28th Sunday 2005
I’m sure you’ve heard that the God of the Old Testament is a God of vengeance, fear and punishment, whose out to get not only his enemies but is pretty hard on his friends as well. And that the God of the New Testament is loving, forgiving, embracing all. To be perfectly honest, if I had my choice listening to the readings today, I’d prefer the God of the Old Testament. God in the reading from Isaiah invites all people to a great feast. This God tears away the veil that separates people. This God will destroy death and wipe away the tears of people. Sounds good to me. The God of the New Testament also invites people to a banquet but ultimately he takes vengeance on them when they refuse to accept his invitation. Not unlike the vineyard owner last week who destroys the faithless tenants. The God of Matthew’s Gospel these weeks is pretty vengeful and punishing. Give me the God of the first reading any day!
Of course the God of the Old and the New is the same God. It is so easy to interpret things in the way that works best for our purposes, isn’t it? As if our theories about God really do reveal the essence of God. The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures reveal a God who is jealous and faithful (Sounds a lot like us doesn’t it?) a God who is protective Father and Tender Mother but one who gets really “peeved” from time to time. (Sounds a lot like us doesn’t it?
It is so easy to project on another, human or divine, what we say is the essence of the other. The God who is revealed in the scriptures is as much human projection as genuinely divine. Because our human tendency is to demonize and scapegoat the one who is not “one of us”, who does not look or think like we do, we claim the same tendencies for God. And the results can be catastrophic.
Let me give you an example: Today’s gospel is one that has been used for almost 2000 years to say that God has rejected the Jewish people on masse because of the Jewish leaders rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. At the heart of today’s Gospel is Matthew’s explanation of why so many of the Jewish community did not accept the invitation to belief in Jesus as the Messiah. He is trying to explain to his community of Jewish-Christians how they have made the right choice. They are the ones who have come in from the highways and by-ways to be present at the wedding feast. Even the Gentiles are now invited to the wedding banquet. Matthew needs to explain who’s in and who’s out. Given the context of this community’s life and the struggles of the early church to find its identity, it is not surprising that Matthew has this parable of Jesus, condemning the leaders of the community who refused to accept the invitation. The challenge for us, however, is to know the historical context of this parable and not to use its conclusions to determine who is “in” and who is “out” Who is righteous and who is not, who is saved and who is condemned to the “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
So in the name of God, and in the name of Jesus, this group of people are “condemned”, scapegoated, and we are told that they are rejected by God. Until 40 years ago. The document, Nostra Aetate” our ancestors in faith comes out of the Vatican , This document essentially says Christians have been wrong in their condemnation of the Jewish people. God’s covenant love cannot change. God continues to be faithful to this first Chosen people. For almost 2000 years we were taught to interpret God’s action in one way and then we find there is another way, that represents who God is more faithfully. But think of all the damage that has been done along the way!
There are so many in this community that know what it means to be stereotyped and scapegoated. There are many who have words of condemnation in the name of God. Religious authorities say that they know the mind of God. They did the same thing in Jesus’ time and to Jesus himself.
So who is the God that the Hebrew and Christian scriptures reveal together? Who is the God that Jesus reveals? Of course, God is mystery but there may be some “clues” to our discovery? These past weeks we have heard in the scriptures of two beautiful images of human life and joy, the vineyard and the wedding feast. The biblical writers have used these images to suggest that what God really wants for people is to celebrate life in all its fullness. But notices how these two beautiful images become the context for conflict. It is not God but we humans who mess things up with our petty jealousies and our hatreds, our tendencies to exclude and judge and even destroy people, if not physically, then spiritually. And so often we justify our actions in God’s name, projecting our prejudices on God. The God whom Jesus reveals is ironically, the one who embraces those who do not fit “in” but are definitely on the “outs”—the outcasts and sinners, the prostitutes and tax-collectors. All of us need to be very careful of claiming for God a “position” that does not do justice to God’s desire for all of us to recognize that we are God’s dwelling place.
As your pastor, JA has said, in times like these when there is a deafening chorus of “you’re not in and you should be out”, it is so important to have your internal compass set on Christ. Christ is the one who knows us and understands us and embraces us as we are. Keep the compass point fixed on Christ and you will know how to live in “poverty and in abundance” as Paul says.
That is why we are here at the Eucharist, acknowledging how poor we are and how rich we are in our diversity and in our complexity. Each time we come to celebrate this Eucharist, we do not stand in judgment of any of our brothers and sisters but come again to know the depth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.