10/11: Exodus 33:12-23 and Psalm 99 • Isaiah 45:1-7 and Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13) • 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 • Matthew 22:15-22
This week's Matthew reading offers the reader a discordant, discomfiting parable. It's a troubling story where the king – a stand-in for God – enforces expectations. What happened to mercy?!
To unpack this a little, let's go back and take a look at the story. First, there's a king who invites folk to his son's wedding. All the food is ready – and remember, this is before refrigeration! But the people are all too busy to come. Pausing here for a minute, one does have to wonder about this busy-ness, here in DC, the center of People with Important Things to Do (PITD) with their days – people who (pre-covid) could not show up at the baseball stadium for the opening pitch, mostly because they were still working. Somehow, what folks are reporting during covid is that they're busier than ever! Pre-during-or-potentially-post-covid, it seems that busy-ness may serve a function of some sort in the PITD life, wherever one lives, a function beyond getting work done.
But back to the story. The king, getting annoyed, tells his staff to go out and find people to come to this wedding. Invite everyone, he tells them. And so they fill the party banquet hall with folks. Not PITD folks, but more ordinary people who were apparently having a great time. Then, one guy is spotted without wedding clothes on. The king asked to see him, and asks him about it gently – using the word friend. He asks how he'd even gotten in, dressed as he was. But the person answers not a word.
What do clothes have to do with it? Let's assume that the king's servants had made some provisions for these folks they'd brought in, off the streets, so that they could be dressed for the event. If a person avoids dressing for the occasion, what's the implicit message? I'm reminded of the Emmys a few weeks ago. The letter inviting the nominees to the event included the following covid-related request about dressing for an online platform: So, what are you wearing??? Our informal theme for the night is "come as you are, but make an effort!"
What a great piece of advice. Come as you are; be yourself. But make an effort; avoid helplessness and put some thought into this. Going back to our story, one sees a king trying to have a party for his son, and one person threatening to put a damper on the festivities. The king is trying to tell him that this party is not about him: that he has an obligation to show up dressed for the occasion. Implicit in the king's message is the belief that the person is capable; he can overcome his immaturity. The trouble is that no one – king or otherwise – can do this for him. The opposite is more likely to be true; the more others try to make up for him or to accommodate him, the less likely he is to find his own inner strength of character. Join us, but make an effort!
Human beings are good at joining; we are a cooperative species whose success is built not on physical strength, but on working together. At a wedding party, cooperation includes dressing appropriately to celebrate the event. At a debate, cooperation means avoiding name-calling and allowing your opponent time to speak. In a pandemic, cooperation involves watching one's own symptoms and being careful to avoid a potential spread of infection even when one is asymptomatic. Still, some side with the rude guy, the one thrown out of the wedding party.
Whether at a wedding party or in the midst of a pandemic, a person who fails to follow the rules cannot be allowed to bring everyone down. We owe it to each other to insist on some minimum rules of behavior and decorum. Those who put up with the bully are as bad as the bully; a reciprocal process is involved. It is time to be reminded of a king who requires us to honor our responsibility to one another.
Morning: What are my responsibilities to others? For myself?
Evening: How well did I do with managing myself today?
Psalm 106:3 Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times.