Archive for the ‘Matthew 22’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 25, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  The Feast of Esther, by Jan Lievens

Image in the Public Domain


OCTOBER 29, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Esther 7:1-10; 9:20-22 or Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Psalm 35:1-3, 9-18

1 Corinthians 13

Matthew 22:34-46


Today’s readings from the Hebrew Bible reflect danger and divine deliverance.  In Esther and Isaiah the agents of divine deliverance are human beings.

The appeal for divine deliverance is the request for hesed, or loving kindness, steadfast love, keeping of faith.  That is a form of love that is covenantal and beyond sentimentality.  That is the human love in 1 Corinthians 13.  That is the love for God and neighbor in Matthew 22:34-40, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, and sounding much like the then-fairly recently deceased Rabbi Hillel.

Two words I often hear misused are “love” and “friend.”  I like chocolate, not love it.  In the age of social media “friend” has taken on superficial and shallow connotations.  Regardless of how many “friends” one has on any given social media website, one is fortunate if one has a few friends face-to-face–people who will proverbially go through hell for one.  I mean no disrespect to Joseph Scriven (1820-1886), author of the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  Yet the passage,

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer!

is inaccurate.  If we define a friend as an individual who behaves as a friend, those alleged friends in the hymn are actually enemies.  If one has “friends” such as those, one joins the company of Job, afflicted by four enemies by the time the final author of that book wrote.

May we be agents of hesed to one another.  May we have hesed for God.  After all, God has hesed for all of us.










Devotion for Proper 24, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Caesar’s Coin, by Peter Paul Rubens

Image in the Public Domain

The Presence of God

OCTOBER 22, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Song of Songs 2:8-13 or Isaiah 59:1-4, 7-14, 20-21

Psalm 34:11-22

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Matthew 22:15-33


The Song of Songs is a text between a man and a woman, lovers, perhaps married.  They are in mortal danger because of their love.  I reject overly metaphorical interpretation of the book, such as it is between YHWH and Israel or Christ and the Church.  Nevertheless, the affirmation that God is present in the details of our lives does sacramentalize them.

Speaking of our lives, we Christians have the calling to fulfill our roles in the Church, the body of Christ.  We are all important in that respect.  If we do not do our part, we diminish the Church.

The readings from which Isaiah 59 and Psalm 34 complement each other.  God does not separate Himself from us.  No, we separate ourselves from God.  We do this collectively and individually.  We do this via rife injustice.  We do this via idolatry.  We do this via violence.  These sins have consequences in this life and the next one, we read, but God remains faithful and merciful.  Divine judgment comes bound up with divine mercy, however.

Speaking of idolatry, what was one of our Lord and Savior’s supposedly devout adversary doing with that idolatrous, blasphemous Roman coin?  The Pharisaic trick question was, in the mind of the man who asked it, supposed to entrap Jesus, who might sound like a traitor by advising against paying the Roman head tax or might offend Zealots, Jewish nationalists.  The empire had instituted the head tax in the province of Judea in 6 C.E.  The tax had prompted insurrection.  The tax’s existence contributed to the First Jewish War, after the time of Jesus and before the composition of the Gospel of Matthew.  The tax was payable only in Roman coinage.  At the time of the scene the coinage bore the image of Caesar Tiberius (I) and the inscription (in Latin) translated

Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest.

Jesus found the middle way and turned the tables, so to speak, on those seeking to ensnare him in his words.

Another trick question followed.  Some Sadducees, who rejected belief in the afterlife, asked a question, rooted in levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).  At the time of the writing of that law, the concept of the afterlife was not part of Judaism.  Those Sadducees had missed the point and weaponized scripture.  Jesus challenged their religious authority.

Tip:  Do not attempt to entrap Jesus in his words.

If we will trust God to help us lead holy lives mindful of the divine presence in all details, especially those we might think of as mundane or not sacred yet not bad, we will find sacred meaning in tasks as simple as housework.  We will also be too busy finding such meaning that we will not act like those people condemned in Isaiah 59 or those who attempted to ensnare Jesus verbally.  No, we will be too busy being aware of living in the presence of God to do any of that.










