Lectionary Commentaries for October 11, 2020
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 22:1-14

Raj Nadella

Matthew’s parable of the wedding banquet depicts a scenario with several seemingly strange aspects:

a king’s invitation to a wedding banquet that is rejected by all the guests; his multiple attempts to entice them to attend; mistreatment of his servants by the latter; his violent and excessive punishment of invited guests; opening up the banquet to anyone and everyone; and the violent response expulsion of a guest whose attire the king deemed improper.  

Two aspects of the parable especially call for further exploration: rejection of the king’s invitation and his violent response to invited guests at different points in the story.

From the outset, the parable makes it clear that none of the originally invited guests evinced interest in dining with the king.

Their reasons for declining invitations are unclear but the king’s attitude towards his guests, especially when he had someone thrown out on flimsy grounds, suggests that he likely had a reputation as an impetuous ruler who expected others to act entirely on his terms. The king comes across as someone who had a penchant for employing excessive violence to punish people. That none of his entreaties managed to entice the originally invited guests reflects their ambivalence about him and the undesirability of his company.  

In a context where the number of people who attend a wedding banquet reflected the host’s social status, the no-show by the originally invited guests was a profound embarrassment to the king. It was damaging to his social capital and potentially detrimental to his economic interests.

Such a predicament explains his repeated entreaties to the guests and extension of the invitation to “all the people” the servants could find at the street corners. But the king’s impetuous behavior and penchant for violence come to the fore when he ruthlessly targets one of the substitute guests and orders him to be thrown out because of what he considered to be an improper attire. He calls him etaire which is translated as “friend” but, as Stanley Saunders notes, within the context of Matthews gospel, “it is an ironic or even hostile greeting.”1

The parable has primarily been interpreted as an allegory. In many of these allegorical readings, the originally invited guests are analogous to Jewish religious leaders who refused to participate in God’s eschatological banquet and treated God’s messengers harshly. God punished them by using Rome to destroy the city of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 C.E. This parable, like most parables, is certainly ambiguous and multivalent, but it is important to examine whether the king can be taken as analogous to God.

There are two main problems with seeing the king as analogous to God. First, the parable has often been employed to justify suggestions that the originally invited guests were Jewish religious leaders whose refusal to attend the banquet allowed Gentiles, the later invited guests, to participate in God’s eschatological banquet. Beyond the historical and ecclesial context in which the Matthean community may have employed this parable as an allegory, such supersessionist readings remain problematic to this day. Second, many of these allegorical readings depict God as the arbitrary and violent protagonist in the parable who ruthlessly punished those who challenged his authority and burned their city. In the end, he mistreats even those who attended the banquet at his urging and did him a favor. As Saunders pointed out, this king is a demanding and venomous ruler like Herod.2

We cannot dismiss allegorical readings simply because they implicitly perpetuate characterizations of God as angry and violent. God is at times associated with violence in parts of the Bible. However, equating the king in the parable with God and theologizing away such texts runs the risk of providing theological justification for violence some rulers carry out against their own subjects.

Since God is beyond reproach, rulers who act violently as God does in this parable are also beyond reproach and scrutiny. As R.S. Sugirtharajah has helpfully noted, during the colonial era, British interpreters like William Arnot routinely employed texts such as this to justify the empire’s oppressive economic and military policies in India.3 Seen in this context, normalizing depictions of God as angry and violent ruler who ruthlessly punishes others has the effect of condoning imperial violence—past and present—that operates in arbitrary ways and dehumanizes people at the margins.

That Matthew may well have used it as an allegory within his ecclesial context does not require us to retain the same interpretive lens. Equating the king with God potentially attenuates our ability to critically examine the ways rulers treat their subjects as expendables, as did the king to the man who was not properly dressed.

Attributing characteristics of violence to God can become a mechanism for normalizing violence and is at times used to give our own rulers permission to employ excessive violence. By extension it is also a means of allowing ourselves to be violent—through deeds or words—towards our neighbors that are less privileged than us.

