Psalm 51:12-15, 18-19
In this first reading we have such a beautiful description of the new covenant. Baptism is here: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities.” And it says, “from all your idols I will cleanse you” and we now no longer really have idols, not literal statues anyway. And it says, “I will put my spirit within you”, the Holy Spirit whom we have received.
This is the new covenant which we live under, but what about the Old Testament? This very reading comes after the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile, and these beautiful words are not fulfilled for another 500 years. The Old Testament is full of God’s wrath. God kills two of Aaron’s sons because they used the wrong incense. He destroys Sodom and Gomorrah. He kills Uzzah just for touching the Ark of the Covenant.
Jesus’ parable reflects the difference in the covenants. The king kills all the people he first invited. It was just; they had murdered the servants who came to invite them. But it is not how we think of God. God now invites and invites and invites over and over again. I am glad that God does not smite people anymore. I am pretty sure that I would have been smited by now. When the king invites the new people, it is really an invitation. There are no armies to kill anyone who refuses to come. Just servants in the streets inviting everyone, bad and good alike.
But how should we think about God’s actions under the old covenant? He is the same perfect God, then and now. It is so difficult to understand the difference that some Christians try to forget about the Old Testament, or even say that that was a different God. Other Christians say that were just lucky to live under the new covenant, and all those other people cannot get forgiveness because they were born too early. I think that we do not know. It is difficult enough to discern the workings of God under the covenant we know; his plans for other people are beyond us.
So thank God we are under this new covenant, where the pattern is invite, invite, invite, forgive, forgive, forgive, but, lest we think that this means that our actions no longer matter, the king does punish the man who is not wearing a wedding garment. There is still punishment in the new covenant.