Week 2: The Surreal Life

A Year With Jesus: Matthew 1:18-25.

In Mrs. Doubtfire, one of my favorite comedies, Robin Williams’ character finds himself in a stage of life that he never expected. In one scene, after being reprimanded by his boss, he ponders, “Have you ever wished you could freeze frame a single moment of your day, look at it and say, ‘This is not my life’?”

I think we all face moments of “surrealness” in our lives. They can be in the context of both positive and negative experiences.

Sometimes you think to yourself, “Wow! How did I get here?!”

Other times it’s, “Ugh! How did I get here???”

I’m pretty sure Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, faced one of these moments in this week’s reading.

The Book of Luke tells us the “Christmas story” from the perspective of Mary. Matthew, on the other hand, shows us Joseph’s point of view. Joseph was a good man. But he wasn’t a perfect man. (That honor was reserved for his son. 🙂 ) It’s true, he was more honorable than probably most men put it his position. When he found out that Mary was pregnant, Matthew tells us, “He did not want to put her to shame in public. So he planned to divorce her quietly.”

But I wonder, did Joseph listen to Mary’s side of the story? Or did he just decide to cut his losses and move on? Or, if he did let Mary tell her side, was there any part of him that wanted to believe it was true? But how could it be?

And as all this is churning in Joseph’s mind, he gets a visit from an angel, who confirms that Mary’s side of the story is true. He invites Joseph to be part of Jesus’ story. Don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. And, in the midst of all the surrealness, Joseph accepts.

I think the “Christmas story” has become so familiar to us (even among non-Christians) that we forget these characters – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Magi – had no idea how any of their circumstances would play out. They didn’t have the luxury of knowing how their story would end.

They were in uncharted territory. It wasn’t a common occurrence for angels to appear in dreams and tell you who to marry. And people were quite aware of where babies came from. Even as Joseph made the decision to take Mary as his wife and become a surrogate father to her son, there had to be part of him that thought this was completely insane. I’m sure in this surreal moment, Joseph thought to himself, “Ugh! How did I get here???”

But I’m also sure that Joseph experienced another surreal moment in his life. Perhaps it was when he first held the baby in his arms. Or maybe it was when Jesus was 12, and Joseph and Mary lost Jesus (yes, they lost him!) and later found him in the temple teaching the teachers. Or maybe it was a moment when Joseph was teaching Jesus his trade of carpentry, and he realized that there was something very special about his son.

And he may have thought to himself, “Wow! How did I get here?!

Questions to Ponder:

Why do you think Joseph decided to follow the angel’s instructions?

Have you ever experienced a “surreal moment” in your life?

*Photo by Erik Johansson. (He has a ton of cool photography!)

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Week 1: Messy Family Trees

A Year With Jesus: Matthew 1:1-17

Family trees and ancestries seem to be all the rage these days. But if we look back far enough (or, more likely, not so far!) we’ll probably find some scoundrel we’d rather not be associated with. Can’t we just cut them out of our family line? Edit history a little?

Matthew begins his account of Jesus’ life with a genealogy. But why start with Jesus’ family tree? Why not jump straight into the action – you know, with Jesus doing some kind of miracle or something? Why, Matthew, must you have to go digging around and uncover something that might embarrass Jesus?

I think Matthew begins his story with this prologue of sorts for two reasons:

1. Matthew wanted to show that there was a method to God’s madness. Matthew wrote his book primarily for a Jewish audience who were now trying to follow Jesus. They would have been very familiar with this cast of characters. Matthew is connecting Jesus to the Old Testament. He’s been part of God’s plan since the beginning.

2. Matthew wanted to show that Jesus came from – and for – broken people. The Old Testament is filled with stories that are… (what’s the word I’m looking for?)… Unsanitized. We read these stories and think, How can this be included in the Bible???

But the truth is, the Bible is filled with stories of broken people who mess up in really big ways. This fact is not lost on Matthew. Take verse 6, for example:

And Jesse was the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon. Solomon’s mother had been Uriah’s wife.

King David was known as Israel’s greatest king. But Matthew openly airs his dirty laundry by including this detail: Solomon’s mother had been Uriah’s wife.