Devotion for Proper 21, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  St. Peter Paying the Temple Tax

Image in the Public Domain

Living in Community

OCTOBER 1, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Genesis 43:1-15, 26-30 or Isaiah 55:1-13

Psalm 28

1 Corinthians 10:19-33

Matthew 17:22-18:5


We have obligations to each other.  Even what we do (or do not do) in private affects other people.  We should, for example, want scoundrels and wicked people to repent (as in Isaiah 55:7), not give up on them (as in Psalm 28:4).  We should seek reconciliation, as Joseph was preparing to instigate, in Genesis 43.  We should not abuse our freedom to the detriment of others.  In Christ we are free to become our best selves.

The story in Matthew 17:24-27 requires unpacking.

The tax in question was the Temple tax of one didrachmon–a half-shekel.  Every Jewish male was to pay it annually, although enforcement was not rigorous.  The scriptural basis of the Temple tax was Exodus 30:13.  It was a controversial tax for more than one reason.  For the poor the tax–two days’ wages of a laborer–was a burden.  Essenes argued that the tax was properly a once-in-a-lifetime payment.  Sadducees thought that the tax should be voluntary.  Jesus, who seemed to have a low opinion of taxation (see also Matthew 22:15-22), nevertheless decided not to cause offense.

I have no difficulty accepting this story as genuine.  Yet it, like so many stories, carries more than one meaning, depending on the time of the reading or hearing of it.  Consider, O reader, the year of the composition of the Gospel of Matthew–85 C.E. or so.

There was no more Temple yet a version of tax remained.  Roman forces had destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 C.E.  A two-drachma tribute to Rome was due annually, and Roman authorities enforced tax laws.  In the Christian context giving to the church was properly voluntary.  For Jewish Christians, marginal within Judaism, their identity remained Jewish; they did not seek to offend.

In my cultural-political setting–North America in 2018–the culture is moving in more than one direction simultaneously.  On one hand politics and culture are coarsening.  On the other hand efforts to avoid causing offense are become more prominent, sometimes to ridiculous extremes.  Meanwhile, people from various points on the spectrum have become more likely to take offense.  “Snowflakes” come in various political stripes.  Everything is controversial; there is probably nothing that does not offend somebody, somewhere.

I, as a human being, have responsibilities to my fellow human beings, who have responsibilities to me.  I, for example, have no moral right to spout racial and ethnic slurs and/or stereotypes, not that I would ever do that.  Quoting them in certain contexts, in which one’s disapproval is plain, is justifiable, however.  I have a responsibility to consider the sensibilities of others–to a reasonable point.  Yet I know that, whatever I do, I will offend someone, for somebody will be of a mind to take offense.  I am responsible for doing my best to be respectful.  I am also responsible to others not to be ridiculously sensitive, thereby doing nothing or too little.

Where should one draw the line separating responsible self-restraint in the name of not offending the consciences of others from overdoing it and still failing in not causing offense because some people are snowflakes?  The answer to that question varies according to circumstances.  One, relying on grace, should do one’s best.  If one needs to do better, one can do that, by grace.  One is not responsible for the thin skins of others.









Devotion for Proper 5 (Ackerman)   1 comment

Above:   Paying the Tax with a Coin from the Fish

Image in the Public Domain

The Sovereignty of God

JUNE 11, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Genesis 27:1-10, 18-19, 26-33, 38-40

Psalm 12

Acts 4:23-31

Matthew 17:24-27


O LORD, watch over us

and save us from this generation for ever.

The wicked prowl on every side,

and that which is worthless is highly prized by everyone.

–Psalm 12, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


One of the primary challenges understanding the Bible is the fact that we moderns come from different cultural and intellectual backgrounds than the ancients did.  The Biblical texts leave much unwritten because members of the original audiences did not require the explanation of every germane assumption.  Consider, O reader, blessings and curses.  By curses I refer not to profane and coarse language, but to the opposite of blessings.  One assumption in the Hebrew Bible is that spoken blessings and curses have power.  Oral blessings and curses are motifs in the Old Testament.  In this case the second son steals the blessing (due to the first son) by fooling an aging and blind father.  The stolen blessing, however, still has power.  Furthermore, God works through the blessing and the act of stealing it.

The theme of the sovereignty of God continues in the readings.  The promises of God are sure in Psalm 12, even though people exalt vileness.  In Acts 4 religious persecution becomes an opportunity certain early Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the faith boldly.