If God the ruler is violent, human rulers and humans too can be justified in using excessive violence against others.

Such an approach is especially problematic when rulers use religious institutions and symbols such as the Bible to justify their violence and oppression of those under their jurisdiction. In a cultural and political context where physical violence towards the other—immigrants, racial minorities, and women—has increasingly become commonplace, it is especially important that our interpretations of scriptures do not inadvertently suggest violence as a manifestation of the divine.

The violence towards the end of the parable highlights the absurdity of the host’s suggestion that an invited guest was not worthy of the banquet.

One must ask why the motif of worthiness is a one-way street in this text. If one asks whether this particular king was fit to rule over his people, he emerges as someone who was deeply undeserving of his power and abused it at will.

Rulers—both ancient and contemporary—have a proclivity to be oppressive and solely focused on their own interests at the expense of others. Will they adopt an approach and policies that are appropriate for their office? Will we hold them accountable for their actions and ask if they are worthy of the power entrusted to them?


  1. Stanley Saunders, Preaching The Gospel of Matthew (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 224.

  2. Saunders, 224.

  3. Rasiah S. Sugirtharajah, “Imperial Critical Commentaries: Christian Discourse and Commentarial Writings in Colonial India,” JSNT 73 (1999), 83-113.

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 25:1-9

Stephen B. Reid

Isaiah 25:1-9 testifies to God’s wonderful transformation. It emerges from the so-called Isaiah Apocalypse (Isaiah 24-27).

The presence of eschatological language and a reference to the consumption of death/resurrection give rise to the notion of Isaiah Apocalypse. The writer of Revelation 21:4 re-uses the language. The confessions of faith, “you are” and “I will,” find their roots in the description of God that dominates the next major section of the poem (verses 2b-5).

What sort of deity provides a credible case for the end of death and the triumph of compassion? Isaiah 25:1-9 testifies to a cosmically powerful and compassionate deity. A core I-Thou relationship undergirds the rhetoric of the passage. The “Thou” of God evokes the “I” of the poet. It begins with a statement about God. By doing so, this thanksgiving psalm sets up an I-Thou language.

God has “done wonderful things.” Roberts’ translation is “performed marvels” (see also Exodus 15:11; Psalm 78:12; Isaiah 29:14).1 The NRSV translation “done” is less vibrant than Roberts’ translation “performed,” which captures the extraordinary element. The language of wonderful things and marvels gestures to the “surprise.” The wonderful thing and the marvel do not emerge simply out of serendipity; God performs marvels as a part of the movement of history. The language of old, faithful, and sure captures the reliability of the deity and history.

The activist God shapes history and politics. The metaphors “city” and “ruins” reflect an anti-imperial impulse. Isaiah 13-23, known as “oracles against foreign nations,” critiques imperial power and prepares the reader for the message of Isaiah 25:1-9. The city symbolizes the ideology of power of the city-states, such as Damascus, and of bureaucratic empires, such as Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt. The destruction of the cities provides opportunities for those cities and empires to recognize the power of God, to repent, and to fear God (verse 3).

God attacks the imperial centers on the one hand and provides shelter for the vulnerable on the other. The writer uses parallelism to emphasize the advocacy of God for the poor and the needy. God provides shelter and refuge in multiple forms. Shelter protects the vulnerable from rain and gives shade in the heat. Remember that the weather pattern in this region has more of a dry season and a wet season rather than a four-season model. Rain and shade from the heat presents two ends of a spectrum meant to invite the reader to think of the two extremes and everything in between. The metaphor of weather then gives way to the political conflict. The “ruthless nations” function like the winter rainstorm. The poet suggests that the aliens represent the heat. However, like the heat of the previous verses, God dispenses the clouds to provide shade.

The passage turns on verse 6 with “God’s banquet on Mount Zion,” which gestures to a sense of place and the redemption brought by God. The phrase “on this mountain” (meaning Zion) occurs four times in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and three of those times are in this chapter (Deuteronomy 1:6; Isaiah 25:6, 7, 10).

