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Proper 23 | Ordinary Time 28, Cycle A

Sunday between October 9 and October 15 inclusive

The message conveyed in the Matthew 22:1-14 parable is that “When God invites, if you are wise you will put on the appropriate garment and come!” All of the other texts selected for use on this occasion can be related to Matthew 22:1-14 through that theme statement. The theme statement provides ample resources for the proclamation of the good news and of judgment and for parenesis (how we should live).

Matthew 22:1-14
As a result of our critical study of the Four Gospel traditions, we have every reason to think that the Jesus of history used every opportunity he had to talk with his fellow oppressed Jews in Galilee and Judea about God and about how important it was to let God rather than Caesar rule their lives. The evidence seems conclusive that Jesus used parables and specifically parables about God and God’s “kingdom” in which God and God’s kingdom were sharply contrasted with Caesar’s rule and Caesar’s kingdom. The success of Caesar and of Caesar’s kingdom was obvious. Caesar ruled over most of the inhabited world known to the people in that kingdom at that time. If a Jew in Galilee or Judea wanted to be prosperous and successful in matters such as purchasing a field, oxen to plow larger fields, or marrying a wife and expecting to be able to provide for a family, such a person would be “wise” to cooperate with the Romans who occupied the land and to support them openly. Jews who responded in that way to the political situation of the time and place were given a favored status by the tax collectors and were the only Jews in that setting who had any possibility of becoming even moderately wealthy. Some of them probably thought they would be able to honor Caesar in the necessary ways and still be able to honor the Lord God of Israel. The parable of Jesus that lies behind Matthew 22:1-14 was probably directed at such Jews.

The Jesus of history urged his fellow oppressed Jews to believe that soon the Lord God of Israel would intervene in some way to end the power of the rulers of this “evil age.” When the Lord would call to invite the oppressed Jews of Galilee and Judea to the great banquet in which they would celebrate their freedom from Roman oppression, those who were wise would put on the appropriate garment of faithfulness to the Lord and come promptly to the banquet. Jesus felt called by the Lord God to give hope to his fellow oppressed Jews and to help them be ready for this great banquet. This Jesus did with great zeal and enthusiasm. He did this so successfully that the Roman oppressors and the few among Jesus’ own people who cooperated with the Romans became worried that their political position would be in jeopardy. When he had the opportunity at the conclusion of a Passover festival in Jerusalem to act against Jesus, under orders from the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas sent some of his bodyguards to seize Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and to deliver Jesus into the hands of Pilate’s crucifixion squad, who tortured Jesus privately during the night in the Roman citadel and then crucified him publicly the next morning.

In this oppressive political situation the Jesus of history developed and used, often in cryptic forms with partially hidden messages, many parables about the Kingdom of God that was soon to come. He did this in order to give hope to his fellow Jews that soon the Romans would no longer occupy their land. Later in the first century, followers of Jesus repeated some of these parables, and as they repeated them modified them to some extent to make them applicable to their changing situations. The Matthew 22:1-14 account that was eventually canonized and transmitted to us contains evidence of some of these changes. Many of these changes involved further allegorizations of the parable and the insertion into the parable of anti-Jewish polemic. Matthew 22:7 is the most striking example of this in Matthew 22:1-14. Ironically, the giver of the great banquet (the Lord God in Jesus’ original parable) became in the allegorization of Matthew 22:7 Titus, who was the Roman military commander-in-chief in the campaign to suppress the Jewish revolt of 66 CE and the general who in 79 CE became the Roman “king” (Caesar). The story parable, as “Word of God,” was shaped and fashioned to conform more closely to later events. We do some of this also today in many of our best sermons and homilies.

The harsh treatment of the man who had no wedding garment (Matthew 22:11-14) may also be an embellishment of Jesus’ parable as it was used in the Matthean church. It may be evidence of the measures taken within the Matthean church to ensure the purity and religious orthodoxy of that community of faith. More importantly, it may have been included by either Jesus or by the leaders in the Matthean church to place emphasis on the requirement that every guest at the banquet be appropriately attired with faithfulness to the Lord.

Isaiah 25:1-9
When a prominent person invites you to a great banquet, a feast such as you have never had, an opportunity you probably will never have again, and the prominent person who has invited you is a good, compassionate person, is it not likely that you will go to the feast? In this Isaiah 25 text, there is no suggestion that anyone would even consider not attending the banquet, especially when participation involves the end of death and the beginning of a condition in which there are no more tears nor reproach. This account in Isaiah 25 is different in very important ways from the parable of Jesus included in Matthew 22. The accounts are similar, however, that in both instances if you are wise you will put on the appropriate garment and come to the feast.

Psalm 23
When the Lord, the Good Shepherd, invites the sheep and offers them everything they need (green pastures, still waters, and protection from all harm and danger), would they not be foolish if they were not to come to follow the Lord? Most sheep under those circumstances will stay with the shepherd and with the other sheep in the flock, enjoying the security the shepherd and the flock provide. If sheep will do this, should not people be at least as wise as sheep?

Exodus 32:1-14
This story about the people so easily persuading Aaron to mold for them a golden figure of an animal and then celebrating in a feast of dedication of it as a new cultic object is a major example of what not to do. Their actions were totally unwise, a complete reversal of an act of faithfulness to the Lord. In the story, had not Moses argued convincingly to the Lord to spare them, they would have been consumed by the righteous wrath of God and a new start would have been made with descendants of Moses.

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
The Lord is to be praised greatly for the steadfast love of the Lord was greater than the wrath of the Lord when the pre-Israelites made and worshiped the golden image of an animal while Moses was on the mountain for forty days with the Lord. Not only had the people not worn the appropriate garment; they had been naked in their sin.

Philippians 4:1-9
Paul writes joyously about his love for the followers of Jesus in Philippi who share with him in a grave threat to their lives. Paul has been taken into custody by zealous advocates of Roman Civil Religion and is awaiting trial on charges that he is proclaiming Jesus Christ raised from the dead rather than Caesar as “Lord and Savior,” which is, of course, what Paul has been doing. The zealous advocates of the Imperial Cult are deciding whether detention of Paul for an extended period of time will be sufficient to silence Paul, or whether they should silence him permanently. Paul knows that the followers of Jesus in Philippi are under this same threat or at least the most prominent among them are. In this situation, Paul urges Euodia and Syntyche, two women who are widely respected leaders in the community of faith, to resolve whatever issues have been dividing them. Paul encourages the members of the community to rejoice in the Lord at all times in confident trust in the parousia of the Lord Jesus the Christ. Paul gently urges them to be honorable, even to the point of death by martyrdom, if necessary. He writes that the Lord invites them to remain faithful. They will be wise when they come in faithful response to the invitation from the Lord. Then, whatever may happen, they will be at peace with God.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen