By Rev. Heather J. Blais, Rector
Picture it:* Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, then heads straight to the Temple to throw out buyers, sellers, and predatory lenders. Where the marketplace had once been, people in need of healing are then brought to Jesus, and children run around proclaiming him as the Messiah.
The chief priests and elders are floored by the unfolding disruption. They question Jesus, and after a brief exchange, Jesus left feeling fed up. He returns to the Temple in the morning, and begins to teach. Again, the chief priests and elders push him, demanding to know by whose authority Jesus acted. He responds by telling them three parables.
Today’s gospel lesson is the last of the three parables.* In the text, Jesus suggests that God’s kingdom is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. When the servants are sent to call the invited guests, they would not come. So the king sends another round of servants, urging his guests - come on, dinner is ready, it’s time to come in for the feast. The guests are indifferent, and shrug off the invitation. Some continue tending to their own business, while others with nothing better to do, mistreat and then kill the king's servants. The outraged king sent his soldiers to destroy the guests and their city. The king then instructs his servants to go to the busiest parts of town and invite anyone and everyone to the banquet, regardless of whether they can return favors or their social standing. As the king arrived he took in the crowd and noticed one person had not dressed appropriately. The king then raged at the speechless guest, before having his servants kick the man out. The parable closes by noting that many are invited, but only a few make it.
This is a challenging parable, especially if we insist on forcing an allegorical interpretation where the King is God, the son is Jesus, the servants are the prophets, so on and so forth. Commentator Yung Suk Kim observes that allegorical interpretation is unable to address the challenging questions this parable raises, such as:
Kim goes on to write,
“Allegorical interpretation is not wrong, but has limitations because it
tones down the deeper, radical, urgent message of the kingdom of God in
Kim suggests that when we interpret this parable, we do so by taking into account the literary context, where Jesus is addressing the chief priests and elders. Jesus is challenging their motivations. Are they in this work to serve God’s dream or have they gotten distracted by their own priorities? He reminds them that religious leaders may have been called by God into their work, but if they lose track of God’s priorities, God will simply find a new way to continue working alongside humanity to bring about God’s dream, calling forth new leaders as necessary. An important reminder for lay and ordained leaders across religious traditions.
This parable certainly gives us much to ponder. As I’ve sat with this text, I found myself reflecting on how the original guests responded to the king’s generosity. The king puts together an elaborate wedding banquet for his son, and is eager to celebrate with his guests. Yet his guests shun their invitation, shrugging it off, and in some instances they spat the king’s generosity back in his face by harming and then killing his servants.
How could they respond to generosity with such indifference or malice? Maybe their apathy stems from not being able to see beyond their own circumstances, too caught up with their own priorities to celebrate another’s joy. Maybe their malice stems from living with such agonizing pain and suffering, that they want others to experience the kind of pain they are living with. We don’t get to know why their response to generosity was what it was. But, we can let it encourage our own self-examination.
We can ask ourselves: In recent months, have we been operating from a posture of gratitude and generosity, or has it maybe been more like fear and scarcity?Please note - there is no wrong answer. We are where we are, and life brings what it brings. However, what is so tricky about fear and scarcity, is they seem to beget even more fear and scarcity. Right? Feeling afraid, feeling like there won’t be enough. Worrying and fretting - it never actually solves things or makes them better. It might give us an ulcer and some sleepless nights. It might strain our relationships or our ability to grow, learn, adapt, and change.
In a similar way, when we are full of gratitude and generosity, it seems to beget even more gratitude and generosity. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude reduces depression, lessens anxiety, supports heart health, relieves stress, and improves sleep.** When we express our sincere gratitude, it also improves our relationships and helps us to grow in faith. Likewise, studies have shown that when we practice generosity, our brain secretes ‘feel good’ chemicals such as serotonin, which regulates our mood; dopamine, which gives us a sense of pleasure; and oxytocin, which creates a sense of connection with others.***
We also know that people who volunteer tend to live longer than those who don’t.*** It is literally to our benefit when we practice gratitude and generosity.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu once wrote:
“I’ve sometimes joked and said God doesn’t know very much math,
because when you give to others, it should be that you are subtracting
from yourself. But in this incredible kind of way…you gave and it then
seems like in fact you are making space for more to be given to you. And
there is a very physical example. The Dead Sea in the Middle East
receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass the water out.
It receives beautiful water from the rivers and the water goes dank. I
mean, it just goes bad. And that’s why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and
does not give. And we are made much that way, too. I mean, we receive
and we must give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming
more, more, and more joyful.” ****
Generosity is all around us.I see it in your actions each week. Generosity…
…is the donation of large paper bags for our outreach ministries; of granola bars for Sunday Soup & Sandwiches; of mayonnaise for the Survival Center.
…showing up at our feeding and outreach ministries with a desire to serve our neighbor by coming up alongside them, seeing them as beloved children of God, and listening to their stories.
…is filling the gaps in parish life. Recently I was so moved by how quickly ministry team leaders volunteered to cover facility maintenance tasks in October while our Sexton Steve is out on medical leave. You are vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, locking up the building, calling contractors, washing floors, eliminating glitter, handling our recycling, dusting, and so much more.
Generosity is also…
…praying for this community, our leaders, and our small part in helping
to bring about God’s dream for this world.
…being understanding and flexible amidst staffing transitions.
…sending a note, dropping off flowers or a meal when someone is going
through a tough time.
…serving on a leadership team and offering your wisdom and
…offering our gifts. Maybe that is playing your instrument at a special
worship service, singing in the choir, making large batches of soup,
managing inventories, organizing volunteers, or cheering people on.
…sharing our wealth. Our parish’s operating budget is largely funded
through your generosity. Maybe you’ve never made a financial pledge before, and you are ready to make that commitment this year. Maybe you are in a position to give a little bit more this year. We each give as we are able.
By now, many of you will have read our annual fall giving campaign letter in the Newsletter or you will soon receive a hard copy if you are on our mailing list. The clergy and vestry are asking each of us to prayerfully consider how we might share our wealth, wisdom, and works in 2024. We are excited to see what new things God is up to here at James and Andrew in the coming year, and we hope you will consider supporting our community in whatever ways you discern you are able to. We invite you to return your pledge form by October 29, when we will offer a blessing and prayer of thanksgiving over the pledge forms. If you are in need of a pledge form, we have hard copies available in the Narthex, where you enter the church, and it is also available on our website.
As we head back out into the world today, I would invite each of us to do some reflecting:
* This draws up Matthew Matthew 21- 22:1-14 NRSV and The Message translations.
****The Book of Joy, pg 264
***** Readings: https://www.lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Pentecost/AProp23_RCL.html
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