From the first Passover in Egypt to the Last Supper, meals become locations for religious transformation. The writer describes rich food (including marrow, considered the best part of a meat dish) and excellent wine in detail.

The banquet on the mountain locates God’s consumption of the shroud. It is difficult to nail down what the shroud means in this context, but one could connect the shroud with death. One might imagine Lazarus wrapped in the death shroud. As Lazarus was healed, they had to remove the shroud so that he could walk out of the tomb (John 11:44).

The consumption of the shroud leads to the consumption of death. Once again, eating takes place on this mountain, Mount Zion, as God devours death. The Hebrew word for death is the same as the name of one of the Canaanite gods, Mot, providing a dual meaning. The Ugaritic Mot comes to a feast like the feast described in Isaiah 25:6. Mot and Sheol are described as ravenous (Habakkuk 2:5; Isaiah 5:14)—yet in this passage, Mot and Sheol are themselves being swallowed. Yes, this passage declares the end of death, but also the demise of the false god and the end of the idolatry embodied in the religion of Mot. Thus, the dual end of death and idolatry undergirds the passage.

The end of death moves to another metaphor of compassion. The language of “all” occurs again; the LORD God will wipe away the tears from all faces. But who and what do they mean by “all”? The structure of the passage indicates that “all” includes the people of the imperial communities as well as the exiles. By so doing, the idea of God’s people broadens substantially in the book of Isaiah.

If the tears are one metaphor, another is disgrace. An element in popular culture one might talk about, as Aretha Franklin did, is “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” The passage addresses the role of shame and stigma to survivors of trauma. Verse 8 ends with the prophetic formula, “for the LORD has spoken” (verse 8b), which conveys divine advocacy in history.

The editor frames the passage with verse 9. The events recounted in the passage evoke testimony through the affirmation, “this is our God.” The rationale for this affirmation comes through a poetic phrase, “we waited, and God saved.” The Hebrew here can be a simple past or a result clause, “so that God might save us.” The salvation instigates rejoicing and exultation.


  1. J.J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah: A Commentary, Peter Machinist editor, Hermeneia series (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 319.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 32:1-14

Vanessa Lovelace

The book of Exodus follows the journey of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to becoming a new nation as the people of God.

The revelation of God’s commandments on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20-23 was a high point in Israel’s story. Yet, between receiving the covenant and waiting for Moses to return from the mountain, the Israelites fell into chaos and apostasy. This episode raises the question, “How did the relationship between God and Israel go so terribly wrong?”

Exodus 32:1-14 (see also Deuteronomy 9:7-10:11; Nehemiah 9:16-21) is often referred to as the golden calf incident. It is helpful to divide the passage into three parts: Exodus 32:1-6, 7-10, and 11-14. The journey from Egypt to the wilderness is a paradigmatic event in the Hebrew Bible. God hears and responds to the people’s cries in Egypt by sending Moses accompanied by Aaron to lead them out of Egypt. Moses is the one whom the people have appointed as the go-between of themselves and God (Exodus 20:19). As such, Moses spends a great amount of time with God on Mt. Sinai. Apparently, the people believed that the forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18) he spent on the mountain was too long and assumed that he would not return. What follows is idolatry, near annihilation, and intercession.

Exodus 32:1-6 can be summed up as a failure of leadership. Aaron, the brother of Moses, along with their sister, Miriam, is regarded as one of a triumvirate of wilderness leaders. Aaron is left to lead the people during Moses’ absence. The text reads that, “the people gathered around Aaron” and asked him to “make gods for us” who shall go before them in place of Moses, “the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:1). Aaron complies by ordering them to remove all the gold earrings they were wearing and bring them to him (Exodus 32:2-3). These first three verses raise a few textual concerns and interpretive challenges. The first matter is the translation of the verb “to gather” in the NRSV. The verb in Hebrew means to assemble for conflict or a rebellion and is better translated “gathered against,” as does the NJPS.1 This information offers the reader the choice to decide whether Aaron was a willing participant in the rebellion against God or if he felt coerced. Another matter is the translation of the Hebrew noun ’elohim, which is both the generic plural for gods and singular for the God of Israel. While the NRSV translation in Exodus 32:1 is “gods,” the NJPS uses “god.” The reader must weigh whether, as biblical scholar Rolf Jacobson offers, the text is “referring to a false god other than the Lord or to a false image of the Lord.”2

These textual and grammatical issues matter in how one evaluates Aaron’s actions. The text says that he then took a tool and fashioned the people’s jewelry in the image of a gold calf and offered it to the people. They proclaim that these are the gods (or is the god) of Israel, “who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4), giving the credit for leading them out back to God. Thus, one can argue that Aaron understood the people’s request as one to make an image of Israel’s deity, which was common in the ancient Near East. If this was his intent, it was nonetheless prohibited by God (Exodus 20:3-5; 32:7-8). Aaron exacerbates the situation by building an altar before the calf and declaring that the next day would be a festival to the Lord (Exodus 32:5). Thus, while Aaron may have attempted to keep the people’s attention on the worship of Israel’s deity, even if it is a representation of the deity, it was misguided. His poor judgment leads the people to engage in revelry that includes imbibing and inappropriate sexual behavior (Exodus 32:6).

Exodus 32:7-10 demonstrates the severity of Aaron’s choice. God sees the people’s depravity and commands Moses to go descend the mountain at once. For a third time, the perspective of who brought the people out of Egypt changes. God now speaks of Moses in the second person, making him responsible for the people: “Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely” (Exodus 32:7; see also 32:1, 8). God has in effect denied God’s own people and is moved to destroy them and start over through Moses’ descendants (Exodus 32:9-10).

Moses’ response is to intercede on the people’s behalf. Moses does not appeal to God’s compassion but rather God’s reputation. First, Moses turns the responsibility for the people back onto God: “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt?” (Exodus 32:11). Next, he advises God that the Egyptians will question God’s motive for bringing the Israelites into the wilderness (Exodus 32:12). Finally, Moses appeals to God’s pledge to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Jacob) to make a great nation of their descendants to dwell forever in the land God promised them (Exodus 32:13). Thus, Moses is able to persuade God to set aside God’s anger and let the people live (Exodus 32:14).

The people forgot who rescued them from slavery in Egypt. God may have used Moses, but it was by the power of God. Regardless whether or not they had good intentions, the people failed in keeping their covenantal obligations to God by seeking to substitute God’s physical absence with a false image of God. We should be assured that we do not need a physical image to know that God is with us but should instead look in the mirror, for we are made in God’s image, according to God’s likeness (Genesis 1:26).


  1. New Jewish Publication Society.

  2. Rolf Jacobson, “Moses, the Golden Calf, and the False Images of the True God,” Word & World, vol. 33, no 2, 2013, 130-139.


Commentary on Psalm 23

Nancy Koester

Every preacher needs at least two sermons on Psalm 23: one for funerals, and another for ordinary time.1

Because Psalm 23 is so familiar, we’ll look at it in the particular framework of the lectionary texts for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Ordinary 28A).

Each of these texts show God as the giver, and people responding. This theme can move in a major or minor key, depending on the situation. On the gentlest side of the spectrum is the Epistle lesson.

In Philippians 4:1-9, believers are told: “do not worry, but … let your requests be made known to God.” Paul encourages believers to respond to God’s mercy by dwelling on what is good and worthy of praise. We are invited to “sit with” the mercy of God. And as we do so, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Paul wants the faithful to let our hearts and minds be shaped by God’s goodness.

Moving one step over on the scale is Psalm 23. Here a feast is spread in the presence of enemies and death, evil and fear. The response of the Psalmist is trust.

Next comes Isaiah 25:1-9. Here too God spreads “a feast of rich food” for all people. God provides refuge, shelter and shade. But this mercy is shown to a people defeated by ruthless enemies. Death and tears are real but God wipes them away. The response is praise: “let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Today’s Gospel lesson sits at the most disturbing end of the spectrum. Jesus’ parable of the King’s wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14) includes murder, mayhem, and vengeance. Just when it seems like the story is going to get better, a wedding guest is cast into the outer darkness for violating the King’s dress code. Yet this text also begins with a king who gives a feast, but people respond with contempt.

