Prosperous Journey and the Common Good: The Story of Euodia and Syntyche

   A sermon on October 12 by Marcia Powell

Year A, Proper 23, Revised Common Lectionary

Track 2

Today we see Paul at his best, in the last chapter of Phillipians,
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” 

Paul has these little nuggets of joy that are interspersed into his letters, which often are fraught with Paul’s personal suffering perspective, which goes something like,  “no no, don’t worry about me while you sit at your banquet.  I will just sit out here in the cold and enjoy my crust of bread.”  He says as much in verses 11 and 12, which are not included in the reading, but say,
“ I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”  
It’s a letter but it also is a veiled insight into Paul’s perspective of the world being a personal journey.  More on that later.

Contrast this reading with the Gospel, where Jesus speaks through a parable of the wedding.  That story is indeed filled with contradictions,  of a particularly contrarian society that had everything, including the favor of the king, and then blew the king off, insulted the king, and then taunted the king.  No wonder the king was angry, but seriously?  In our world, in our time, we see taunts like this on social media, on cable news, and in our attitudes towards government of all party affiliations.

Perhaps it was no wonder, then, that the 85% turnout on the Scottish vote for independence—or not, as well as the demonstrations for democracy in Hong Kong in the past four months, capture the minds of the media.  Because people DO like to complain, and when large numbers of people come together to act regarding governing bodies, that truly is a refreshing change.

The Jewish people wouldn’t have been likely to come to a wedding feast sponsored by a Roman official like Pontius Pilate, for example, but they might have been afraid to stay away. It is definitely a puzzle to consider.

So the slaves invite everyone, and the people come.  This reading, by the way, can be found in Luke as well, but here in Matthew, it’s after the Triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and right before the Last Supper.  One definitely can see that veiled inference that the prophets of old have been ignored and that violence has been done to avoid hearing the message. It comes at a time when Christ is about to die, but it also comes at a time when over and over, the invitation to come to Life in God has been proffered by God to the Jewish people, and in their hubris, was often refused.

We have to prepare for God, and this parable’s conclusion suggests that it our wedding gift.  The wedding feast and banquet, like salvation, is a gift freely given, but we can choose to prepare or to avoid. I find myself wondering if the guest that was thrown out was a holdover from the city that was decimated.  In that case, the guest is just playing the odds.  Homeless now, the man comes in and is a pretender, since they gathered all the people on the street that they could find.  So he’s still not happy and he still is stuck there. He doesn’t prepare his demeanor.

You know, some people interpret this in terms of wedding robes being provided to all who come in to celebrate the event.  A clean outfit given at the door to cover the rags and the dirt. Somehow, that seems odd to me.  Whether custom or not, Jesus did not notice much what people wore.  You never hear Him saying, “Nice robes, Peter.  That color really accents your skin tone.” In fact, I only really remember garments being mentioned at the Crucifixion, when Jesus was stripped, and when we think of the woman who had struggled with bleeding and touched his robes, and was immediately healed.  
Why bring that up?  Because it’s what is on the INSIDE that matters to Jesus.  It’s intent, not trappings and expectations.

Jesus came to the untouchables, the lepers, the tax collectors, the whores.  He came to heal the sick, wash the unclean and bring the Good News. So now that we have this convoluted parable, or simile, that speaks to the Kingdom of God, let’s think a bit about Isaiah, which is filled with imagery:
“For you have been a refuge to the poor,
a refuge to the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.
When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,
the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,
you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds”

Did you know that Euodia and Syntyche, the names from the second reading, actually mean “Prosperous Journey” and “Common Fate”, respectively?  For some reason, that hit me hard this week.  We live in a world that has people who have prosperous journeys (you can read that as us, who have a home, food, clothes, etc.) and those who do not, which is unfortunately a common fate for many living of those Dioceses which we pray for each week in Brechin, Nzara, and Swaziland. 

Paul doesn’t really do parables very well, but this statement about two women lends itself to an interesting tangent.  These two ministers did not get along and had a disagreement.  We don’t know much else.  That mystery has tantalized many who want to know who the yokefellow (the loyal companion) actually is, but for me, it doesn’t matter. In our world, Prosperous Journey and Common Fate don’t get along.  What if we are the ones implored to make peace among the two opposite viewpoints?  What if we are the yokefellow, the ones charged with helping bring these two opposing views of the world together?  

We have lots of opportunities, you know.   Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving care to the sick and dying are always needs to which we need to attend.  And whether we pay attention or not, violence in the name of global interests on a prosperous journey and apathy for the common fate always have consequences that bite us.  Right now, wars over oil interests seem to have fueled the rise of ISIS, and apathy over providing funding for Ebola and AIDS both historically fueled its rapid spread.  We need to realize that when the King gathers guests for the banquet, he didn’t have a litmus test at the door testing all their loyalties and religious affiliations and sexual orientations and political beliefs.  All came in, and the King sorted them out.

Paul implores us to consider the needs of others, and as we do that, we prepare our hearts.  We work in such a way to spread the Kingdom of God, and as we do, we prepare for that banquet mentioned in Isaiah 24 and in Matthew 22:

Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.

May the Name of Christ be praised from shore to shore and to the ends of the Universe.  Amen.