The Gospel reading requires much explanation.  A standard exegesis is that the tax in question was the Temple tax.  However, Father Raymond E. Brown questions this conclusion in his magisterial An Introduction to the New Testament (1997).  He proposes that, since Matthew 17:24-27 does not identify the tax as the Temple tax, it might have been a different tax–perhaps the census tax mentioned in Matthew 22:15-22.  Or, if one assumes that the tax in Matthew 17:24-27 was the Temple tax, one might surmise that post-70 C.E. realities inform the telling of the story.  With the destruction of the Temple and the continuation of the Temple tax, the purpose of said tax had shifted to support the temple of Jupiter on the Temple Mount.

The real issue is the sovereignty of God.  The Roman destruction of the Temple could not overcome the sovereignty of God.  Imperial power might extend even to fish, but God could place the coin to pay the tax inside a fish.  For the sake of avoiding public scandal Jesus pays the tax with money God has provided, but God is still more powerful than the Roman Empire.

We who follow God should acknowledge divine sovereignty.  Our relations to the state might be strained.  I acknowledge the moral legitimacy of political revolution sometimes, especially when the system oppresses those who seek to change it peaceably.  In all circumstances, we ought to, in the words of Jesus,

Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar–and God what belongs to God.

–Matthew 22:21, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

God, who is sovereign over empires and republics, wants us.  That is fair.








Devotion for November 4 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   4 comments


Above:  Jeremiah from the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo

Image in the Public Domain

Jeremiah and Matthew, Part III:  Putting God to the Test

NOVEMBER 4, 2022


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 5:1-9

Psalm 5 (Morning)

Psalms 84 and 29 (Evening)

Matthew 22:23-46


Shall I not punish such deeds?

–says the LORD–

Shall I not bring retribution

On a nation such as this?

–Jeremiah 5:9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures


For you are God who takes no pleasure in wickedness;

no evil can dwell in you.

–Psalm 5:4, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)


For you are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness:

no one who is evil can be your guest.

–Psalm 5:4, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)


In Jeremiah 5 God defends the impending destruction of Jerusalem.  There is nobody who acts justly and seeks integrity, God says in 5:1.  Not only are people unrighteous, but they are also unrepentant.

That sounds like an accurate description of those who peppered our Lord and Savior with questions while trying to entrap him inside his own words in Matthew 22.  He beat them at their own game, of course.  Whenever someone puts God to the test, God passes with flying colors.

I have tried to read Matthew 22:23-46 as a member of that gospel’s original audience might have done.  That audience consisted of Jewish Christians marginalized from their Hebrew community looking back at the life of Jesus in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple therein at the end of the First Jewish War.  From that position of spiritual and human conflict–resentment even–such an account must have seemed like a prelude to the cataclysmic events of that war and the words from Jeremiah 5 might have echoed in more than one head.  But that is not my perspective.  And I take caution to avoid such a point of view, for I have clear and unpleasant memories of televangelists and others making tacky, insensitive, and judgmental statements of that sort after disasters of both human and natural origins–Hurricane Katrina (2005), the September 11 attacks (2001), etc.  No, my impulse is toward love.  As for judgment, I leave that matter to God, who is infinitely wiser than any human being.









Devotion for November 3 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   3 comments


Above:  The Last Judgment Icon

Image in the Public Domain

Jeremiah and Matthew, Part II:  Idolatry = Spiritual Adultery

NOVEMBER 3, 2022


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 3:6-4:2

Psalm 103 (Morning)

Psalms 117 and 139 (Evening)

Matthew 22:1-22


Turn back, O Rebel Israel–declares the LORD.  I will not look on you in anger, for I am compassionate–declares the LORD.  I do not bear a grudge for all time.  Only recognize your sin; for you have transgressed against the LORD your God, and scattered your favors among strangers under every leafy tree, and you have not heeded Me–declares the LORD.

Turn back, rebellious children–declares the LORD.  Since I have espoused you, I will take you, one from a town and two from a clan, and bring you to Zion.  And I will give you shepherds after My own heart; who will pasture you with knowledge and skill.

–Jeremiah 3:12b-15, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures


He will not always accuse us,

neither will he keep his anger for ever.

–Psalm 103:9, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)


Jeremiah, speaking for God, likened idolatry to adultery (3:8).  Yet there was always hope for redemption via human repentance and divine mercy.

