Getting Ready for Sunday by the Rev. David Thompson

Is. 25:1-9; Phil. 4:1-9; Matt. 22:1-14

Growing weary of kingdom parables in ordinary time is common, I suppose. Like working a crossword, I eventually tire from looking for buried meaning and uncovering clues to riddles. My interest wanes and I tend to want to move on. Which is fine if it’s a crossword, there’s a time to put it down and you won’t miss out on much. But we are talking about the kingdom of heaven here! Part of my brain fatigue stems from losing focus on this very point, this goal. The pursuit is intriguing for a time, but won’t be sustained without arriving at some sight of the kingdom, which is not a game, but an end and resting point.

Losing sight of the kingdom seems to loosely parallel the loss of sight in this parable Jesus offers about a wedding feast (Matt. 22:1-14). The first-round guest list chooses to ignore the invitation, as though they have better things to do. They do not see the joy to be had in coming to celebrate the beginning of a new relationship in the community. They would rather gain and get ahead of their peers in business and commodity dealings than give the gift of each other’s presence in celebration of a communal centered marriage. The invitation is to enter into joy in fellowship and union, yet they go to their jobs in isolation (v. 5). They have lost touch with God centered priorities, which is a fundamental point of intersection with our day. It’s not that jobs and daily affairs are bad, but when they become the supreme focus, over and against joy in God and the feast he prepares and invites us to come and share, then we have a perspective problem.

St. Paul addresses the same problem in Philippians 4, though more explicitly. There is no puzzle to piece together and find yourself in here in this epistle reading, but a clear admonition to simply “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). Rather than a parable, it’s plain speech. And we need it sometimes. He says it twice because he must know we need the double reminder, again and again. “The Lord is near,” he goes on to say, and the invitations have gone out; let nothing get in the way of this invitation to rejoice in and with God. Again, a connecting point with our ways of living today. Our busy lives let so many things come between us and the joy of God. The temptation is to let the things of time, even good things, get in the way of the things of eternity.[1] Paul goes on to list things worthy of setting our minds and time on, whatever is “true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, etc.” (v.8). But notice how all such things follow our rejoicing in the Lord. Joy in God is the umbrella, out from under which we end up flooded in the anxieties and frets of the world, whether that be our jobs, families, finances, relationships, etc.

All such things will become like the heat of the day that Isaiah speaks of in 25:9. If we come out from under the shelter of our God, his stronghold of joy, then we will go and build in all the wrong places. We’ll forget how and where to seek his kingdom, preferring to build our own “palaces” (Is. 25:2). But all such fortifications will come down in the end, becoming nothing more than a “heap” (v. 2). And that is something to rejoice in! Along with Isaiah, “I will praise your name for you have done wonderful things…for you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin” (vv. 1-2).

In these lessons, what comes through is the joy that comes when we find the kingdom of heaven, and decide to leave our palaces for it.  

[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2, p. 296

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.