For preachers who choose to focus on Psalm 23 on this particular Sunday, the combination of texts suggests at least two things. First, that God gives peace in the midst of conflict, life in the shadow of death. Second, the shepherd calls us to follow in a world where God’s mercy is often scorned. Walking in paths of righteousness for the sake of God’s name will put us at odds with the rest of the world.

We now turn to Psalm 23. The first verse states the theme, and the rest of the Psalm unfolds it. As James Luther Mays notes, the opening line makes a positive statement about God: “the Lord is my shepherd”; and a negative statement “I shall not want” (I lack for nothing).2

That response—I shall not want—immediately puts us at odds with our culture, in which we are conditioned to be consumers who always lack something. If people lived by Psalm 23 (lacking nothing because the Lord is their shepherd) our economy would collapse. To live by Psalm 23 would mean ignoring the constant barrage of messages saying, “you are unhappy, you need more stuff.” Psalm 23 resets that consumer mentality.

It also resets the hyper-activity of our lives, for the shepherd “makes me lie down in green pastures.” We can stop running. Beside the still waters the shepherd “restores my soul.” As one commentator put it, he restores my soul means “he gives me back my life.”3

On any given Sunday some people come to church to have their souls restored—to get their lives back. Even pastors might feel this way. And so the Psalm invites us to savor and enjoy God’s gifts: food for body and soul, and a good path in life (verse 3).

Central to the Psalm is “I fear no evil, for you are with me” (verse 4). Evil is real, but God’s presence remains with us even in “in the valley of the shadow of death.” (The NRSV translates this “the darkest valley” but “the valley of the shadow of death” is more poetic and more powerful, calling to mind Job 10:21-22). Concerning the “rod and staff” (verse 4) some may ask whether these are two separate tools of the shepherd, or one tool with two functions. It really doesn’t matter, since either way, the shepherd protects and leads.

In verse 5, the metaphor shifts from that of the shepherd to the generous host. But here too, what counts is that God is provides and protects. How surprising that the table spread in the presence of enemies! It is hard to relax and be fed in their presence. Yet God invites us to the table, come what may and come who may. The Psalm promises that God is with us, anointing our heads with oil. Only a highly honored guest would have been anointed with oil. And the overflowing cup signifies the abundance of God’s love.

In verse 6, goodness and mercy do not just “follow.” They pursue. According to the New Interpreter’s Bible, “the Hebrew verb … has the more active sense of ‘pursue.’ God is coming after the psalmist. The bad news is, we have enemies. The good news is, God has our back. Ordinarily in the psalms, it is precisely the enemies who ‘pursue’ the psalmist … Here the enemies are present but have been rendered harmless, while God is in active pursuit.”4

Finally we come to “the house of the Lord” (verse 6) where the intimate, personal experience of trust in God leads to the community of faith.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Oct. 12, 2014.
  2. James Luther Mays, Psalms, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 117.
  3. Adapted from George A.F. Knight, Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1982), 116.
  4. New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IV (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 768-769.

Second Reading

Commentary on Philippians 4:1-9

Ekaputra Tupamahu

Partisan politics. When one thinks about American politics, that’s what comes to mind.

As the election draws closer, the partisan politics intensify each day. We’ve built walls of defense between one another and sent arrows of offence flying around social media. The presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joseph Biden at the end of September was more debacle than debate, a national embarrassment, a vivid reflection of an already deeply divided country.

People in the United States are inhabiting two different worlds, watching different news cycles, hearing different radio talk shows, reading different newspapers. Echo chamber discussions with like-minded people are our main mode of political engagement. There is a serious lack of respectful dialogue between people with different views, different opinions, different ways of life. The whole country seems to be divided into two camps: the liberal vs. the conservative, Republicans vs. Democrats, the urban vs. the rural, the South vs. the North, and so on.