Collective unrighteousness constitutes a major theme in both main readings for today.  In Matthew 22:1-22 it applies chiefly to those disloyal people who rejected the wedding invitation after they had accepted it.

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

–Luke 9:62, The New Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition

The first round of servants consisted of the Hebrew Prophets, the second of proto-Christians (and later Christian missionaries) in the highly allegorical parable.  The banquet is the Last Judgment, where all must be clothed with righteousness–or else.  Here individual righteousness applies to the story, which, without accident, follows the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

It is vital to place the teaching in Matthew 22:1-14 in narrative context.  Jesus was in Jerusalem during his final Passover week, what we Christians call Holy Week.  The stakes were high and the gauntlet thrown down.  Jesus was confronting a corrupt political-religious system headquartered at the Temple.  He was doing this during the days leading up the annual celebration of divine deliverance from slavery in Egypt –a celebration held in occupied Jerusalem, where a Roman fortress overlooked the Temple.

Thus the question of a particular tax–a poll tax, to be precise–one which existed only to remind the subjugated peoples of Roman rule (as if they needed a reminder), arose.  According to law, the Roman Empire was the legal and legitimate government, so paying the poll tax was permitted.  But God still demanded and deserved complete loyalty.  Anything else constituted idolatry–spiritual adultery–something which our Lord’s accusers had committed and were committing.

C. H. Dodd, in The Founder of Christianity (1970), wrote of Realized Eschatology.  The Kingdom of God, he insisted, has always been among us, for God

is king always and everywhere,

thus the Kingdom simply is; it does not arrive.  Yet, Dodd wrote,

There are particular moments in the lives of men and in the history of mankind when what is permanently true (if largely unrecognized) becomes manifestly and effectively true.  Such a moment in history is reflected in the gospels.  The presence of God with men, a truth for all times and places, became an effective truth.  It became such (we must conclude) because of the impact that Jesus made; because in his words and actions it was presented with exceptional clarity and operative with exceptional power.

–All quotes and paraphrases from page 57 of the first Macmillan paperback edition, 1970

Our Lord’s challengers in Matthew 22:1-22 practiced a form of piety which depended on a relatively high amount of wealth, thereby excluding most people.  Our Savior’s accusers in Matthew 22:1-22 collaborated with an oppressive occupying force which made it difficult–sometimes impossible–to obey Torah.  Our Lord and Savior’s accusers were self-identified defenders of Torah.  How ironic!  How hypocritical!  How idolatrous!

Condemning the long-dead bad guys is easy.  But who are their counterparts today?  I propose that those who minimize or merely reduce the proper level of love in Christianity are among their ranks.  If we are to love one another as bearers of the Image of God—people in whom we are to see Christ and people to whom we are to extend the love of Christ–which prejudices do we (individually and collectively) need to abandon or never acquire?  Those who affirm such prejudices in the name of God are among the ranks of contemporary counterparts of those whom our Lord and Savior confronted in Matthew 22:1-22.  But the possibility of repentance remains.









Week of Proper 15: Thursday, Year 2, and Week of Proper 15: Friday, Year 2   6 comments

Above:  The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones, by Gustave Dore


AUGUST 18 and 19, 2022


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.



Ezekiel 36:22-28 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

[The word of the LORD came to me:]

Say to the House of Israel:  Thus said the Lord GOD:  Not for your sake will I act, O House of Israel, but for My holy name, which you have caused to be profaned among the nations–among whom you have caused it to be profaned.  And the nations shall know that I am the LORD

–declares the Lord GOD–

when I manifest my My holiness before their eyes through you.  I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you back to your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean:  I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your fetishes.  And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you:  I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh; and I will put My spirit into you.  Thus I will cause you to follow My laws and faithfully to observe My rules.  Then you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and you shall be My people and I will be your God.


Ezekiel 37:1-14 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The hand of the LORD came upon me.  He took me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the valley.  It was full of bones.  He led me all around them; there were very many of them spread over the valley, and they were very dry.  He said to me,

O mortal, can these bones live again?

I replied,

O Lord GOD, only you know.

And He said to me,

Prophesy over these bones and say to them:  O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!  Thus said the Lord GOD to these bones:  I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live again.  I will lay sinews upon you, and cover you with flesh, and form skin over you.  And I will put breath into you, and you shall live again.  And you shall know that I am the LORD!