Uriah’s wife was Bathsheba. While Uriah was away at war, David used his power and position to take advantage of Bathsheba sexually. Even as I type these words, I am chilled by this story in a whole new way. When I think of it in light of the stories we’ve heard this past year of women being abused by men in power, it brings a whole new weight to it.

And this story hangs on Jesus’ family tree for all to see. Rather than hide it, Matthew reveals it. Matthew begins his story by acknowledging how messy and broken this sad world is. But the lineage ends with a ray of hope: Jesus is here. He has come to set things right and redeem all things.

All things.

Questions to Ponder:

Why do you think Matthew began his story with Jesus’ family tree?

Are there any parts of your story that you wish could just be cut out?

If you would like a quick overview of the entire book of Matthew, this video is awesome.

A Walk With Jesus

Happy New Year!

I hope 2018 is off to a great start and you’re already eating better, working out more, and _____________________ (fill in whatever your thing is). I know I’m not! But I am excited about this year…

My church, Summit, has officially declared 2018 to be “A Year With Jesus”. I know, sounds a bit weird – isn’t every year a year with Jesus at a church? But all it means is that we’re being intentional about looking at the life and teachings of Jesus all year long. I’m excited because lately, it seems like Christianity has become synonymous with everything BUT Jesus. I think this year will give us a chance to reconnect with who we are supposed to be all about. And if you’re not a Christian and happen to drop in on any given Sunday, it will just give you a chance to take a walk with Jesus and get to know him.

I’ve decided to follow along with the “Jesus Year” on this blog. So here’s what I’m gonna do (I can use the word “gonna” in a blog post, right?!):

I’m going to blog my way through the Book of Matthew this year. The Book of Matthew is simply one of four written accounts we have of the life of Jesus (the others being Mark, Luke, and John. These accounts were later collected and combined into what is now referred to as the New Testament.). I found a 40-day reading plan for the Book of Matthew. But rather than do it in 40 days, I’m going to do it in 40 weeks.

Each week (I’m aiming for Fridays) I’ll post my thoughts on a section of Matthew. Now, I’m not a Bible scholar or theologian. I don’t have all the answers when it comes to Scripture. (Or anything!) Not even close. I’ll try my best to give accurate interpretations, but everything I post will be my opinion and my opinion alone. My main reason for doing this is to get to know Jesus a little better this year. And you’re invited to come along for the ride!

Feel free to join in the conversation and post comments (even if you disagree with me). I’m going to try including a “Question To Consider” at the end of each post. And if you wouldn’t consider yourself a Christian or follower of Jesus, you’re welcome to join in the conversation, too! I want this to be a safe place for everyone to process any thoughts they have.

Well, now that we have all the housekeeping out of the way, let’s begin!

… (On Friday, that is…)

Lent Day 20: I Am Not Throwing Away My Shot!

I have always been the type of person who would rather quit something than fail something. I feel that way even now with this blog. I made a commitment to blog every day of Lent (excluding Sundays). Last week was extremely busy and I missed 4 days. With each passing day it became easier to not write. Oh well, I thought. I failed. I considered abandoning this project all together. I considered being like the third servant in this story.

“Again, here is what the kingdom of heaven will be like. A man was going on a journey. He sent for his servants and put them in charge of his property. He gave $10,000 to one. He gave $4,000 to another. And he gave $2,000 to the third. The man gave each servant the amount of money he knew the servant could take care of. Then he went on his journey.

“The servant who had received the $10,000 went at once and put his money to work. He earned $10,000 more. The one with the $4,000 earned $4,000 more. But the man who had received $2,000 went and dug a hole in the ground. He hid his master’s money in it.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned. He wanted to collect all the money they had earned. The man who had received $10,000 brought the other $10,000. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you trusted me with $10,000. See, I have earned $10,000 more.’

“His master replied, ‘You have done well, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with $4,000 also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you trusted me with $4,000. See, I have earned $4,000 more.’

“His master replied, ‘You have done well, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received $2,000 came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest where you have not planted. You gather crops where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid. I went out and hid your $2,000 in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You evil, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not planted? You knew that I gather crops where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money in the bank. When I returned, I would have received it back with interest.’

