Oh Agnusday, thank you for making light of a parable that includes slaves, a king drunk on murder, and the excommunication of the poor guy who forgot the dress code for the kingdom of heaven! That’s what happens when you don’t get the memo. Speaking of which, whatever happened to “come as you are” Sunday and that little thing Jesus talked about called “Grace”? Well friends, thanksgiving Sunday finds us with another difficult parable in Matthew’s gospel – the third in a string of harsh parables that Jesus tells as he confronts the leadership of the temple.
As the cartoon implies, and as I think we should carefully consider when interpreting Matthew 22:1-14, sometimes a tux really is just a tux (even if it’s powder blue). Sometimes a King, really is just a king. As we talked about last week, it’s not always wise to associate God with the most powerful or wealthy character in Jesus’ story. Doing so last week turns God into an absentee landlord who’s relatively happy to sacrifice countless people and murder even more to get what he wants. That doesn’t square with Jesus, the gospel, or anything Jesus taught us about the God he lovingly referred to as his Abba (a personal term for Father in Hebrew).
Immediately assuming that God must be the “king” in one of Jesus’ parables is an unfortunate leap we make all too often and when we do so, we usually overlook the very people to whom Jesus was telling this parable in the first place. If you haven’t read last week’s blog entry, then I hope you will at this point. For the brave, let’s explore this a bit further.
The reality is that the king mentioned in the parable has far more in common with the kings from the Herod family who were brutal and unscrupulous dictators. The Herod’s, true to many theories of human rule, maintained power by the constant presence of fear and violence. I’m reminded of that tag line from the latest Dracula movie bound for theaters: “Men don’t fear for their souls. They fear monsters”. This king is a monster to fear in my books – and regrettably, he’s a monster we’ve seen many times in our world.
If you need a refresher course on the actions of just one of the Herod’s kingship, read Matthew 2:1-23. Herod killed every 2 year old baby boy in Bethlehem based on a rumor that a new kind of king had been born. That’s much more like Jesus’ “king” in the parable of the banquet than the loving God of justice and grace that Jesus proclaims again and again. Herod was just as erratic as this king – think about that little episode where John the baptist looses his head – all because Herod had eyes for his deceased brother’s daughter (Matthew 14:1-12). Yes, the bible is full of muck, but so is the history of human civilization.
The consequence of the destruction of that very same temple in Jerusalem where Jesus is preaching in 70AD is often lost when we crown God the king of this parable. Remember, even the earliest gospel is written many decades after the life of Jesus – so for Matthew’s church, the destruction of the temple is a recent memory. The Roman empire put down a Jewish uprising by sacking the city and laying the temple, it’s most precious cultural and religious institution (literally believed to be God’s house) – to waste. So a city being burned by a king who sits unscathed (who is NOT God)…the people listening to Jesus know something about that. Israel’s history and that of its neighbors is paved with kings whose power is mingled with violence and fear.
When you stop and think about it, the man thrown out into the outer darkness by such a power thirsty king whose sole desire is the maintenance of rule, who uses the political expediency of violence as a means for any desired end, that man who is bereft of clothing and bound by hand and foot…that man looks a lot like Jesus of Nazareth who will face a similar fate when he comes before the powers of hi