One Parable, Two Tellings
If you turn to Luke 14:15-24 you will find a parable that is similar to the one that we are looking at this week. There is an invitation, a banquet, rejection and finally an invitation to those in the highways and byways. Matthews version differs in some major ways to Luke and is more of an 18 rated telling. These difference means that transferring meaning from one to the other is not the best way of understanding this parable and so we need to look deeper and ask different questions.
The Common Meaning
This transferring of meaning between the Luke version and Matthews means we often equate the king/man with God, the first guests with the Pharisees/Jewish nation and the final ones with the sinners and tax collectors. This gives us a sense that Jesus is sharing a message about how everyone has been invited to join the great banquet and those invited first have rejected the invitation so others have been called in to take there place.
This interpretation fits well with Luke’s version but Matthew’s additions to the parable cause some difficulties. The first guests kill the servants, the king responds by destroying them and their city. Finally when the others come someone wearing the wrong clothes is condemned and thrown out. These additions linked with Luke’s meaning raise some serious questions and so it is to them we turn.
Jesus opens the parable with the phrase ‘let us compare…’ this is sometimes translated as ‘likened to’. The translation of the Greek word in question in Matthew means it is not completely clear what is being said. It maybe that the King James Version or English Standard Version has it best when it writes, ‘the kingdom of God may be compared to a king‘.
The reason I point this is out is that to compare something is not to say it is the same as something. I can compare my footballing skills to Pele’s or my understanding of physics to that of Einsteins. In both cases my comparison will show that I am greatly lacking compared to these people. This parables is a comparison and to often we take that to mean it is a like for like understanding instead of one that draws out the difference.
So I want us to hear the opening of this parable as Jesus saying; “This is what some people think God’s kingdom is like…”
Who is the King
Matthew often uses double definitions to describe his characters, translating this into English is often seen as clumsy but could be important. We see the word King in our translations but the Greek actually says ‘a man, a king’ or ‘a human king’ and this again may help us in getting to the truth of this parable.
What Comes before
Having teased some initial thoughts out of this parable I want to again look at where it fits in Matthew’s gospel. A chapter earlier Jesus has entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, proclaimed as king. He has entered the temple and turned over the tables and driven out the money changers. After an altercation with a fig tree, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees and scribes and he has his authority questioned. This all leads to a set of three parables. The first is a short one about two sons saying one thing and doing another, the second about the owner of a vineyard who gives it to a group of people who mistreat it and the servants of the master. Finally, we get to this parable which rounds off this small section.
Let us remind ourselves of some of the themes of Easter. It isn’t about Jesus or God wiping out his enemies, even if some people thought that is what should happen. It wasn’t about claiming honour or only loving us if we returned the favour. Jesus came to show God’s kingdom was different compared to the human kingdom and he acts differently to human kings.
A Different Type of King
Jesus came as a different type of king. He wasn’t like Herod, Caesar or even the great King David; even if many wanted him to be. Jesus came to bring about God’s kingdom in a different way and in this parable he opens up this idea.
The story of a king who throws a wedding feast for his son has all the echoes of the great messianic banquet portrayed throughout the old and new testament. The image is a familiar one and would be understood by those who heard it. The king invites those a king should invite to such a grand occasion. It is the same today as it was then, royal weddings need royal guests and other important people to attend. Their attendance does a number of things, particularly at such a symbolic event. The presence of the rich and famous brings honour to the king and shows the importance of the people involved at the occasion.
Those invited to this great occasion do something awful though, they make light of this event and don’t come. They go to their farms and businesses and some even kill those sent to them. This is a serious situations, even in the first instances with mere rejections of the invite. It is a slight on the king and his prince and it brings dishonour to them. The killing of the servants is a step further, it is an act of war and it is met with a fairly human response to such an act.
Herod locks up and finally has John the Baptist killed for questioning his marriage. He also slaughters children who may challenge his right to the throne. Other sources tell us he killed his sons and one of his wives to protect his throne. Violence is often a human way of solving problems, particularly as revenge or to punish those that bring dishonour upon them.
Having been rejected by those he first invited the king now has a problem. He has a banquet in honour of his sons wedding but no guests to fill his halls. His response is to send out his servants to round up anyone they find whether they are good or evil. Luke has the invite going out to those who are poor, lame and blind and those on the highways and byways and gives us the image of a gracious God inviting all. Here people are invited not because of who they were (good or evil) but because he needed to fill his empty hall.
Finally, having filled the banqueting hall the king enters to see who is there and finds another who has dishonoured him. He sees a man not wearing wedding garments that has been let in to the banquet and he confronts him. The man is speechless when asked why he isn’t dressed correctly and finds himself bound and tied and thrown out into the night. Again, violence is the answer to someone who dishonours the king. There is no mercy, no grace, just punishment. This is what some people think the kingdom of God is like.
One Step Further, Maybe…
What happens if we see the man thrown into the darkness as Jesus?
Jesus said to those listening, you think the kingdom of God is going to be like the Roman Empire. That people will respect you because you are in charge, that they will honour you because of your position. But kingdoms like that are built on violence, when disrespected it turns to its power to have it’s way and maintain order. You want God to wipe out your enemies and those that don’t show him honour as you see it. That kind of kingdom misses the point and it will miss the messiah. What happens if the messiah comes to that kind of kingdom, no one notices them until they realise they are different. The don’t respect the rules, the dress code, they don’t fit the image of a saviour. So they cast them out into darkness, shamed and scorned to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
A week later Jesus has been crucified by the kings of the day. Herod, Pilate and the people have been judge and jury. They have bound Jesus, beaten him and crucified him because he wasn’t the messiah they wanted and he spoke of a kingdom they did not understand.