A Feast Where Only Strangers Come?

Posted: October 6, 2020 in Uncategorized

Matthew 22:1-14

A Feast Where Only Strangers Come?

Here he goes again; speaking to his followers in parable form about the shape, nature and content of the so-called Kingdom of God or the realm of God or the nature of the new world that is just around the corner, yet to come while at the same time already arriving. He supposedly chooses to tell the story by way of a reasonable common social event, a wedding feast. This time it is a Royal Wedding which seems to suggest that it will have considerable pomp and ceremony and maybe even hold the status of being a divine event if we bring in the Roman and Greek theology whereby great men are also Gods.

The story goes on to suggest that the king may not be one who engenders much loyalty for the invited guests find excuses not to come and even after a follow up invitation some send their servants along and others commit acts of violence in response to the invite. The king gets angry and I guess in response invites anyone off the streets to come so shaming the invited in return.

And then there is another twist to this tale. We have all the people off the street as guests and the King picks on one who didn’t find a wedding robe to wear and tosses him into the outer darkness. We are not sure what that is except that maybe the king is getting all theological at this point. But we are not sure why some poor soul who was on for a free dinner but couldn’t find the right clothes to wear should become the means by which the king can make his philosophical statement about many being called and few chosen.

About now we are wondering what Matthew was on about in telling the story this way let alone what he is trying to say about Jesus. The story of the ‘Rich Ruler’s Feast’, as told by Matthew, is full of twists and turns and at times almost totally incomprehensible. So much so that it might be easier to just pass by and fond another one.

But just before we do maybe we can try to see a bit more of it. Firstly, this story is told in our broad biblical tradition in three different versions. We can say that the voice and different layers of Matthew is very evident! But the original story appears lost. Secondly, we might see that it really is a secular story about the use and misuse of power that is reshaped by Matthew, into something ‘religious’ that he can use against the Jewish leaders. Matthew seems to be saying that they had their chance and blew it. He seems to say that God has looked elsewhere for a righteous community – hence his church community. And thirdly as you may have already formed an opinion, this story is not a ‘pleasant Sunday afternoon’ story. While some don’t include it in their “terrible texts” listing, it does seem to be a terror story with all its violence and revenge motivated action. It recalls the most savage of Hebrew and Gentile rulers in a frightening, and at times terrifying, world where old scores can be settled by savage, destructive means.

So, we are faced with Matthew’s story and traditionally most commentators seem to accept that he has reworked another story or stories where the important bit is in the end statement… The story of salvation: The first will be last and the last first; and Be alert! Be prepared!

The way Matthew seems to tell his story… The Rich Ruler = God. The son = Jesus.
Those who are ‘out’ = the Jews/Israel. The killed slaves = the Prophets. The guest without the wedding garment = God’s divine judgement. This, method or style of storytelling come interpretation, is called Allegory. But is it?

According to the British scholar, C H Dodd: “In the traditional teaching of the Church for centuries (parables) were treated as allegories, in which each term stood as a cryptogram for an idea, so that the whole had to be decoded term by term.” (Dodd 1961:13) For many years we have been this ‘decoding’ style of interpretation. We have received this in our Sunday Schools and churches for years and years: in pictures and in words and in stained glass windows. As Rex Hunt notes; the history of interpretation of parables has been a long and winding gravel road!

But much of that has now changed. With the development of literary criticism and other lines of enquiry we ask again “So what can we make of this parable?” With a broader understanding of what a parable might be rather than looking for a story that supports the traditional theistic, religious theme we have been taught, are we now asking of the text; what is there in this parable that is a story which turns our experienced world upside down? Rather than an allegory that gives a story that fits what is there about this that demands and alternative? What is the twist in the tail of this account?

We can as Rex says ask with the view that Jesus never offered any ‘in principle’ statements. That it just wasn’t his style. He told stories to people about people in real, live, contexts. And most of his stories were told to those who lived in the back streets of a village or city… The tanners, the toll collectors, the prostitutes, the beggars, the homeless, the day labourers. Those who lived on the edges, rather than at the centre of the village or city. And in narrow, unpaved streets which were “chocked with refuse and frequented by scavenging dogs, pigs, birds and other animals.  (And where) shallow depressions in the streets allowed some drainage, but also acted as open sewers.” (Reid 2001:183)

So, despite all the moralising and spiritualising that has taken place with this story over the years we might try to maintain the original one, or the ‘voice’ of Jesus, if it could be heard, through what was a very secular story. Quoting from a sermon on this story, ‘A parable for today, if not tomorrow…’ it tells of the “domestic misbehavior of the powerful and the victimizing of the powerless, of war and retaliation.” (www/Berrigan 2001)

And let’s remember it is set within the then culture of shame and honour. Whatever the Rich Ruler’s strategy, the feast he ends up with “is very different from the one he planned.  It is now a (feast) of the dishonorable, and he is shamed” (Scott 2001:116).

So, if we reimagine this Jesus’ story, we might see that the reign of God is not about a feast where only the rich and the powerful are invited, it is not a feast that is about the host or his heir being ‘honoured’… It might be seen that the reign of God will strike us as being as nonsensical as a feast thrown by a powerful ruler, but where all his powerful 
“friends [are] absent and only strangers are present.” (Crossan 1975:119)

And what might have been the response of the hearers of Jesus. “Come on! you’ve got to be joking? The real world of power and politics and global warming and terrorists and law and order, is not like that at all! How is it that there is a place where those who are in, are out, and those who are out, are in! That’s not possible. The challenge her is to work out whether one is being ‘threatened’ or ‘saved’ by those who suggest our life should be turned upside down!   

And now for a postlude. What is Jesus did not teach to make anyone religious, righteous, morally correct or even moral, or orthodox. What if he didn’t say anything about protecting that which is religious or sacred or spiritual? What if church affiliation is destined to be a thing of the past? Maybe it has served its purpose well and outlived its usefulness? What if the secular is the new religious? We might ask how many of us can see a spirituality beyond that which has been taught and perhaps even one that is inclusive of all faith stories? What if what we currently believe or think is no longer useful to human life as we know it?

Do you sense if? That desire in you to save things? To protect a divine Jesus or a supernatural God or a wonderful kingdom? Or even a Christendom existence? Jesus’ story is that he interacted and told stories to offer a re-imagined view of the world, this world. Where every person can live life to the full. Where every person can love wastefully. Where every person can be all they can possibly be. And as Jack Spong said: to be the God-bearers of the world.

“The only way that God can be with us now and through the ages is for each of us to allow God to live and love through us, through our humanity” (Spong 2005:298). But in a world where many of the world’s politicians can expect “overwhelming support” to anti-terrorism measures “with scarcely a glance in the direction of civil liberties, and little recognition of the irony involved in abandoning some of the legal safeguards that define the very way of life we are supposed to be defending…”  (Mackay SMH/1/10/05, 31) In a world where more and more oversight and control of our world is acceptable what is the parable to be heard? Where is the twist in the tail of this logic? Driven by the need to control the minority under the myth of safety? Where is the surprise of a (divine) feast where only powerless strangers rather than the rich and powerful ‘movers and shakers’ are present? According to the Jesus story this is not out of the equation! Amen.

Crossan, J. D. The Dark Interval. Towards a Theology of Story. Niles. Argus Communications, 1975.
Dodd, C. H.  The Parables of Jesus. London. Fontana, 1961.
Reid, B. E. Parables for Preachers. The Gospel of Matthew. Year A. Collegeville. The Liturgical Press, 2001.
Scott, B. B. Re-imagine the World. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2001.
Spong, J. S. The Sins of Scripture. Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love. New York. HarperCollins, 2005.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.