Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
The parable for this Sunday is absurd. It is full of conflict, absurd war and conflict, and an even more absurd outcome. I read and reread this parable. I thought about tossing it out. I wanted to throw it out. I read commentary after commentary and everyone started to say some of the same things. When we have parables like this one, we have to observe the absurdity, really look at context, and then accept that sometimes the bible hands us the unpleasant as well as the pleasant. There is some pleasant words here but what do we do with the other? This Sunday we really have to wrestle with a passage that doesn’t fit what we generally preach God to be. This will give us a good chance to debate and ponder and not just brush over those parts that make us uneasy but also not use them destructively.
First of all, the absurdity. A king is throwing a wedding banquet for his son. Fair enough. Kings threw great parties and who would turn a party down? In those days, invitations would go out by messengers. No evites or facebook events here. So the messengers set out. First bit of absurdity? No one wants to come to the party. In fact, they blow it off. Next outrageous move? Some of the invitees are soooo bored with it that they actually kill the messengers? THEN the king gets upset so he burns down the city. WHAT? In the midst of burning ruin, he sends out invites to anyone else. Y’all come. Anyone is now invited to this grand banquet. They come in full force and fill the hall. The king thinks that now he can really have this party after such unpleasantness until someone is wearing the wrong robe. Can you blame him? His city was just burned to the ground! But it doesn’t seem to matter…the king throws him out! That’s it! You refuse to join in? You get the boot!
Ok…now that we have been reeling from the absurd. Let’s look at context. Matthew is sitting right in the midst of unpleasant. The Roman empire has taken over and has literally been burning the city. Matthew’s community is also feuding with other Jewish communities. (Note: This is not a Christian/Jewish conflict. This is a Jewish/Jewish feud about how to integrate Jesus stuff. Let’s not use this against our Jewish brothers and sisters). Matthew’s community is desperately trying to make sense of the killing, burning, and feuding around them. This is the only gospel that outlines such violence in this parable. Matthew is sitting in violence and therefore, his parable is violent. It speaks to that community. We can’t really make sense of it. It is violent. It is part of the gospel. Now what?
Scholars agree that perhaps the nugget to take out of all of this is the invitation to all people anyway. Even in the midst of violence and exclusion, the king turns around and invite allll people. He kicks out the guest that won’t participate in the party. Many scholars agree that wedding robes were given to guests upon entry into the banquet. And yet this guest refuses to participate. He still wants to sit outside of the group. If you don’t participate with what is offered, you aren’t chosen anymore. I still have trouble with this. This parable still sits uneasily with me. It is part of our history. What do we do with it?
Quotes of the week
“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.” ― Dorothy Thompson
“When religious people take the stance that they don’t owe anyone that is hurting closure or answers then God is not winning. Conflict continues because of lack of communication, fear and indifference.” ― Shannon L. Alder
“The world had been divided into two parts that sought to annihilate each other because they both desired the same thing, namely the liberation of the oppressed, the elimination of violence, and the establishment of permanent peace.” ― Hermann Hesse
“The ‘peace’ the gospel brings is never the absence of conflict, but an ineffable divine reassurance within the heart of conflict; a peace that surpasses understanding.” ― Walter Wink
Matthew 22:1-14 (Message) 1-4 Jesus responded by telling still more stories. “God’s kingdom,” he said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn’t come! He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’
5-7 “They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. The rest, with nothing better to do, beat up on the messengers and then killed them. The king was outraged and sent his soldiers to destroy those thugs and level their city.
8-10 “Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled.
11-14 “When the king entered and looked over the scene, he spotted a man who wasn’t properly dressed. He said to him, ‘Friend, how dare you come in here looking like that!’ The man was speechless. Then the king told his servants, ‘Get him out of here—fast. Tie him up and ship him to hell. And make sure he doesn’t get back in.’ That’s what I mean when I say, ‘Many get invited; only a few make it.’” Questions for the Week What do we do with parts of the Bible that don’t fit our image of God and God’s kingdom? Can we relate this to modern day situations? Does this give us any glimpse into conflict and community?