“Then his master commanded the other servants, ‘Take the $2,000 from him. Give it to the one who has $20,000. Everyone who has will be given more. He will have more than enough. And what about anyone who doesn’t have? Even what he has will be taken away from him. Throw that worthless servant outside. There in the darkness, people will sob and grind their teeth.’ – Matthew 25:14-30

I have always been the type of person who would rather quit something than fail something. I feel that way even now with this blog. I made a commitment to blog every day of Lent (excluding Sundays). Last week was extremely busy and I missed 4 days. With each passing day it became easier to not write. Oh well, I thought. I failed. I considered abandoning this project all together. I considered being like the third servant in this story.

Again, I am no Bible scholar, but I don’t think the point of this story is a lesson on aggressive investing strategies. It’s not about money at all. (Most translations use the word “Talents” rather than a U.S. dollar amount. A talent was a unit of money but, as we know, covers any gift or ability God has entrusted us with). The third servant’s problem wasn’t that he failed to turn a profit, but that he failed to even try. He did not trust God with what he had been given.

This story has kind of a scary ending. The servant is thrown outside in the darkness. Is this a metaphor for hell? Are we to be thrown into hell for squandering our talents? No. From a Christian standpoint, we know this cannot be true. Our works aren’t what save us. As N.T. Wright says about this story:

“When Jesus speaks of someone being thrown into the darkness outside, where people weep and grind their teeth, we must never forget that he was himself on the way into the darkness.”

Yes, Jesus came to redeem our failures, so we can use our gifts freely and take risks. But he also came to redeem the times when we failed to try failing, because we were afraid to even try.

Lent Day 14: The Widow’s Mite

Jesus sat down across from the place where people put their temple offerings. He watched the crowd putting their money into the offering boxes. Many rich people threw large amounts into them.

But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins. They were worth much less than a penny.

Jesus asked his disciples to come to him. He said, “What I’m about to tell you is true. That poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others. They all gave a lot because they are rich. But she gave even though she is poor. She put in everything she had. She gave all she had to live on.” – Mark 12:41-44

J. Vernon McGee was an eccentric (I mean that in the best way possible) preacher who always had interesting anecdotes to tell. He once told of a pastor who held a meeting to raise funds to build a new church building. The pastor asked each congregant what they would like to contribute. He got to the wealthiest member of the church, a local businessman, and asked, “And what can we put you down for?”

The man hesitated and said, “Well, I could probably put in the widow’s mite.” (A “mite” is what the New King James Version of the Bible calls the copper coins; very small copper coins worth a fraction of a penny.)

The pastor stood up excitedly and said, “Did ya hear that, everyone? Mr. Smith just said he’s going to fund the whole campaign! What a generous fellow!”

Mr. Smith immediately shot back at him. “What? I never said such a thing! I said I could give the widow’s mite!”

“Yes,” replied the pastor. “And that widow gave all she had!”

Jesus took notice of that widow. And we still talk about her today.

Lent Day 13: You’ve Been Phariseed!

In today’s rather lengthy reading, Jesus has a lot to say to the Pharisees. I usually love it when Jesus yells at the Pharisees. It makes me feel better about myself.

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples. “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” he said. “So you must obey them. Do everything they tell you. But don’t do what they do. They don’t practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on other people’s shoulders. But they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for others to see. On their foreheads and arms they wear little boxes that hold Scripture verses. They make the boxes very wide. And they make the tassels on their coats very long.

“They love to sit down in the place of honor at dinners. They also love to have the most important seats in the synagogues. They love to be greeted in the market places. They love it when people call them ‘Rabbi.’

“But you shouldn’t be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have only one Master, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth ‘father.’ You have one Father, and he is in heaven. You shouldn’t be called ‘teacher.’ You have one Teacher, and he is the Christ. The most important person among you will be your servant. Anyone who lifts himself up will be brought down. And anyone who is brought down will be lifted up.

“How terrible it will be for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter. And you will not let those enter who are trying to.

“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You travel everywhere to win one person to your faith. Then you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

“How terrible for you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone takes an oath in the name of the temple, it means nothing. But anyone who takes an oath in the name of the gold of the temple must keep the oath.’ You are blind and foolish! Which is more important? Is it the gold? Or is it the temple that makes the gold holy?

