Face the troubling realities around us
Exodus 32:1-14 and Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23, Isaiah 25:1-9 and Psalm 23,
Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14
The Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann speaks about Israel’s imaginative freedom in naming God and Israel’s expressive freedom in addressing God. He also stresses that the Hebrew scriptures represent an ongoing dialogue between the people and YHWH.
Israel was not always happy with their God, with this passage in Exodus 32 offering one of the most intense portrayals of the people’s idolatrous misnaming. They were tired of a God who was too invisible, too elusive, too resistant to control and manipulation. The priestly leadership get it horribly, blasphemously wrong here, so that Moses ends up doing the prophetic work of discernment and the priestly work of interceding for the people.
Preachers may have to wrestle here with the portrayal of God’s wrath burning hot against the people, but I hope you will allow the text its voice and allow this hard word to be heard. Let’s not resolve the tensions too quickly in either this text or in Matthew 22 to protect our ’safe' images of a just and loving God, which may have their own idolatrous dimensions to them. Literary critical approaches to scripture, which are very much to the fore in Biblical Studies, insist that we read and work with the final form of the text - including the knots and resistances.
Christian Aid works in many parts of the world where people have suffered at the hands of others, have been oppressed and marginalised and excluded. Wherever there has been injustice there is always anger and anger needs to be heard. The parable in Matthew 22 is unsettling and disturbing, but that is pretty much intrinsic to the genre of parable. Sermons and services can cope with more messiness and confusion than we sometimes allow for. Sometimes preachers may need to voice our own confusion and resistance to aspects of the text - to raise questions we cannot answer and to wait with texts we do not know how to read. Perhaps there is a kind of hermeneutical training for both preachers and congregations which comes through this, helping us to develop a wisdom perspective on scripture, which includes patience and the maturity to give difficult texts a hearing without shutting them down.
As well as posing questions to the text and expressing what we find difficult (stories which casually mention slaves for example) we might also adopt a Gospels in Solentiname approach of asking people to turn to one another and trusting them with a conversation about this parable. And in the work of Christian Aid’s Just Scripture project where groups turn to another community across the world to discuss passages together. We may uncover profound and unexpected hermeneutical wisdom.
The King in this story sends an army to enact revenge, killing the murderers and burning their city as well as finally expelling the guest without a wedding outfit into outer darkness.
Be in no doubt - if this passage is read in public worship, it will unsettle anyone who pays attention. As preacher, you may use the bulletin notes or part of the sermon to open up questions about parable and hyperbole - it’s a story! You may share lines of interpretation which read the rejection of the invitation as self-righteous assertion, which show the new invitation to be more inclusive. Which then read the lack of a wedding garment as a refusal to be clothed in the grace and mercy of God and an attempt to earn and justify our place. All those are promising, but you will not finally pin this story down and should be wary of trying to.
Christian Aid works with the messy realities of a world disfigured by poverty and injustice, violence, oppression and environmental degradation. These realities provoke anger, confusion, as well as debates about accountability, punishment and coercion. Learning not to sanitise or silence the troubling voices in scripture may teach us a lot about facing the troubling realities around us in the world. Opting for Isaiah 25 or Psalm 23 may seem an easier route this week, but even there the cities of aliens are destroyed and enemies wait while the table is prepared. This is a week for all preachers to pray for one another in solidarity as we work with the texts!
For more information about our Just Scripture project, please email Wendy Young at firstname.lastname@example.org
Great and wonderful God,
we give thanks for the scriptures
in which we hear your word of life.
Give us wisdom to learn from the story of Israel,
the story of Jesus and the story of your church.
Help us when we have to hear hard words
or witness difficult emotions.
Give us the help of your Holy Spirit,
as we read texts which trouble us,
to look for your light and listen for your truth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
- Pray for the difficult and messy realities of a world disfigured by poverty and injustice. For the places of ongoing conflict, in South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and the places the media has forgotten. Pray for Christian Aid partners to have the tenacity and support to endure.
- Pray for all the communities displaced by violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, as well as the Rohingya people who have crossed the border into Bangladesh as refugees. Prayers and more information can be found on the Rohingya Crisis Appeal page.
- Pray for Christian Aid partners helping those who have lost livelihoods, homes and loved ones in the devastating floods in South East Asia. Pray for strength, wisdom and supplies to be made available.
- Pray for all who have experienced the devastation of intense hurricanes in the Caribbean and North America. Pray for restoration of homes, livelihoods and for protection from future storms.
- Pray all business leaders across the world may lead and grow their businesses to benefit the whole community and to protect our planet’s scarce resources. Pray for the Christian Aid Salt Network, that it will support Christians in business to be part of the change, forming a united voice and helping businesses be a force for good.
- October is Black History Month. Give thanks for the contributions that African and Caribbean communities make to societies worldwide.
Published on 15 October 2017