Week 46A: God’s Uncompromising Welcome

First Reading — OT: Isaiah 25:1-9
Second Reading — Epistle: Philippians 4:1-9
Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14

One of the toughest questions we face as people of faith concerned with justice and peace is how to hold together the invitation of the Gospel with the confrontation that God’s reign brings against personal and corporate sin and evil. But, as tough as it may be, we do not have the luxury of avoiding this question, and this week’s Lectionary brings us face to face with it in dramatic and helpful ways.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is again teaching about the Kingdom. Here it is described in a way that antagonized the establishment. If those who are religious do not respond to God’s call, they will be replaced by others who do respond.

In the first reading, Isaiah foresees the Kingdom of God as a great feast (the same image Jesus uses in today’s Gospel reading) and as a feast for all people, not just a few. This is one of the places in the Hebrew Scriptures where we see Israel’s understanding of God as a national or tribal God expanding into seeing God as God of all.

We continue to read Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul brings his letter to its conclusion, calling on the people to live in peace and unity and to help one another. Paul encourages the Church to stand firm, to agree with one another, to live as those who await Christ’s appearance and to meditate on those things that are good, true and beautiful.

The readings indicate that entrance into God’s reign requires us to adopt the “clothes” (the ways of being) of God’s reign. The invitation is open to all, but we only experience God’s life when we allow God’s reign into us. With that as the background, then, we can see both the invitation and the confrontation of God’s reign.

It can be hard to hold both confrontation and invitation together as we seek to follow Jesus in the world. It is all too easy to emphasise confrontation, judge those with whom we disagree, stand against our opponents and embrace some form of violence in order to achieve our goals – and then, even though our goals may be good, or in line with God’s reign, we end up becoming the same as what we oppose.

On the other hand, it is all too easy to emphasize God’s invitation, be naive about evil, and run the risk of bringing those who need protection into harm’s way because the ones who threaten them are allowed to continue unchecked. It is crucial then, that we hold these two elements of the Gospel together, recognizing that God’s reign does not seek only to bring all people in, but seeks also to get in to all people.

In every relationship, there are times for invitation and welcome, and there are times for confrontation and holding people accountable. It is not ungracious to confront abusive spouses and hold them accountable. It is not ungracious to challenge those who mistreat their workers or to confront those who stereotype or judge others because of insignificant differences.

On the other hand, it is not a compromise to welcome those who have been excluded, those who are different, those who need love, direction, help, basic needs or a place to belong. It is not a compromise to put relationship above law and to stay faithful to relationships even when we disagree.

The challenge of the Gospel is to learn, in our homes, our marriages, our churches, and our neighborhoods, to confront graciously and to welcome with integrity. We are called to sacrifice for others, to love others and to welcome others. And we are called to hold ourselves and our companions to the standards of justice and peace of God’s reign.

It is as we learn to allow others to hold us accountable, and as we learn to graciously challenge those with whom we journey, that we learn to live as citizens of God’s reign. And it is as we forgive, include and seek to understand others that we discover the richness of God’s grace and the power of God’s reign to transform us in meaningful and healing ways. The question is whether we are willing to do the work and to face the tough realities of living in this invitational/confrontational community that God seeks for us.

Our gathering in Eucharist is a foreshadowing of the Kingdom of God. We are called to bring all people into this fellowship and meal. In this way, the Kingdom of God is revealed and humanity’s hope is made more certain.

Let us pray…
Holy One, we gather today with our church family in Your presence. You are always with us, Your presence is always near, yet at times we forget. We should know You are always beside us, within us and beyond us. May we seek Your presence in the lives of those around us, our family, our friends, and in those we encounter in the world. May we seek Your face in the face of others, and may our hands and feet be Your hands and feet in this world. In the name of Jesus, our companion on this journey of faith, we pray. Amen.