I prophesied as I had been commanded.  And while I was prophesying, suddenly there was a sound of rattling, and the bones came together, bone to matching bone.  I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had grown, and skin had formed over them; but there was no breath in them.  Then He said to me,

Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, O mortal!  Say to the breath:  Thus said the Lord GOD:  Come, O breath, from the four winds, and breathe into these slain, that they may live again.

I prophesied as He commanded me.  The breath entered them, and they came to life and stood up on their feet, a vast multitude.

And He said to me,

O mortal, these bones are the whole House of Israel.  They say, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone; we are doomed.”  Prophesy, therefore, and say to them:  Thus said the Lord GOD:  I am going to open your graves and lift you out of the graves, O My people, and bring you to the land of Israel.  You shall know, O My people, that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and lifted you out of your graves.  I will put My breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil.  Then you shall know that I the LORD have spoken and have acted

–declares the LORD.


Psalm 51:8-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;

wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,

that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquities.

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

12 Cast me not away from your presence

and take not your holy Spirit from me.

13 Give me the joy of your saving help again

and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.


Psalm 107:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

and his mercy endures for ever.

2  Let all those whom the LORD has redeemed proclaim

that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.

3  He gathered them out of the lands;

from the east and from the west,

from the north and from the south.

4  Some wandered in desert wastes;

they found no way to a city where they might dwell.

5  They were hungry and thirsty;

their spirits languished within them.

6  Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

7  He put their feet on a straight path

to a city where they might dwell.

8  Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy

and the wonders he does for his children.


Matthew 22:1-14 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then Jesus began to talk to them again in parables.

The kingdom of Heaven,

he said,

is like a king who arranged a wedding-feast for his son.  He sent his servants to summon those who had been invited to the festivities, but they refused to come.  Then he tried again; he sent some more servants, saying to them, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Here is my banquet all ready, by bullocks and fat cattle have been slaughtered and everything is prepared.  Come along to the wedding.”‘  But they took no notice of this and went off, one to his farm, and another to his business.  As for the rest, they got hold of the servants, treated them with insults, and finally killed them.  At this the king was very angry and sent his troops and killed those murderers and burned down their city.  Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding-feast is all ready, but those who were invited were not good enough for it.  So go off now to all the street corners and invite everyone you find there to the feast.’  So the servants went out on to the streets and collected together all those whom they found, bad and good alike.  And the hall became filled with guests.  But when the king came in to inspect the guests, he noticed among them a man not dressed for a wedding.  “How did you come in here, my friend,” he said to him, “without being properly dressed for the wedding?”  And the man had nothing to say.  Then the king said to the ushers, “Tie him up and throw him into the darkness outside, where there will be tears and bitter regret!”  For many are invited but few are chosen.


Matthew 22:34-40 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees they came up to him in a body, and one of them, an expert in the Law, put this test-question:

Master, what is the Law’s greatest commandment?

Jesus answered him,

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”  This is the first and great commandment.  And there is a second like it:  “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The whole of the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments.


The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The readings from Ezekiel speak of the restoration of the people of the former Kingdom of Judah.  God will do this, the people will benefit greatly, and God will receive the glory.  What seemed impossible will become reality.

To know helplessness is a terrible feeling.  And to experience God’s restorative power is magnificent.  I have done both.  And, from experience, I testify that the memory of hopelessness and pain do not fade, but that, fortunately, the awareness of what God is doing and has done fills one with awe, wonder, and gratitude.

Recently (relative to the composition and typing of this post) I realized (almost as an afterthought) that the fifth anniversary of my previous life beginning to crumble had passed.  Fortunately, this did not inspire deep ire in me–mostly it brought up surprise.  Was that five years ago?  It feels like longer than that.  I am a different person now, after having passed through the fire, by grace.

Yes, dry bones can live again.


Proper 25, Year A   21 comments

Above:  The Logo of Lehman Brothers, Now Defunct

Image in the Public Domain

Loving Our Neighbors As We Love Ourselves

The Sunday Closest to October 26

The Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost

OCTOBER 29, 2023



Deuteronomy 34:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain– that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees– as far as Zoar. The LORD said to him,

This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, `I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.

Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the LORD’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.

Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses.

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Lord, you have been our refuge

from one generation to another.