“You also say, ‘If anyone takes an oath in the name of the altar, it means nothing. But anyone who takes an oath in the name of the gift on it must keep the oath.’ You blind men! Which is more important? Is it the gift? Or is it the altar that makes the gift holy?

“So anyone who takes an oath in the name of the altar takes an oath in the name of it and of everything on it. And anyone who takes an oath in the name of the temple takes an oath in the name of it and of the One who lives in it. And anyone who takes an oath in the name of heaven takes an oath in the name of God’s throne and of the One who sits on it.

“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You give God a tenth of your spices, like mint, dill and cummin. But you have not practiced the more important things of the law, like fairness, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the last things without failing to do the first. You blind guides! You remove the smallest insect from your food. But you swallow a whole camel!

“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You clean the outside of the cup and dish. But on the inside you are full of greed. You only want to satisfy yourselves. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish. Then the outside will also be clean.

“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You are like tombs that are painted white. They look beautiful on the outside. But on the inside they are full of the bones of the dead. They are also full of other things that are not pure and clean. It is the same with you. On the outside you seem to be doing what is right. But on the inside you are full of what is wrong. You pretend to be what you are not.

“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You build tombs for the prophets. You decorate the graves of the godly. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of those who lived before us, we wouldn’t have done what they did. We wouldn’t have helped to kill the prophets.’ So you give witness against yourselves. You admit that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets. So finish the sins that those who lived before you started!

“You nest of poisonous snakes! How will you escape from being sentenced to hell? So I am sending you prophets, wise men, and teachers. You will kill some of them. You will nail some to a cross. Others you will whip in your synagogues. You will chase them from town to town.

“So you will pay for all the godly people’s blood spilled on earth. I mean from the blood of godly Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berekiah. Zechariah was the one you murdered between the temple and the altar. What I’m about to tell you is true. All this will happen to those who are now living.

“Jerusalem! Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and throw stones in order to kill those who are sent to you. Many times I have wanted to gather your people together. I have wanted to be like a hen who gathers her chicks under her wings. But you would not let me! Look, your house is left empty. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'” -Matthew 23:1-39

In today’s rather lengthy reading, Jesus has a lot to say to the Pharisees. I usually love it when Jesus yells at the Pharisees. It makes me feel better about myself.

The word “Pharisee” has a very negative connotation. I decided to look up what the word actually means. Here’s one definition (I found it on Google so we know it’s true): “A member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity.”

I find that last part interesting. And commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity.

That’s not how things started out. Pharisees had a high and noble calling. That is the first thing Jesus makes clear. But somewhere along the line they started to care more about keeping up appearances than about caring for God’s people. All of their self-made laws created a chasm between them and the people. Only they were good enough to get to God.

We should also remember that this was not the norm for every Pharisee.  There were some who genuinely wanted to follow God as humbly as possible. And Jesus never stopped pursuing Pharisees. We often like to point out that Pharisees were appalled that Jesus hung out with “sinners”. But perhaps “sinners” were equally appalled at Him for hanging out with Pharisees!

We sometimes use terms that have neutral meanings in a negative connotation. “They’re nothing but a bunch of conservatives.” “He’s a typical liberal.” In the church world, calling someone a Pharisee is the ultimate insult. I’ve done it many times. “Thank God I’m enlightened, and not soooo judgmental like him. He’s a typical Pharisee.” BAM!  You’ve been Phariseed!

And just like that, I’ve become more interested in how I’m being perceived by others than about loving that person.

When I Pharisee a Pharisee, I’ve become a Pharisee. Someone who still needs Jesus.

And someone who Jesus still loves.

 

Lent Day 11: Please Don’t Steal My iPad At Panera

What would you say is the most important law in America? Maybe the no stealing law? It wouldn’t be much fun if someone could just walk up to me at Panera and snatch my iPad without any repercussions. But I would have to go with the obvious one – no murdering. I’m glad we have a law like that on the books.

The Pharisees heard that the Sadducees weren’t able to answer Jesus. So the Pharisees got together. One of them was an authority on the law. So he tested Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” he asked, “which is the most important commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind.’ (Deuteronomy 6:5) This is the first and most important commandment. And the second is like it. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ (Leviticus 19:18) Everything that is written in the Law and the Prophets is based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:34-46

What would you say is the most important law in America? Maybe the no stealing law? It wouldn’t be much fun if someone could just walk up to me at Panera and snatch my iPad without any repercussions. But I would have to go with the obvious one – no murdering. I’m glad we have a law like that on the books.

