Q & R: A Confusing Parable
Here's the Q:
I read Matthew 22:1-14 this AM and the last part of the parable is confusing (verses 12-14) - What are your thoughts? Or have you addressed this before and can direct me to your personal interpretation? Thanks!
Here's the R:
First, let me thank you for this question. It challenged me to go back and do a close reading of the text. I'll paste in the passage you're asking about below:
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 14For many are called, but few are chosen.’
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ 21They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
I used to interpret this passage, and parables like this, according to this "key" -
God = king
Son = Jesus
"Invitation" = predestination, gospel presentation
outer darkness = hell
But I am leaning toward another approach. The king in this story is characterized by violence, capriciousness, and coercion ... hardly a sensible portrayal of the God embodied in Jesus! So try this:
Caesar = king
outer darkness = persecution for justice's sake, cross
man cast out = Son of Man (Jesus and those who follow his way)
Caesar (like any dictator) runs a show. He pretends to be a benefactor, but really, he is just stage managing his own regime continuation through his son and future heirs. He pretends to be inviting people to a feast, but the falsity of his invitation is shown by the way he treats those who decline. (See Matthew 20 for a similar indictment by Jesus.) Some of the people - representing local leaders who are being "invited" into the empire but know where it leads (to oppression, exploitation, etc.) - respond in kind. They aren't fooled, and they engage in terrorism and rebellion against the emperor (seizing his slaves, maltreating them, murdering them).
The insecure and dictatorial emperor responds by filling the banquet with the population at large (against their will). Among them is a lone figure who refuses to dress up in costume and play the role. Who is that? The Son of Man - "the new generation of humanity" - Jesus and those who follow his new, nonviolent way of freedom, love, and peace.
When he is apprehended, "like a lamb to slaughter, he opened not his mouth," as Isaiah said. He is expelled into "outer darkness." This is Jesus going to the cross - and in doing so, he exposes the false generosity of "the powers that be" as a sham and show.
This interpretation is problematic in some ways, but so is the standard one (!). (If you end up disagreeing with this interpretation, I hope you'll at least consider the problematic dimensions of the standard interpretation....)
I must add that this interpretation is strengthened by what follows. The Pharisees join forces with the Herodians, who represent exactly the kind of "dressing up in a wedding robe" that Jesus has just condemned. Their asking him about paying taxes is an attempt to lure him farther out on a limb, so they can catch him in rebellious talk and ... cast him into outer darkness. They try to flatter him, in light of the bold parable he has just spoken: "you show deference to no one." They then do exactly the same kind of loyalty test on Jesus that the Emperor did through his "invitation" to a wedding banquet. They pretend to respect him, pretend to be asking a sincere question, etc. But Jesus foils their attempt - exposing their hypocrisy just as he had done in his parable regarding the Emperor.
What do you think of this interpretation? I'd love to hear comments on twitter or facebook.