Before the mountains were brought forth,

or the land and the earth were born,

from age to age you are God.

3  You turn us back to the dust and say,

“Go back, O child of earth.”

For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past

and like a watch in the night.

You sweep us away like a dream;

we fade away suddenly like the grass.

In the morning it is green and flourishes;

in the evening it is dried up and withered.

13  Return, O LORD; how long will you tarry?

be gracious to your servants.

14  Satisfy us with your loving-kindness in the morning;

so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.

15  Make us glad with the measure of the days that you afflicted us

and the years in which we suffered adversity.

16  Show your servants your works

and your splendor to their children.

17  May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us;

prosper the work of our hands;

prosper our handiwork.


Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Psalm 1 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,

nor lingered in the way of sinners,

nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

2 Their delight is in the law of the LORD,

and the meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water,

bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither,

everything they do shall prosper.

4 It is not so with the wicked;

they are like the chaff which the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,

nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

For the LORD knows the ways of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked is doomed.


1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.


Matthew 22:34-46 (New Revised Standard Version):

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?

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.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question:

What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?

They said to him,

The son of David.

He said to them,

How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

“The Lord said to my Lord,

Sit at my right hand,

until I put your enemies under your feet”?

If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?

No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


There was a notoriously violent slave master in the Antebellum U.S. South.  This man also claimed to be a good Christian.  Indeed, he attended church frequently and bore the nickname “Deacon.”  One of Deacon’s slaves left a written testament in which he claimed not to want to go to Heaven if Deacon was going to be there.

Many of us are aware of the Golden Rule and the Shema.  We quote them and make warm and positive statements about the Good Samaritan.  Yet how often do we act to the contrary and/or justify those who do?  Do we really believe our excuses or are we trying to convince ourselves of that which we know to be immoral?

And how much better off would the rest of us be if certain people in some corporations valued the common good more than short-term profits?

This is a very basic topic–one I have covered elsewhere, as the links testify.  So, in the name of not repeating myself too many times, I conclude with these words:  Whatever the cost(s) to ourselves, may we love our neighbors as ourselves.


Proper 24, Year A   22 comments

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Image in the Public Domain

There Is No Other

The Sunday Closest to October 19

The Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost

OCTOBER 22, 2023



Exodus 33:12-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

Moses said to the LORD,

See, you have said to me,”Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”

He said,

My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.

And he said to him,

If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.

The LORD said to Moses,

I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.

Moses said,

Show me your glory, I pray.

And he said,

I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,

he said,

you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.

And the LORD continued,

See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.

Psalm 99 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

The LORD is King;

let the people tremble;

he is enthroned upon the cherubim;

let the earth shake.

The LORD is great in Zion;

he is high above all peoples.

3 Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome;

he is the Holy One.

4 “O mighty King, lover of justice,

you have established equity;

you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”

Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God

and fall down before his footstool;

he is the Holy One.

Moses and Aaron among his priests,

and Samuel among those who call upon his Name,

they called upon the LORD, and he answered them.

He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud;

they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.

8 “O LORD our God, you answered them indeed;

you were a God who forgave them,

yet punished them for their evil deeds.”

9 Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God

and worship him upon his holy hill;

for the LORD our God is the Holy One.


Isaiah 45:1-7 (New Revised Standard Version):

Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus,

whose right hand I have grasped

to subdue nations before him

and strip kings of their robes,

to open doors before him–

and the gates shall not be closed:

I will go before you

and level the mountains,

I will break in pieces the doors of bronze

and cut through the bars of iron,

I will give you the treasures of darkness

and riches hidden in secret places,

so that you may know that it is I, the LORD,

the God of Israel, who call you by name.

For the sake of my servant Jacob,

and Israel my chosen,

I call you by your name,

I surname you, though you do not know me.

I am the LORD, and there is no other;

besides me there is no god.

I arm you, though you do not know me,

so that they may know, from the rising of the sun

and from the west, that there is no one besides me;

I am the LORD, and there is no other.

I form light and create darkness,

I make weal and create woe;

I the LORD do all these things.

Psalm 96:1-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Sing to the LORD a new song;

sing to the LORD, all the whole earth.

2 Sing to the LORD and bless his Name;

proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.

3 Declare his glory among the nations

and his wonders among all peoples.

