mid-week lenten reflections

Lent 3 Reflection Bishop Susan Candea

Matthew 22:1-14. Once more Jesus spoke to them 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.”

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables . . . I don’t want you to speak to me in parables! I don’t understand most of your parables, Jesus, especially this one. There is so much going on in the world right now. You do realize that there is this whole coronavirus thing happening that has totally disrupted our lives in so many ways! I don’t need one more thing that I don’t understand. I just need you to tell me plain and simple what is happening, what to do, and how long this is going to last!

That is the conversation I would love to have with Jesus. Instead of just giving us instructions; instead of laying out the facts and telling us what we should believe and do, Jesus tells parables, often rather confusing stories to show us what the kingdom of heaven, the reign of God is like. What are we supposed to do with these stories?

Enter them. Instead of trying to figure them out, dissect the different details so that we have this orderly, logical, makes sense to us, picture of how things are in God’s reign, just enter the story and let the different twists and turns throw us off balance. So instead of relying on our wisdom, and logic, thinking we have things figured out and are in control (which we are not because we have just experienced the rug being pulled out), we rely on God. We trust God.

In this particular parable, we see a God who gathers everyone and I mean everyone (good and bad, those who believe like we do and those who don’t, those we think are acceptable and in and those who we wouldn’t even bother looking at) and invites them all into the wedding hall. So committed is God to this invitation to come to the wedding hall, to come experience joy and life with me, to come experience abundance, that God actually gets angry at those who make light of this invitation. This is life! Life for everyone. How can you ignore this invitation?!

And we see a God who is so committed to this invitation to everyone, to this way of life where all have a place at the table, that God actually gets angry at those who don’t take seriously this invitation (by not dressing appropriately), who don’t participate in this expansive understanding and welcome to everyone. Whenever I encounter God’s anger in Scripture, it helps me to see that God’s anger is the other side of God’s love. It is because God cares and loves so deeply that God gets angry when that love and care are not shown to all.

So what might it mean to be in relationship with this God, to live in this reign of God, particularly now in this time, with all that is going on? Could we see that in spite of not being able to gather together in person these days, God is still gathering us in? Could it be that in spite of what we can and cannot figure out, in spite of our own worry and anxiety, there is a place for us at God’s table? Could it be that even when we don’t understand what is happening in our world and in our lives (it simply doesn’t make sense), God is still at work, inviting and welcoming us, challenging and even disturbing us, throwing us off balance so that we will once again experience the truth. It is not about us. It is about God. It is God who we trust above all else. That doesn’t mean that God sent this virus (I absolutely do not believe that). It does mean that God is still at work even in the midst of realities that can be so challenging.

I yearn for plain, straightforward instructions from Jesus, from God. Just tell me what to do. But time and time again what I get instead is a relationship with a God who invites me to see more, to risk more, to trust more. And perhaps this is exactly what I need in such a time as this!

PrayerEternal God, amid all the turmoil and fears, the anxiety and uncertainty, your love is steadfast and your strength never fails. Give us wisdom to see beyond our expectations and fears, comfort to rest in the assurance of your invitation to life, and courage to live as your people. And help us to trust always in our relationship with you, gathered close to your heart of love. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen