let’s recall the Exodus story.  When the Israelites were lost in the wilderness and struggling to become a people free from Egypt’s imposed life upon them as slaves, as in free from their centuries old identification as a subjugated people, they needed a tangible assurance of their God’s presence with them, as they discovered who they really would be together as an independent and free people.  I can only imagine it is rather hard to do that when their God accompanies them as an awesome cloud by day or fire by night; “We cannot see or access God,” they seem to cry, “give us instead something we can see and touch and feel.”  Thus, in error, the calf was made to replace God.

Let me ask ourselves this question: Have we made any calves?  We do find ourselves at times lost in the journey, needing something real, something tangible to tell us we are on the right track, to mark the milestones of our lives, to relate to in some way that makes us feel better.  But turning tangibles into gods leads down the wrong path.

If the world is God’s altar, what would it be like if we lived and moved and had our being worshiping God in all we do with our hands, all we can imagine with our minds, all we can be with our hearts – and so worship with all our strength?  Is Jesus speaking something else to us in Matthew’s gospel?

Let’s return to Matthew’s allegory.  Jill Duffield, editor of Presbyterian Outlook, writes,

“Accepting the invitation to the wedding feast comes with strenuous responsibilities. In our “come as you are” culture and with our “please just come” attitude in churches, this story proclaims the truth that eating and drinking with Jesus requires that we leave everything else behind and thoughtfully, intentionally bring our best to [God’s] service.

Is this a tough sell in our current context? Yes. Has attempting to follow and do the will of God ever been easy? No. Would we rather worship idols that we create and control? Of course. Are we ever fully prepared or perfectly dressed to meet our Maker? Of course not. Does that mean we can simply show up and think God ought to be delighted to see us? Not according to Jesus in this parable. Is participating fully in the wedding banquet of our Lord the most awesome and joyous occasion imaginable? Absolutely – and therein lies the Good News of this difficult story.

Even as we wrestle with the judgment of God, we cannot forget the grace inherent in both the invitation and the Son in whose honor the party is given. God wants guests at the party, the good and the bad, those on the top of society’s ladder and those working through the night to hold it up. None of us is worthy of being included, all of us will fall short of properly honoring the Host. However, in our baptism, we are clothed in Christ, the promise of the obliteration of our sin through Christ’s sacrifice is made visible, and we are given the assurance that our hope of feasting at the heavenly banquet is not in vain. That should give us the courage to say a resounding “yes!” to the call of God no matter when it comes or where we are when we hear it.

We should drop everything and come as we are, but we should also never expect to remain unchanged. Just as the first disciples dropped their nets and followed, we should also respond to God’s invitation immediately and fully, trusting that once we do Jesus will welcome us as we are and transform us into who God intends us to be: clothed, in our right minds, witnesses to the generosity and goodness of the One who called us.”[2]

That is, indeed Good News.  How can we appropriate a lesson for our current time from this text?  Even as we ruminate on how we transform our egos into something of an offering upon God’s altar, we are reminded that:

“It may be that Matthew himself is one of only a dwindling few who still remember what it was like to sit at those tables with Jesus—how arduous was the journey that led to that upper room, how they continued to dine on the reassurance and indelible grace of that meal through all the hard time that followed. Remember how it felt at that table, he seems to say, even as the threat of violence and the vagaries of community continue to swirl around them. We will feast again.”[3]

How do we know this?  Last week’s parable and today’s parable take place one chapter after Jesus enters Jerusalem to the cries of “Hosanna to the King of David!”  Jesus really is making both allegories about himself:

“People who accept an invitation to the king’s table are expected to show up when the time for the banquet has come!

In Matthew’s world, this parable was a reminder that God had initially invited the people of ancient Israel to be God’s people. God chose a people who had begun as nomadic wanderers (Abraham) and who ended up being slaves in Egypt for 430 years (Moses). God did so in order to use them as an example of how much God can bless and how high God can place any people who are willing to honor God’s will and God’s word above all else.”[4]

Now, my friends, we who are lifted up into community together with Christ in the altar of the world, we who are making choices that transform our lives into heavenly offerings to God, we who lift hands of justice and mercy in the world, who welcome to this table any who come, sharing the Good News of the Gospel, let us answer the invitation to share in the wedding feast of our Lord, the One who is yet to come again, at the ultimate wedding table God prepares.  Let us answer with a resounding “Yes!” to God with our whole mind, body, heart and strength.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ.  Amen?  May it be so.

 

Questions for Reflection

Where has your trust in God wavered or broken down?  What would it take for that trust to be restored?  When have you experienced the peace of God, which passes understanding?

 

[1] Richard Spalding, “Theological Perspective, Matthew 21:33-46” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Jill Duffield, in her e-mail of October 9, 2017, to the Presbyterian Outlook “Looking into the Lectionary” subscriber list (http://pres-outlook.org/category/ministry-resources/looking-into-the-lectionary/)

[3] Richard Spalding, “Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[4] Marvin A. McMickle, “Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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