We Cannot Thwart God’s Ultimate Will   3 comments

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

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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.

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Judges 13:1-7 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The Israelites again did what was offensive to the LORD, and the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.

There was a certain man from Zorah, of the stock of Dan, whose name was Manoah.  His wife was barren and had borne no children.  An angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her,

You are barren and have borne no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son.  Now be careful not to drink wine or other intoxicant, or eat anything unclean.  For you are going to conceive and bear a son; let no razor touch his head, for the boy is to be a nazirite to God from the womb on.  He shall be the first to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

The woman went and told her husband,

A man of God came to me; he looked like an angel of God, very frightening; I did not ask him where he was from, nor did he tell me his name.  He said to me, ‘You are going to conceive and bear a son.  Drink no wine or other intoxicant, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy is to be a nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death!’

Psalm 139:10-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

10 If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me,

and the light around me turn to night,”

11 Darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day;

darkness and light to you are both alike.

12 For you yourself created my inmost parts;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

13 I will thank you because I am marvelously made;

your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

14 My body was not hidden from you,

while I was being made in secret

and woven in the depths of the earth.

15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;

all of them were written in your book;

they were fashioned day by day,

when as yet there was none of them.

16 How deep I find your thoughts, O God!

how great is the sum of them!

17 If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand;

to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

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.

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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.

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It is customary in The Episcopal Church that, at when the priest or deacon finishes reading the Gospel lection, he or she says,

The Gospel of the Lord,

to which the congregation answers,

Praise to you, Lord Christ.

I recall a situation one Sunday evening at St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia.  Beth Long, the Rector, read the assigned lesson from the Gospels for that day.  It was a disturbing and unpleasant text.  Then she said,

The Gospel of the Lord.

All of us in the congregation mumbled hesitantly,

Praise to you, Lord Christ.

I have the same response when pondering Matthew 22:1-14.

Tradition calls this text the Parable of the Great Banquet.  Yet William Barclay insists correctly that it is really two parables.  The first ends with the king rounding up wedding guests on street corners.  The subtext is clear; those who have rejected Jesus as Messiah are unworthy to attend the wedding banquet.  And the destruction in the story echoes the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.  The Gospel of Matthew dates to the middle 80s C.E., in a Jewish Christian community on the margins of Jewish life.  Certain emotions tend to accompany marginal status, especially when one is marginalized involuntarily.  They are on full display in this text.

The second parable concerns the man who did not come to the wedding feast attired properly.  He did not care about the matter, a major breach of protocol in that society.  His disrespect led to his removal from the banquet.  My North American society is increasingly informal in matters of attire, and this is not entirely bad.  But sometimes it goes too far.  One student in a class for which I was a Teaching Assistant came to the classroom on the day of the Final Exam in his pajamas, slippers, and bathrobe.  How one presents oneself in public indicates how one regards others.  There is social etiquette and decorum to maintain; it makes public interactions go more smoothly.  So how much more true must showing respect toward God be?

Understand me correctly.  During my last year of high school I tutored a Middle Grades student after school.  Joe and his family attended a Southern Baptist church in Berrien County, Georgia.  He mentioned once that some elderly members of the congregation had criticized him for wearing tennis shoes to church.  Joe asked me what I thought.  I replied that God has concerns greater than whether Joe wore tennis shoes to church.  In fact, I wear tennis shoes to church sometimes.  But they are clean and presentable.

There is, however, great value in dressing up for certain occasions.  I feel one way when I wear a suit and a tie (often with a fedora) and another when I wear jeans and a tee-shirt.  I feel quite comfortable in both states, but I would never think of wearing jeans and a tee-shirt (no matter how clean and presentable they might be) to certain occasions.  This is simply a matter of decorum.

So the second parable teaches that we must approach God with our best.  This being from the Gospels, the meaning goes far deeper than wardrobe, although that is a matter for some people.  How does one live?  The king invited the good and the bad alike to the banquet, but all were expected to uphold certain standards after they arrived.  We can all come to God by route or another, but this is not cheap grace that demands nothing of us.  No, we must respond to God honestly and faithfully.  This will require something of us.

So the king filled the banquet hall one way or another.  Nothing could thwart his will–only require him to change tactics.

Then there is the story of Samson, the beginning of which is today’s reading from Judges.  I encourage everyone to read the whole thing again or for the first time; it is a very good story.  Samson was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, the brightest crayon in the box.  Neither was he self-disciplined, especially with regard to women, namely Delilah.  But, despite all these facts, God worked through Samson to deliver the Israelites from the Philistine oppression.  Samson died in the process, for the building fell down on top of him, along with many Philistines, but this end was not necessary.  Samson could have avoided it with some more intelligence and a dose of self-discipline.  He was weak, though, and he paid the price for that.

Yet God’s ultimate will came to fruition via Samson, despite Samson’s character.

Is it not better cooperate with God rather than abuse our free will and force God to change strategies?  Is not cooperating with God a sign of healthy respect?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 18, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BLESSED GUIDO DI PIETRO, A.K.A. FRA ANGELICO, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND ARTIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT COLMAN OF LINDISFARNE, SAINT AGILBERT, AND SAINT WILFRID, BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF MARTIN LUTHER, PROTESTANT REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOTONIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/week-of-proper-15-thursday-year-1/

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