"A Man, A King" by The Rev. Fred Kinsey
This, is not a parable of Jesus, that you would usually find, in Sunday School books! A man, a king, sends out servants to all those who had agreed to come to his son’s wedding, but they come back without anyone! He sends them out a second time, to beg and grovel, saying, ‘look, the prime rib is ready, already! Come to the banquet!’ But the upstanding guests made excuses about being too busy – and not only that, they tortured and killed his slaves. The man, the king, was “enraged!” A king who has his own private army, who then, in murderous revenge, sends them out against the guests, even burning their city to the ground!
This parable is almost unfit, to be retold, to adults! When I think of the California fires, and the destruction, and innocent lives lost there, this past week, this parable makes me cringe. But add to that, intentional burning, as this man, the king does, to settle a score – and it’s chilling for its level of outrageousness.
Then, as if nothing happened, the man, the king, sends out his servants with a new invitation – I thought his servants were dead, but maybe he just has so many, these are a second set of slaves! ‘Go into the main streets, he says, and invite everyone else, both good and bad, it doesn’t matter, just as long as we fill the wedding hall with guests.’
What kind of a demented dictator could do this?
Jesus tells this parable to those who question his exousia, his authority and power. “Who gave you this authority,” ask the elders of the temple? And Jesus replied, ‘I will also ask you one question, if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what power and authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’
Like a good lawyer, Jesus already knew the answer they would have to give – which is why they dared not respond. They rejected John the Baptist, just as they rejected Jesus! But until the elders could separate Jesus out from his popular following – all those who surrounded him in Jerusalem for the Passover festival – they knew better than to arrest him, or challenge his exousia, right then and there.
This is the 4th major parable in a row that Jesus has told, that begins in the same way. In each, he gives a double title to the main character he is comparing the kingdom of heaven to. Whether it’s a “king” as in this parable, or a “housemaster” – in all 4 he adds, “a man.” So in today’s parable, it begins, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man, a king, who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”
I bring this up, only because, we have always interpreted the king and the housemaster in these parables, as an allegorical stand-in, for God. Even the English language translations make that assumption, and instead of saying, “a man, a king” they just say “a king”. But what if Matthew is trying to tell us something? What if we were to rethink this? Is this king, in this parable, the God we know, or even want? This vengeful, bloodthirsty God, who kills those who anger him/her?
If Matthew is comparing the kingdom of heaven to the kingdoms of this world, isn’t this parable of the tyrant king, really a representation of the collision in history of two different brands of authority: our earthly brand based on violence, and the heavenly brand, which gives itself over to the world’s violence, but cannot be vanquished by it. (cf. http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-a/proper23a/ )
The man, the king, in this parable, actually sounds a lot more like the human kings of Jesus’ time in the Herod family, and Pilate, who ruled in tyranny and fear. Herod the Great wanted to offer the shroud or veil, of an idyllic kingdom on earth, but it was instituted and kept in place by absolute authority, not an exousia from heaven, from where John and Jesus got theirs – but a fractious and oppressive one.
Human rulers often restore order by violence. There is a false peace, a calm before the next storm, because there’s always another. So, if you received an invitation from, a man, a king, like this, immediately after he razed a whole city, wouldn’t you be inclined to accept his invitation to come to the wedding feast!? Unless you run and become a Refugee, you’d better go, right! And, in the last scene, the tyranny continues when the king finds one guest who was not wearing a wedding robe, when he arrived at his son’s banquet, and this also enrages the king. “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” he says. And when the guest was speechless, did not answer, the king had him “bound hand and foot and thrown out into the outer darkness.”
Who is it, that is cast out from our communities? Who doesn’t know, the “robe rules,” the unspoken rules, that are used by those in power? I think we could say, the homeless, for one – and today, I’m thinking about those who were literally thrown out of Tent City, after so many false promises to help. Also, the black, brown and poor youth, thrown into prison, who, if they can’t afford bail, sit there for months and years, before getting a trial. Also, those who can’t find work in this economy, for any number of reasons, who are forgotten. The Trans youth who are bullied in school. And, those living with mental illness, who are warehoused in nursing homes.
This is also, Jesus. The one who was thrown out of the wedding banquet; the rejected stone; the one who was silent before his accusers. And this is especially true in Matthew’s passion story, where Jesus remains silent, 3 times, at his trials before Herod and Pilate.
Jesus is the one who suffers with us. He is the Suffering Servant who stands up to a world of violence and revenge, and as the Son, goes to the cross willingly, to expose and change our murderous history, in order to open up a whole new way of life. We don’t have to wait for the trickle-down scraps from the king, who is just, a man. We can trust in the Lord, we can build our lives on the one who understands our suffering, and who has opened up the way of faith, and hope and love, to us. In every act of kindness and mercy we offer back to the world, we build up the kingdom of heaven, that Christ revealed.
In the parable of the king’s wedding banquet, Jesus foretells his passion and gives us a foreshadowing of what’s about to happen.
But when Jesus goes to the cross without a word, “speechless,” he is not giving up, or giving in. Jesus is revealing and rejecting the kingdoms of this world that have always ruled by conquering and dividing. Jesus is lifted up on the tree of life, to invite us to the kingdom of heaven, a banquet of celebration, NOT built on revenge, but on the grace and love of our heavenly parent, who loves us all, and does not expel anyone from the Feast.
Jesus asks us to learn, to turn around from our sins of intolerance and exclusion, and our ways of tyranny and oppression, that only lead to quarreling, divisions, and violence. Otherwise the sacrifice of the cross has not taken affect in our lives, as the Body of Christ in the world.
But if with St Paul, we begin to feel, that by our faith, “the Lord is near,” then, “beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,” begins to live in and through us, and the kingdom of heaven, and the Banquet, are near!
And this is the banquet, as Isaiah described it long ago:
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, says Isaiah.
And the LORD will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
[and the LORD] will swallow up death forever.
Even Isaiah, centuries before Jesus, connected our life after death, with a heavenly banquet. And what is coming, promises Jesus in his passion, is new life, beyond retribution, a whole new kingdom of heaven, which is dawning among us already, now.
Come, the wedding banquet without end is prepared! Come to the feast!