4 For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;

he is more to be feared than all gods.

5 As for the gods of the nations, they are but idols;

but it is the LORD who made the heavens.

Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence!

Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!

7 Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples;

ascribe to the LORD honor and power.

Ascribe to the LORD the honor due his Name;

bring offerings and come into his courts.

Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness;

let the whole earth tremble before him.

10 Tell it out among the nations:  ”The LORD is King!

he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;

he will judge the peoples with equity.”

11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;

let the sea thunder and all that is in it;

let the field be joyful and all that is therein.

12 Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy

before the LORD when he comes,

when he comes to judge the earth.

13 He will judge the world with righteousness

and the peoples with his truth.


1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (New Revised Standard Version):

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead– Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.


Matthew 22:15-22 (New Revised Standard Version):

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. 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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?

But Jesus, aware of their malice, said,

Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.

And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them,

Whose head is this, and whose title?

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.

When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


If I were to compile a list of historical hints and send them back through time, one of them would be not to try to trap Jesus in a question.  The man knew how to evade the snare, and those who asked such questions came across looking like what they were.

As YHWH/Adonai says via Deutero-Isaiah in Isaiah 45, there is no other God, regardless of what others, including some instruments of God, might think.  Cyrus II of Persia was a Zoroastrian, for example.  He worshiped a pantheon, but he was a tool of YHWH/Adonai in ending the Babylonian Exile.  Cyrus was a generally benevolent overlord.

Tiberius, Emperor of Rome, was not.  The Roman Empire imposed a poll tax on Jews.

This was not a major source of imperial revenue, but it did remind the Jews living under occupation in their homeland who was in charge, at least in the temporal realm.  This poll tax was payable in a coin bearing the image of the emperor and a written reminder of the official line, which was he was the “Divine Caesar.”  Such a coin was a purposeful affront to Jewish sensibilities.  The tax was in the amount a denarius, or one day’s wage, and men aged 14-65 years and women aged 12-65 had to pay it.  This was a despised tax, and the Romans were rubbing the Jews’ noses in it.

This was a dicey political situation for Jesus.  If he said, “No, this is unjust taxation,” he would be in trouble with the Romans.  And many soldiers were in town during the days leading up to the Passover, the annual commemoration of God’s deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.  Some of them could arrest Jesus at a moment’s notice.  But if he said,

Yes, Tiberius is our emperor, and he deserves our respect too,

Jesus would lose much public support.   Our Lord and Savior, being perceptive and intelligent, delivered a faultless answer:  The coin belongs to Tiberius; pay it.  But give to God what is due to God.  And what is due to God?  We owe God the pattern of our daily living.

There is only one God, and Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnate form of that deity in human history.  Tiberius died and was buried.  He stayed dead.  But Jesus died, was buried, and rose again.  He has conquered death; may we follow him in life.


Proper 23, Year A   30 comments

Above: Parable of the Great Banquet, by Jan Luyken (1649-1712)

Of God, Banquets, and Guests

The Sunday Closest to October 12

The Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost

OCTOBER 15, 2023



Exodus 32:1-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him,

Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.

Aaron said to them,

Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.

So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said,

These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said,

Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.

They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

The LORD said to Moses,

Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”

The LORD said to Moses,

I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.

But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said,

O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.”

And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Halelujah!

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

for his mercy endures for ever.

2  Who can declare the mighty acts of the LORD

or show forth all his praise>

3  Happy are those who act with justice

and always do what is right?

4  Remember me, O LORD, with the favor you have for your people,

and visit me with your saving help;

5  That I may see the prosperity of your elect

and be glad with the gladness of your people,

that I may glory with your inheritance.

6  We have sinned as our forebears did;

we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.

19  Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb

and worshiped a molten image;

20  And so they exchanged their Glory

for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.

21  They forgot God their Savior,

who had done great things in Egypt,

22  Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham,

and fearful things at the Red Sea.

23  So he would have destroyed them,

had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach,

to turn away his wrath from consuming them.


Isaiah 25:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

O LORD, you are my God;

I will exalt you, I will praise your name;

for you have done wonderful things,

plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

For you have made the city a heap,

the fortified city a ruin;

the palace of aliens is a city no more,

it will never be rebuilt.

Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;

cities of ruthless nations will fear you.

For you have been a refuge to the poor,

a refuge to the needy in their distress,

a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.

