Treasure the true

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; 11 October 2020; Proper 23A (RCL); Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14.

Leave it to Matthew to ruin a perfectly good parable. Luke also has a version of this parable (which means it was found originally in Q – not the same as anon). In Luke’s version, all of the invited guests beg off, so the host told his servants to go out into the streets and lanes and invite anyone they found, so that the feast would not go to waste. And the story ends there.

Matthew has to have some weeping and gnashing of teeth, so he adds that the king sent his troops to destroy he city of those refused to come to the feast. I’m thinking that by the time that happens, the feast is ruined anyway, but details. Then when all the new guests arrive, the king finds one man in the wrong attire, so he has to be thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. I suppose Matthew has to get in his vindictive streak against his fellow Jews who don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah. Luke has no such axe to grind.

So, I like the idea that all the wrong sorts of people get invited to the feast that is the kingdom. Rachel Held Evans once wrote: “This is what the kingdom of God is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.” I like that vision better than a destroying army.

The Exodus reading also shows a vindictive God. The people make the golden calf (which is really a reference to the split between Israel and Judah — after the split, Jeroboam built altars at Dan and Bethel and installed golden calves there, and proclaimed, “Behold your Gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” 1 Kings 12:25-29), and God threatens to destroy them and start over with Moses. Moses talks God out of his pique. Again, not a picture of God I care for.

Paul, on the other hand, is writing his letter to his favorite congregation. I believe he is on his way to die. Ignatius of Antioch imitates Paul’s letter to the Philippians in his final letters to his congregations on his way to martyrdom. I suspect Philippians was widely regarded in the ancient world as Paul’s last.

He is saying his final farewell, knowing that he won’t ever be with this congregation again to teach them the truths of the gospel. So, he gives this final list: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any virtue and if there is anything worthy of praise, set your mind on these things.” My favorite verses. We would be a lot better off if we set our minds on these things, rather than the noise that surrounds us.

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