Excuses, excuses! Pentecost 2–words from earliest churches

__Voices from the earliest churches, with communion__

_Pentecost 2, Sunday, May 29, 2005_

First Congregational United Church of Christ (Open and Affirming),
Santa Rosa, California. Rev. Bob Cramer, Eucharistic Minister.

__Excuses, excuses!__

_Matthew 7:21-23;
Luke 6:46;
Egerton Gospel fragment;
Matthew 22:1-10;
Luke 14:16-24;
Gospel of Thomas, 64;
Deuteronomy 20:5-9;
Proverbs 9:1-6;
and comments by John Beverley Butcher, 1994._


We are beginning a long season when we let Jesus — by both word and example — teach us. Or, he tries to teach us. Disciples then, as now, seemed to find it hard to mature in insight and wisdom.

The Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for this morning begins this way:

“Not everyone who addresses me as ‘Master, master,’ will get into Heaven’s domain,” says Jesus, according to Matthew, “only those who carry out the will of my Father in heaven.

“On [the Judgment] day many will address me: ‘Master, master, didn’t we use your name when we prophesied? Didn’t we use your name when we exorcised demons? Didn’t we use your name when we performed all those miracles?’

“Then I will tell them honestly: ‘I never knew you: get away from me, you subverters of the Law!'”

– – –
“Why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and never do what I tell you?” That’s how Luke expresses the core idea of what Jesus may well have said with some exasperation. Luke doesn’t threaten the disciples, though, as Matthew wants us to believe.

– – –
“Why do you pay me lip service as a teacher, but not do what I say?” says Jesus, according to a tiny surviving fragment of what is known as the Egerton Gospel, a very early source.


John Beverley Butcher’s _An Uncommon Lectionary_ couples a famous story with Matthew’s exasperation as he ends the teaching which we read as we began this morning. Matthew tells it in chapter 22. You can read the familiar text later, if you wish. For now, let’s look at some wonderful material Butcher, and “The Five Gospels,” share.

I do want to point out that Matthew’s story of people turning down the invitation to the feast reflects Matthew more than Jesus — the people who refused are dealt with harshly.

– – –
Here’s Luke’s version. Jesus says, “Someone was giving a big dinner and invited many guests. At the dinner hour the host sent his slave to tell the guest, ‘Come, it’s ready now.”

“But one by one they all began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I just bought a farm, and I have to go and inspect it; please excuse me.’ And another said, “I just bought five pairs of oxen, and I’m on my way to check them out; please excuse me.’ And another said, ‘I just got married, and so I cannot attend.'”

The master, in Luke, says okay, go and bring in the poor and all who would be really glad to taste what I have to offer.

– – –
In the Gospel of Thomas, a very early source, “Jesus says, ‘Someone was receiving guests. When he had prepared the dinner, he sent his slave to invite the guests. The slave went to the first and said, ‘My master invites you.’ The first replied, ‘Some merchants owe me money; they are coming to me tonight. I have to go and give them instructions. Please excuse me from dinner.’

“The slave went to another and said, ‘My master has invited you.’ The second said to the slave, ‘I have bought a house, and I have been called away for a day. I shall have no time.’

The slave went to another and said, ‘My master invites you.’ The third said to the slave, ‘My friend is to be married, and I am to arrange the banquet. I shall not be able to come. Please excuse me from dinner.’

The slave went to another aide said, ‘My master invites you.’ The fourth said to the slaave, ‘I have bought an estate, and I am going to collect the rent. I shall not be able to come. Please excuse me.’

The slave returned and said to his master, ‘Those whom you invited to dinner have asked to be excused.’ The master said to his slave, ‘Go out on the streets and bring back whomever you find to have dinner.'”

– – –
Jews certainly would have known the following, from Deuteronomy: “Then the officials shall address the troops as follows: ‘Is there anyone who has built a new house but has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another dedicate it? Is there anyone who has planted a vineyard but has never harvested it? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another harvest it. Is there anyone who has paid the bride-price for a wife, but has not yet married her? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another marry her.’

“The officials shall go on addressing the troops and say, ‘Is there anyone afraid and disheartened? Let him go back to his home, lest the courage of his comrades flag like his.’ When the officials have finished addressing the troops, army commanders shall assume command of the troops.”


Matthew’s audience might have been familiar with a section of the Proverbs: “Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn seven pillars; she has killed a beast and spiced her wine, and she has spread her table. She has sent out her maidens to proclaim from the highest part of the town, ‘Come in, you simpletons.’ She says also to the fool, ‘Come, dine with me and taste the wine that I have spiced. Cease to be silly, and you will live, you will grow in understanding.'”

Says Butcher, “Wisdom … invites people to feed on insight. When [in the gospels] Jesus offers his story … the excuses are similar to those who are excused from serving in the military!

“What sort of dinner is Jesus talking about? Might tasting of it nourish a person for something as intense as going into battle? Might it also include Wisdom’s invitation to insight?”

– – –
_Excuses, excuses._ Are we ourselves sometimes trash-can surfing . . . missing the banquet? _Amen._