There are lots of different approaches a person can take when reflecting, studying, meditating and praying while reading Scripture.
The approach I’m using this morning is a more dynamic “line by line” approach, where my comments are embedded within the reading itself.
This allows more precision in making systematic connections as you proceed through the reading, connections that hopefully accumulate and culminate in deeper insights, wisdom and understanding that is relevant to our desire to discern the Will of God for our lives.
The Holy Spirit helps us see God’s word both within the context within it was written and the intended meaning, then takes that message and intended meaning to guide us to make sense out of how Jesus would want us to respond to the context within which we are now living.
If the truth we ponder is disconnected from a desire to know and do the Will of God and abide in the Sacred Heart of Jesus while living a life truly in the Spirit, then it is self-deception.
JESUS SPEAKS TO THE CROWDS ABOUT THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES IN PARABLES: BUT THEY “GET THE DRIFT” AND THEY’RE NOT HAPPY
Note: I’m going to cut and paste each line from the reading which will be centered, numbered and in purple. Other bible quotations will be indented and in red.
1. “Jesus again in reply…”
In reply to what? The more precise interpretation of the Greek is, “Once again, Jesus spoke to them in parables…” and the “them” referenced are the Scribes and Pharisees. This Gospel follows a series of parables he was pummelling the leaders with, and if you jump back to the very last sentences of the preceding Chapter before this reading, which, as you’ll notice starts at the very beginning of a new chapter. So those sentences are:
“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed. When the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they knew that Jesus was speaking about them. Although they wanted to arrest Him, they were afraid of the crowds, because the people regarded Him as a prophet.” [Matthew 21:43-46].
You’d think with all their knowledge of Scripture and the Jewish history, traditions and law, that Jesus would have spoken to the Scribes and Pharisees in the professional language of their training – in plain terms – as He spoke with his Apostles.
But no. It’s parables, and for a good reason. Parables give you the chance to stay blind to the truth, if you are not open to it.
Speaking in plain terms to those who are not open to the truth usually elicits anger and violence, and it was not Jesus’ intention to “engage” the Pharisees and Scribes, but to simply testify to the truth in a thinly disguised manner for them, so as to give them the choice whether they would see it and respond accordingly or not.
You may recall what He told the disciples when they picked up on the ‘violence’ vibe in the Scribes and Pharisees and brought their concern about His continually making them feel ‘insulted’ to Him. His response? Ignore them:
“Jesus called the crowd to Him and said, “Listen and understand. A man is not defiled by what enters his mouth, but by what comes out of it. Then the disciples came to Him and said, “Are You aware that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” But Jesus replied, “Every plant that My heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by its roots. Disregard them! They are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
The important thing to note here is that this teaching was a direct “corrective” to the Pharisees constantly harassing the people [Jesus and His disciples as well, i.e., eating kernels of wheat on the Sabbath, not washing hands before eating, ‘healing’ (they considered ‘work’) on the Sabbath against the law, etc.].
But Jesus wasn’t arguing and ‘challenging’ the Pharisees and Scribes to get them to ‘see it His way” – He was ‘fixing’ their false teaching by speaking truth to the CROWD. That’s what really P’d them off – to see Jesus supplanting their illegitimate authority that they were using to shore up their own wealth and power by exploiting the people, exerting control over them, and making their lives burdensome while making their own lives easier:
“They tie up heavy, burdensome loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 5All their deeds are done for men to see. They broaden their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels…” [Matthew 23:4-6].
Notice also that this is from the chapter following the one with today’s reading – Jesus went at the Scribes and Pharisees and their false teaching for quite a little while if your read this section of Matthew!
Jesus speaks in parables, but given the entire context, and the many messages on essentially the same theme [a theme of “corrupt leaders full of themselves and distorting God’s intentions for His people with false teachings”] the Scribes and Pharisees are “getting it” on this particular day. They can see that they are the target of his teachings.
As the lines from the end of the preceding chapter inform us, that awareness with the Scribes and Pharisees was inciting anger and they wanted to arrest Jesus, but feared the crowds who were liking what Jesus had to say:
“When the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they knew that Jesus was speaking about them.”
To properly understand the “vibe” happening with the start of the reading for today, picture those scribes and pharisees on the front lines of that crowd listening to Jesus, but not really hearing him, but, as those last sentences inform us:
“And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.” [Matthew 21:46]
Sometimes Jesus spoke more directly about what would befall the Pharisees and Scribes as false shepherds, with his “Woe to you who…” statements about all the things that they were doing that were hurting people and putting stumbling blocks in their way.
He spoke this way – to the crowds – to expose their lies for the benefit of the crowd, but when he offered teaching that was both corrective of their teaching, and a direct challenge to them – it was usually delivered as a soft-sell in parables.
2. “The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come.”
Why would they ‘refuse’ to come. Something to ponder as we read on…
3. “A second time he sent other servants, saying,
‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet,
my calves and fattened cattle are killed,
and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’
Here we see not only that an invitation is given to come to the banquet, but a sense of urgency with the people ignoring the first summons. The banquet is ready, so the message changes from “you are being asked to attend, so please come…” to “COME NOW before the meal gets cold!