Jesus says the greatest commandment in the Law (that is, the Law based in the Jewish Torah) is to love God with everything in you. At first, this seems odd. Murder, theft, speeding, extortion – these are all outward things that can be proved. You can fantasize about stealing my iPad all you want. You won’t get in trouble until you do it. But loving God? There’s no real way to know if anyone is doing that. Or is there?

The second greatest command is to love your neighbor as yourself. Maybe our success with this command is tied into how well we do with the first. God doesn’t NEED our love. The first command isn’t about appeasing an insecure god. And we will never, ever be able to obey the first command perfectly. On most days I’m not even thinking about obeying it. That’s why I need the grace of Jesus. But, here’s why I think it’s so important: Perhaps God knows that the more connected we are with Him, the more His love will flow through us. And that’s the only way we will get anywhere close to living out the second command.

Lent Day 10: Heaven Is For Real, But So Is Right Now

When I was about 13, I saw a church play where different vignettes would play out. In a few scenarios, a person would accept Jesus, and then a moment later die in some tragic way (I remember a very jovial construction working being knocked off a high beam and falling to his death). But it’s okay, because then they would be met by Jesus who would take them away. Looking back now, it seems like something out of a horror movie. But I get their point – when you know Jesus, the afterlife is not something to fear.

The Sadducees do not believe that people rise from the dead. Some of them came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us about a man’s brother who dies. Suppose the brother leaves a wife but has no children. Then the man must get married to the widow. He must have children to carry on his dead brother’s name.

“There were seven brothers. The first one got married to a woman. He died without leaving any children. The second one got married to her. And then the third one got married to her. One after another, the seven brothers got married to her. They all died. None left any children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, when the dead rise, whose wife will she be? All seven brothers were married to her.”

Jesus replied, “People in this world get married. And their parents give them to get married. But it will not be like that when the dead rise. Those who are considered worthy to take part in what happens at that time won’t get married. And their parents won’t give them to be married. They can’t die anymore. They are like the angels. They are God’s children. They will be given a new form of life when the dead rise.

“Remember the story of Moses and the bush. Even Moses showed that the dead rise. The Lord said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham. I am the God of Isaac. And I am the God of Jacob.’ (Exodus 3:6) He is not the God of the dead. He is the God of the living. In his eyes, everyone is alive.”

Some of the teachers of the law replied, “You have spoken well, teacher!” And no one dared to ask him any more questions. – Luke 20:27-40

When I was about 13, I saw a church play where different vignettes would play out. In a few scenarios, a person would accept Jesus, and then a moment later die in some tragic way (I remember a very jovial construction working being knocked off a high beam and falling to his death). But it’s okay, because then they would be met by Jesus who would take them to the afterlife. Looking back now, it seems like something out of a horror movie. But I get their point – when you know Jesus, the afterlife is not something to fear.

I think we are a culture fascinated by the afterlife. This includes Christians, too. Scan the shelves of the Christian section of any bookstore and you’ll see books like this, this, and this. On one level, it’s natural to want to know what heaven is like, and Scripture does give us a glimpse into it. On another level, it’s possible to be so intrigued by heaven that we miss out on what God is doing in the here and now.

No doubt the Sadducees were trying to test Jesus with their question, and Jesus’ response has a deeper meaning about who God is. But I find their question interesting. They know how marriage works down here. They want to know how it works up there. And I’m sure readers today have mixed reactions to Jesus’ answer. Some think, no marriage? But I love my spouse. They’re the person I spend the most time with. No marriage in heaven sounds like a bummer. For others, the idea of no marriage in the afterlife sounds like, well, heaven!

There are things our small, finite mind cannot understand. Eternity lasts for a really long time. Of course I want to know what things will be like. But God is the God of the living. We can live knowing our eternity is secure, but yet focus on the work to be done while we still have breath.

Lent Day 9: Jerusalem Tea Party?

The religious leaders sent spies to keep a close watch on Jesus. The spies pretended to be honest. They hoped they could trap Jesus with something he would say. Then they could hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.

