Good morning, everyone. The text for our devotion today is from Matthew 22:8-10.
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve added a new word to our vocabulary – “social distancing.” In a time of virus prevention, we are told to remove ourselves from close proximity to others and enter a period of “self-isolation.” There are obvious reasons for this definition, but Jesus spoke of social distancing that involved far more than physical disease and sickness.
As Jesus lays out a third parable, he edits one he has used previously (see Luke 14:15-24 for a different variation), with a Holy Tuesday twist. Because he is speaking directly to the Chief Priests and Pharisees, he alters it to challenge their thoughts and practices.
You see, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were practicing social distancing long before there was such a thing in our modern day understanding. They were all about distancing themselves from the “infected.” By infected, we mean those with diseases like the ten lepers, but even more significantly, those they believed to suffer from a moral or spiritual contamination. They were constantly thinking in terms of “us” and “them” … and “them” was to be kept much further away than 6 ft.
Against this backdrop, Jesus tells a story. The king is giving a wedding banquet for his son. This would be on par with the “royal wedding” celebrations we’ve seen in our lifetimes. No one would turn down an invitation to this, but some do and did. They go so far as to abuse and even kill the messengers who carried this glorious invitation. Thus, the king shifts from the original invitees and sends out messengers, in every direction, across the social barriers, to great distances with invitations to come to the Great Banquet. The King will provide the feast and even the expensive wedding garments at no cost to them or us (but it would cost the King’s Son his life). Just come – come and celebrate!
Whether it was the leper or blind man, tax collector or prostitute, there was no such thing as “social distancing” and isolation to Jesus. There was only reaching out in love, person after person.
I know we are facing a different situation today, and indeed, our modern day “social distancing” may indeed be an act of love for our neighbor as we seek to stem the tide of this virus outbreak. But let's not confuse self-isolation with self-absorption. And let’s not forget the Giver of the banquet or the invitations which come to all people, far and near, COVID-19 or not!
Thanks to gifts of technology, used by loving hearts, we can find new ways to connect with our families (biological and spiritual) as well as our neighbor. Instead of retreating into a self-isolation marked by fear and panic, we can reach out and invite people into the community of the feast and the King who provides it. How are we purposefully seeking to make those connections? How are we demonstrating His love in these troubled times? How are we doing with reaching out to our neighbor or checking in our fellow members to see how they are doing?
I can tell you, I’ve been encouraged by how I’ve seen our congregation come together. I’ve been encouraged when I’ve called fellow members and asked how they’re doing and hear them say, “Pastor, thanks for calling. I’m doing ok … but how is, fill in the blank, and, Pastor, so and so from church called to check in on me.” Isn’t that wonderful, the body of Christ caring for each other in spite of this plague and all the “social distancing” it requires! Such is the love and grace of Jesus at work in our midst. Amen.
Pastor Bryan E. Drebes
Pastor Drebes attended Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, beginning in 1997. He spent the summer of 1999 teaching English to Chinese middle school teachers in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China. He served a four-month vicarage at St. John Lutheran Church, Plymouth, Wisconsin, followed by eight months at Bethany Lutheran Church, Overland Park, Kansas. Pastor Drebes was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry at Zion Lutheran Church, Palmyra, Missouri on August 19, 2001, and installed as Associate Pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church, Overland Park, Kansas on September 9, 2001. He served Bethany for 14 years. Pastor Drebes accepted a Divine