When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,

the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,

you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;

the song of the ruthless was stilled.

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people

a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,

of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

And he will destroy on this mountain

the shroud that is cast over all peoples,

the sheet that is spread over all nations;

he will swallow up death forever.

Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,

and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,

for the LORD has spoken.

It will be said on that day,

Lo, this is our God; we have waited on him, so that he might save us.

This is the LORD for whom we have waited;

let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Psalm 23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  The LORD is my shepherd;

I shall not be in want.

2  He makes me lie down in green pastures

and leads me beside still waters.

3  He revives my soul

and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4  Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I shall fear no evil;

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5  You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;

you have anointed my head with oil,

and my cup is running over.

6  Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.


Philippians 4:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.


Matthew 22:1-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying:

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 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.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” 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.

But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. 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.” For many are called, but few are chosen.

The Collect:

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Canaanite mythology held that, after the apocalypse, the storm god Baal will become king of the pantheon after defeating Yamm, the god of chaos waters.  So Baal will hold a great banquet on a mountain, but the forces of chaos will reassert themselves and Mot, the god of death, will swallow up Baal and take him to the underworld.

I repeat this story because it is the foundation upon which our reading from Isaiah 25 is based.  One of the strategies of Biblical authors was to rewrite the mythology of others.  We see it in the first creation story and in the Noah’s ark saga, for example.  In this case, YHWH hosts the banquet and destroys death on the mountain.  One way of making the case of YHWH’s supremacy and greatness was to contrast YHWH with weaker deities from the pantheons of the competition.

Paul and the author of Psalm 23 remind us that we have no reason to fear if we are on God’s side, for, as Paul writes, “God is near.”  The nearness of God can be frightening, too, depending on one’s self and one’s circumstances, but Paul, in this case at least, finds it ennobling.  Since God is near, we ought to trust in God, be gentle, and pursue noble enterprises.  We need not react defensively because God is our defender.  Often we commit our worst deeds out of anger and defensiveness.  In these circumstances we lash out against and insult each other.  We might even use violence against each other.  These are not loving and noble ways of acting.

I have been reading and struggling with Anabaptist Biblical ethics.  The Anabaptists are pacifists, of course.  My inner Menno Simons is a pacifist, but my inner Reinhold Niebuhr is a realist with an uneasy conscience.  Can I love my neighbor and rejoice in his execution or the bombing of his village or city?  No, of course not.  The late Robert S. McNamara, in The Fog of War, a brilliant documentary, says that we humans need to think seriously about how much evil we must do in order to do good.  Yet, I wonder, how much evil does one commit before one has condemned one’s self to Hell?  And what would Jesus do?  What would Jesus say about any given situation, based on what we have in the canonical gospels?  I leave myself and you, O reader, with questions, not answers, in these matters.  I intend to continue to struggle with these matters, and I invite you to do likewise.

The original audience of the Gospel of Matthew consisted of Jewish Christians (in the 80s C.E.) living at the margins of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  These were involuntarily marginal people, and the parable reflects their displeasure with their circumstances.  The social custom was to issue two invitations, the second of which consisted of, ” We are ready now, so come now.”  Know then, that everybody who refused to attend the wedding banquet had previously announced his or her intention to attend.  These are stand-ins for the Jews who have not become Christians.  The servants who round up people on the streets are missionaries and the replacement guests are Christians.  But some of these servants meet with martyrdom and murder.  Finally, at the banquet itself, one man has not attended in the proper attire.  This was a sign of disrespect, so the king had him removed.

This is a difficult story, but understanding the post-Jewish War context of the writing of the Gospel of Matthew helps explain much about it.  How much of the story comes from Jesus and how much comes from Matthew?  The scholars can sort out that question to their hearts’ content.  I, meanwhile, care about the devotional side of the text.

In Luke 9:51 Jesus “sets his face toward Jerusalem.”  Shortly afterward, in 9:57-62, unnamed people offer excuses why they will not follow him.  So, in 9:62, Jesus says,

No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

That was what the originally invited wedding guests did.  They said “yes” the first time but “no” the second.  They put their hands to the plow then looked back.  But the banquet would be full one way or another.

Here we have the intersection of judgment and mercy once again.  May we be on God’s side, by grace, without excuses, and lacking undue defensiveness which detracts from the love of Christ.