So the spies questioned Jesus. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you speak and teach what is right. We know you don’t favor one person over another. You teach the way of God truthfully. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Jesus saw they were trying to trick him. So he said to them, “Show me a silver coin. Whose picture and words are on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. And give to God what belongs to God.”

They were not able to trap him with what he had said there in front of all the people. Amazed by his answer, they became silent. – Luke 20:20-26

Sitting in tension is difficult. That’s why, no matter what we believe spiritually, we tend to think of them in black & white terms. I struggle with this all the time. I want to know exactly what side of an issue I stand on.

The religious leaders try to trap Jesus with a seemingly simple yes or no answer. Is it right for us (the Jewish people under a pagan government) to pay taxes? We like yes or no answers. They help us see things in black and white. The church vs. state debate is not anything new. Jesus rode into Jerusalem claiming to be a Messiah. If that’s true, he’s starting a revolution. And we know that any good revolution begins with refusing to pay taxes! (Then dumping tea in a harbor.) All they needed was for Jesus to say something that sounded like he was pushing his followers to revolt against Rome. Then they could have him arrested.

Jesus refuses to be boxed in. Yes, we are to pay our taxes. And also, we are to give our whole lives to God. Those two things are not at odds with each other.

Lent Day 8: Did You Have To RSVP “No” In That Manner?

Yesterday a disclaimer, today a confession: I don’t pick the Scriptures I blog about every day. I kinda started this Lent blogging thing on a whim, and I’m signed up to receive daily Lent readings. So every day I’m just as surprised as you are by what the Scripture reading is. And let me tell you, I wish they would pick some happier stories! 🙂

Jesus told them more stories. He said, “Here is what the kingdom of heaven is like. A king prepared a wedding dinner for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the dinner. The servants told them to come. But they refused.

“Then he sent some more servants. He said, ‘Tell those who were invited that I have prepared my dinner. I have killed my oxen and my fattest cattle. Everything is ready. Come to the wedding dinner.’

“But the people paid no attention. One went away to his field. Another went away to his business. The rest grabbed his servants. They treated them badly and then killed them.

“The king became very angry. He sent his army to destroy them. They killed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then the king said to his servants, ‘The wedding dinner is ready. But those I invited were not fit to come. Go to the street corners. Invite to the dinner anyone you can find.’ So the servants went out into the streets. They gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad. Soon the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“The king came in to see the guests. He noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Then the king told his servants, ‘Tie up his hands and feet. Throw him outside into the darkness. Out there people will sob and grind their teeth.’

“Many are invited, but few are chosen.” – Matthew 22:1-14

Yesterday a disclaimer, today a confession: I don’t pick the Scriptures I blog about every day. I kinda started this Lent blogging thing on a whim, and I’m signed up to receive daily Lent readings. So every day I’m just as surprised as you are by what the Scripture reading is. And let me tell you, I wish they would pick some happier stories! 🙂

Today we get another story that Jesus told. Like the vineyard story, this one is harsh. Maybe even harsher. After all, with the vineyard story the servants were going to collect the fruit from the workers. In this story, the servants came to invite the people to a banquet. Something you’d think the people would want to attend. But the people end up killing the servants. Sheesh. A simple “No, thank you” would have sufficed. Perhaps the reason for this harsh story is because Jesus Himself was entering a very harsh time. He would soon become like the servants who were senselessly murdered.

Despite this, the story seems on track for a happy ending. The king flings his door open and invites everyone in from every corner of the town. But one man gets thrown out for not wearing the proper attire. How could the king do that? It doesn’t seem fair.

I don’t think the question is necessarily whether the man had the appropriate clothes. If you’ve seen any movie where a peasant gets invited to a castle or a mansion, the owner typically provides his guest with formal wear. (Even the Beast did so for Belle.) The question is whether that person chooses to wear it. As N.T. Wright puts it:

“God’s kingdom is a kingdom in which love and justice and holiness reign unhindered. They are the clothes you need to wear for the wedding. And if you refuse to put them on, you are saying you don’t want to stay at the party. That is the reality. If we don’t have the courage to say so, we are deceiving ourselves, and everyone who listens to us.”

May God show me the mercy to give me His wedding clothes, though I am not worthy to wear them. And may I have the humility to put them on.