by Christine Sine
When was the last time that you got goosebumps from a sermon or left church saying Wow that was quite a revelation? That was how I felt on Sunday when Cherry Hairsten preached on Matthew 22:1-14. This is one of those parables I have always struggled with and as Cherry spoke I realized why. I like so many of us have always interpreted it from the perspective of the rich and powerful.
Most translations start with The kingdom of heaven is like…. and then go on to tell the story of a king who doesn’t seem like a very nice person. First he sends out slaves, and I cannot imagine the God Jesus talks about having slaves. in his kingdom there are only sons and daughters. All stand on an equal footing.
Then this king invites people who obviously resent him and don’t want to participate, to a banquet. When he tries to force them to attend they kill his slaves and the king retaliates with violence. Not an image of the God and peaceable kingdom Jesus seems to represent. Then the king of the parable sends his slaves out to to the streets to get people to come. Perhaps as Cherry pointed out, he isn’t so interested in who attends as in how many. Maybe this is not an invitation but coercion because a full banquet hall makes him look good, powerful, in control.
The final blow is when one of the guests doesn’t wear wedding clothes. Puzzling to us, after all someone dragged in from the streets would be dressed in ordinary everyday attire. But to Jesus audience this is very explicit. In his day wedding hosts provided tunics that guests put on over their street clothes before entering the feast. This guest chose not to participate in the king’s system. His refusal to don the wedding tunic was a non violent way to stand against the injustice and violence of the system he was a part of.
In the New Revised Standard Version, which Cherry preached from, it says the kingdom of heaven may be compared to…. In other words, in our comparison God’s peaceable kingdom looks very different from this world’s violent and unjust kingdoms where power and violence dominate.
Drawing on the work of René Girard, Cherry contended that this man, not the king, is the Godly Christ figure. He is the innocent victim of injustice and violence who is mistreated and thrown out because he lived by other principles. Jesus also took our suffering upon himself to show us there is a better way to live and celebrate. This interpretation is Jesus calls us again and again to a come as you are party. Lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, men, women, children, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, all those excluded from society’s party are invited and welcomed to the banquet feast of God’s peaceable kingdom. They don’t need to don special clothes. They don’t need to bow down to his power or be afraid. The kingdom of God does not meet violence with violence like the Roman empire and all powerful worldly kingdoms tend to do. It does not coerce and it does not exclude. In fact it gives priority to the marginalized, to the poor and the despised.
This interpretation reminds me of Ched Myers interpretation of The Parable of the Talents, which I have long held to be a better interpretation. Here the third slave who resists the powerful landlord is the Christ figure, thrown out because of his refusal to add to the landowner’s wealth. You can read the full article here.
What Is Your Response?
I cannot help but think of this as I watch the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, often as a direct result of actions of the rich and powerful. If we really believe in an upside down kingdom where the Jesus the servant is king of all and our central calling is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and stand up for injustice, I wonder how seriously we take the challenge to resist with him, running the risk to be thrown out with him. As I commented in a previous post:
How we interpret what the Bible says depends on who we stand with. Perhaps that is part of the reason Jesus encourages us to identify with the poor because when we do we really see his perspective not just on wealth but on life. Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God the Beatitudes tell us (Luke 6:20 NIV). Perhaps that is because only the poor really see the values and priorities of God’s kingdom. We need to see from the perspective of the poor (and the excluded) in order to really understand what God wants to say. Unfortunately so much of what we interpret about money in the Bible tends to be from the perspective of the wealthy. And we want to believe it because consciously or unconsciously we hope that one day we too will be wealthy.
What do you think?