Texts: Isaiah 25:1-9; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14
Probably many of you have played the game “Simon Says”. Just to refresh your memory, there’s a leader, who is Simon whose role is to call out instructions beginning with the words, “Simon says…” and everyone else has to do what they’re told. There’s a lot of movement and laughter as everyone tries their hardest to do what Simon says.
But Simon has a trick. And that’s to call out a series of easy instructions until the players become less attentive. Then suddenly an instruction is given without the required words “Simon Says”. And anyone who follows the false instruction is out of the game. Because, technically, Simon didn’t say, did he? It’s a classic example of “gotcha!
When we hear what we expect to hear from God’s word, we are at ease. The twenty-third psalm is a good example of this. These familiar words have encouraged and comforted generations of people in the midst of life, prepared God’s people entering into their last days, and have been since time immemorial solemnly intoned over what remains when the breath of life no longer animates our bodies.
The language and images may be archaic. But the belief in God’s provision is timeless. If we are fully in God, whatever life brings us is surmountable. Therefore what more is there to want?
Green pastures, still waters, the honor that comes of living in accordance with God’s commandments, these are holy things. To be conducted safely through all fears and threats, past all temptations to disobedience, is a holy thing. Being without hunger of body or soul, and being anointed and called God’s beloved child is a holy thing.
When you know such holiness, what enemy can possible touch you? And so goodness and mercy follow the one who is truly at home in God. The Psalmist counsels us: be at ease.
Isaiah too gave words to ease people who, for too long had known only unease. God is praised for the destruction of Israel’s enemies. The prophet first uttered these words in the time of the overthrow of the Assyrian State sometime after 600 BCE.
Because the “fortified city” and “palace of aliens” are not specifically identified however, the prophecy of God’s deliverance still had currency forty years later at the fall of Babylon, Israel’s next conqueror. And again at the end of the respective rules of Babylon and Greece.
At the end of each terrible reign Israel’s God made good on these words of hope and renewal. Death, despair, disgrace, gone. Times of gladness and rejoicing returned. Isaiah says: be at ease.
The fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians contains his concluding remarks. There is nothing here of accusation or correction, even for two of the community’s leading women Euodia and Syntyche who are in some kind of disagreement. With gentle restraint the apostle urges the whole community to support the women and help them heal their division.
Two well-known verses come from this part of Paul’s letter. One is, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” The other is, “And the peace of God which passes all understanding, [will] guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” With words of comfort Paul told the Philippians, be at ease.
Therefore. We are not ready for a “gotcha!” when we come to the gospel. It’s another parable
about God’s kingdom of heaven. The third in as many weeks. We’re predisposed to hear this as we heard the previous ones. God’s heavenly kingdom looks like this… Same song, third verse.
But there’s nothing easy about a parable in which a disrespected king brings to a violent end the people who have responded violently to the king’s servants. And what does it mean that one speechless guest with a wardrobe malfunction is consigned to outer darkness; to weeping and gnashing teeth?
Last week’s unfruitful vineyard came to destruction too. Obedience to God is clearly a theme in all the kingdom parables. So, it’s not a huge surprise that there’s judgement for the ones whose respondez s'il vous plait to the wedding of the king’s son is a firm and even (according to Matthew’s version of the parable) rude non. No. Not coming. Go away.
Well, since we obviously are not telling God to go away, then this is not about us. Right? It’s about those other people. Atheists, heretics, evildoers. Them. Simon says, don’t do this.
So here’s the gotcha! Jesus started this parable out by saying, “The kingdom of heaven has been compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” Translators changed the words, apparently to harmonize with previous kingdom parables which say, the kingdom of heaven is like… . Matthew also seems to set us up to hear the parable as if it’s the same as the first two.
But, the different language in the original text is a clue that Jesus is now telling a parable about how the kingdom of heaven has typically been described. But what if it isn’t like this? Gotcha! Says Jesus.
So. This parable is about what God’s reign is not like. That is, a king who responds violently when disobeyed or defied. A ruler who is bent on filling his guest list for the sake of looking good, reassessing who is worthy. But God is different. Remember Isaiah’s vision of God’s tender desire to restore, to bring all people to the holy mountain? And Paul’s belief in God’s peaceable intention toward humankind even when we repeatedly fail to love as Jesus loved?
Jesus seems to say with this parable that the kind of kingdom people knew so well – that is, the violent reign of the Jewish Herodian kings, tuned to rigid applications of religious law, allied with and obedient to Rome – was not in the least bit the form of God’s kingdom. By which he also said that neither Herod nor Rome, understood the power of God’s heavenly kingdom.
For there was a man who was stripped of his robe, who was silent in the face of his accusers, who was bound hand and foot, and thrown into the darkness of the grave. People wept and mourned. But God called, the grave opened and the man was unbound. God’s power is resurrection. And it is to this reign’s power that God’s people are called. Amen.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.