The consequence of the partisan politics is clear: people are ready to put loyalty to party above humanity, above morality, above common good, above justice and mercy, above human decency and dignity. That we find it more acceptable that over two hundred thousand fellow humans in this country alone have died from COVID-19 than to cross political lines to find the best way out of this problem, we have hit a new low. People and politicians have seemed to have forgotten that the virus is non-partisan. It affects us all, regardless of political allegiance. So, it is no surprise that America has become one of the countries most affected by this virus.1

In the Philippian church, the alleged conflict between Syntyche and Euodia seems to have bothered Paul. We do not know the exact nature of this conflict. Maybe there is no conflict at all, just different views, different positions. Difference is a fact of life. Perhaps if we were able to ask Syntyche and Euodia, they might have told a different story than the one Paul narrates. Paul’s is a one-sided story. Nonetheless, what Paul said about them (or to them) is worth pondering in our socio-political context today.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help (syllambanou) these women, for they have struggled (synethlesan) beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers (synergon), whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:2–3)

In spite of their differences, Paul here encourages them to “be of the same mind in the Lord.” What does this mean? The Greek expression parakalo to auto phronein is literally translated as “I encourage you to think the [same] thing.” But what is this thing, this to auto, that he encourages them to think? The next verse gives us a good hint. Paul describe both of them as people who “have struggled together beside” him and others like him in the work of the gospel.

Here Paul is reminding Syntyche and Euodia that of course they have differences, but that it is also important to remember their togetherness, their collectiveness, what they have in common. Their differences should not hinder them from working together for the common good. Three times Paul uses compound words that begin with syn– (together) in this text (syllambanou, synethlesan, synergon). This sense of togetherness is a way of life rather than a system of thought. It refers to an attitude that welcomes and works with others. It is no surprise, therefore, that when Paul speaks of rejoicing or gentleness in verses 4-5, he uses a plural expression—of doing these things together.

The word chairete (rejoice!) in verse 4, for instance, is a plural imperative verb. It refers to a collective rejoicing, a communal feeling of gladness. We can gather from the immediately preceding context that the idea of “rejoicing” here must have something to do with the issue between Syntyche and Euodia, with Paul’s reminder that they were his fellow fighters. So, rejoicing in this text refers not to a personal state of being, but to a communal atmosphere of joyfully embracing difference. Instead of turning differences into an ugly exclusionary fight, differences are to be welcomed in a joyful way.

That being said, different voices or polyphony in a community should not be reduced to one voice, into a monoglossia—to borrow a term from Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin.2 Paul’s instruction to “think the same thing” can easily become a monoglossic discourse. But such monoglossic force can only be deconstructed from within the text itself. Paul says “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche” (Euodian parakalo kai Syntychen parakalo). The repetition of the verb parakalo (I urge or encourage) is not grammatically necessary at all. He could just have said “I urge Euodia and Syntyche.” Although the repetition is not grammatically necessary, it is a rhetorical strategy to maintain and to display in a vivid way the particularity of each person. This text, therefore, is not so much about unity as about dialogical togetherness, interconnected collectivity.

Let me circle back to American partisan politics. Politics is a messy business because people have different opinions, different ways of thinking, and so on. We do not need a false form of “unity” in which differences are disavowed, erased. What we need is to move beyond partisan politics and work together for the common good.

Fighting the spread of COVID-19, for instance, should not be a partisan issue. Can we all be “co-fighters” and “co-workers” in this unprecedented time in history when the virus has spread to every corner of the world like wildfire? Can we set aside our partisan loyalty and see our response to the virus as a common fight for the future of humanity?


  1. CNBC, “Dr. Fauci Agrees the U.S. Has the Worst Coronavirus Outbreak in the World,” August 5, 2020. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/05/dr-fauci-agrees-the-us-has-the-worst-coronvirus-outbreak-in-the-world-the-numbers-dont-lie.html

  2. See M. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Michael Holquist and Caryl Emerson (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004).