Giving up the whole God-is-a-bastard thing.
By Debbie Blue
Gospel Reading: Matthew 22: 1-14
For Sunday, October 9, 2011: Year A—Ordinary 28
This parable is scary and violent. The king is petty, murderous and arbitrarily cruel. Who would want to go to his party?
Boycott and Resist
But people don’t normally refuse an offer from a king (or Don Corleone)– even an awful paranoid king like Herod the Great who had little babies slaughtered, according to Matthew, executed his wife and sons according to Josephus (Caesar Augustus said, “it is better to be Herod’s pig than his son”). That the characters in this story boycott the king makes them seem a little brave.
Some hearers of this story must have been attracted to the characters that refuse to dance when the king calls. Their kings were minions of the Roman Empire and they weren’t very nice. The way of God’s people has always been to resist the summons of worldly power. I feel a little sorry for the king that no one wanted to come to his party, but he is a bully. I like The Resistance.
Choking on the Fat Calf
But then the rebels disappoint. They treat the king’s slaves shamefully and kill them. No one looks very good in this story. It’s a familiar one.
The king retaliates explosively. He sends in the army and burns the rebel city down. Those left alive after the murderous rampage—walking the streets because their homes were torched—are rounded up for the banquet.
Somehow this doesn’t seem like a fun time. I imagine them sitting at the tablet all petrified and anxious. I doubt they were dancing and enjoying their food—more like choking it down tight throats, ready to see blood spill across the roast of lamb when the king is somehow slighted.
And then it Happens
The king spots someone without a wedding robe!
I wonder how anyone would have dressed properly in the midst of the burning carnage. But the king centers his sights on this one, makes him the sacrificial, speechless victim, tells the servants to prepare him like a lamb for slaughter and throw him into the outer darkness. The king says, “many are called but few are chosen.” Just the one is chosen here? Bound and gagged and cast out?
Humble, and Mounted on an Ass
Matthew constantly contrasts the Empire kingdom with the kingdom of God. If there really even is what could be called a king in God’s kingdom, it would look like Jesus. Jesus says he comes not to be served, but to serve. That’s really different. He tells this parable after his “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem: “Behold your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass.” That’s so different it’s funny.
Luke’s version of the parable doesn’t include a king or violence. Maybe Matthew tweaks it for his own purpose, his anti-empire bent. Does Matthew really mean for us to compare the violent king to God, or to contrast him to Jesus? Who’s the man without the robe? Could this be a critique of the way the Empire works? Right after Jesus tells this parable, the Pharisees try to entrap him with the question of paying tax to Caesar. Jesus answers: “give to Caesar what is Caesars, give to God what is Gods.” Armies and taxes and violence, retaliation and cruelty belong to Caesar not to God.
The Hardest Question
The storyteller is God incarnate (so our faith proclaims) not the enraged king in the parable, and yet so much of the Christianity I grew up in got its image of God from these scary parables—based its image of God on the angry, violent, king. Why does the image of God as a sadistic brutal violent tyrant persist even in the face of Jesus? Does it say something about us?