We are now in the days of Noah.
“As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark. And they were oblivious, until the flood came and swept them all away. So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day on which your Lord will come.” [Matthew 24: 37-43]
The banquet that is being prepared for God’s people is ready now: we are being summoned with a sense of urgency, before we are swept away in the torrents about to come upon today’s world by the hand of God, as in the days of Noah. This is important to know: the banquet is on a cruise ship – it requires leaving things behind – and it is departing soon. Which brings us to the answer why people were not responding to the ‘summons’ to come.
4. “Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business.”
This is reminiscent of Jesus’ parables of the sower – those who had the seed (word) planted in their hearts, but the cares of this world took precedence and this world they could not leave behind to get on the cruise ship:
“Others are like the seeds sown among the thorns. They hear the word, but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” [Mark 4:18-20].
5. “The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.”
This is that other group or category of ‘lost souls’ – those who are aggressively opposed to God and are aligned with the forces of evil, believing that submission to God is not salvation, but making the self God and and making the God of the bible disappear by any means, primarily relying on the means used by the devil (lies and deception) aimed to rob us of life and bring death (murder) – the hallmark of the evil one: a liar and a murderer:
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out his desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, refusing to uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, because he is a liar and the father of lies. [John 8:44].
This passage from today’s Gospel also brings to mind the parable Jesus told of the wicked servants:
“When the harvest time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his share of the fruit. But the tenants seized his servants. They beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Again, he sent other servants, more than the first group. But the tenants did the same to them. Finally, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard returns, what will he do to those tenants?”“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and will rent out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his share of the fruit at harvest time.”
So those first invited say “no”. It was the religious leaders of His day who should have recognized Jesus as the Messiah who rejected Him, and ultimately killed Him.
The good news of the Gospel was then made known to everyone, and was also made available to all God’s children, Jew and pagan alike, as we see played out in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, especially in the ministry of St. Paul. We see this sense of the universal mercy and love and invitation to salvation and eternal life reflected next in the reading for today:
6. “Then the king said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come.
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.’
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.”
What’s up with that? How is it that the bad are going to get into the banquet?
Answer? Because their hearts are not hardened to God and when the invitation comes express post, they’ll be happy.
In these final days, when the Illumination of Conscience happens, they who may not know God in their minds, but are not completely unfriendly toward His Spirit in their heart, will repent, then rejoice, while the powerful who are too preoccupied with their own wealth and power and ambitions to care for anything to do with God and loving others, with hardened hearts, will be terrorized by the manifestation of God’s power and might in the illumination.
The so-called ‘bad’ alike with the good herein described – however – will immediately repent, and then rejoice, and then take their seat at the table, wearing Jesus like a garment and beaming for God.
Jesus told us that our Father in heaven is perfect and wishes that all His children created in love are saved. He causes His boundless love and mercy to be poured out on all of us, like the sun and rain:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” [Matthew 5:45].
7. “But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence.”
The garment is Jesus – the only way to the Father, the good shepherd, the only ‘gate’ through which the sheep can enter:
“I will rejoice greatly in the Lord,
My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
The Web of lies and deceptions from which those who belong to satan attempt to weave a counterfeit garment will be found out in the end by the might and silencing power of God’s truth, as Isaiah prophesied:
Their webs will not become clothing,
Nor will they cover themselves with their works;
Their works are works of iniquity,
And an act of violence is in their hands. [Isaiah 59:6].
8. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Indeed – many are invited – elsewhere in Scripture we see the expressed as “many are called” – invited, called….same thing.
But to be chosen is to accept all the terms and conditions set down as requirements for attendance at the banquet. To be ‘chosen’ is to be taken up by God’s love and mercy, as Jesus ‘took up’ his disciples:
“You have not chosen Me, I have chosen you. I have set you apart for the work of bringing in fruit. Your fruit should last. And whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give it to you.” [John 15:16].
And there you have it! The culmination of connections and insights into the big one for today, for guidance and inspiration, and that can be summed as follows:
We have been CHOSEN by Jesus to leave behind everything in these last days of ‘noah-like’ urgency to WORK AT BRINGING IN FRUIT.
The ‘fruit’ are God’s children also being ‘called’ who have not yet responded…we are the servants sent out to tell them to hurry up, get that proper garment on, and get their sorry asses to the ship before departure….if they say “Great, I’m with you…” then they join the team and then “chosen” to do the same work. Let’s get busy.
How fitting is the intro Alleluia to the Gospel for this reading today:
“Jesus, thank you for inviting us to your banquet which we are busily preparing for as we work to bring in the harvest. Help us to do that, to clearly communicate with authority and power the goodness that You are and offer to us as Spirit and Truth – as eternal life in God with You and all in You.
Father, give us this day our daily bread which we understand and belief to be Your only begotten Son Jesus, our Lord and Saviour who suffered and died and poured Himself out as a font of mercy and living water for us. Strengthen us this day to stand as bright lights, clear beacons for others, unflickering and strong in signal, as we manifest your love by imitating Jesus, and allowing Your Holy Spirit t live in and through us to bring in the harvest, build the Kingdom, and give glory to You.” Amen.