“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’
Matthew 22:8-9 (NIV)
Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that it’s easy to read with a mental microscope or magnifying glass to inspect every word, every verse, or every parable as if they exist as individual and/or exclusive works of divine wisdom. I’ve come to observe that there’s more to be gained by launching my mental drone to rise above the text and see the word, verse, and parable within the larger tapestry of the Great Story. Today’s chapter is a great example of this.
The entire chapter takes place at a very specific time and place. It’s the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. He is in Jerusalem and spending His day at Herod’s Temple, the seat and center of Hebrew religious power and worship. There is an escalating conflict emerging between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day. Public opinion is on Jesus’ side for the moment, and the religious leaders are working their fundamentalist political playbook. They keep sending different groups with questions in hope that Jesus will make a gaffe, say something stupid on the hot mic, or make a partisan comment which will offend His audience and give them political ammunition to publicly discredit Him. This is the same kind of political theater that plays out in press conferences and the media every single day.
They ask Jesus about paying taxes to Rome because it’s a hot-button issue. Most of Jesus’ audience hated the Romans, and they hated paying taxes. The religious leaders even make sure that Rome’s local political puppets, the Herodians, are there to witness the answer. They hoped Jesus’ answer would be treasonous enough to arrest Him.
A religious faction, the Sadducees, try a trick question on Jesus that was rooted in a hot-button theological debate about whether there was a resurrection or not. The motive was to trip Jesus up and make Him look like a fool. Jesus nailed the answer and discredited the questioners.
They tried another theological question, but Jesus nailed that one, too.
Then Jesus decided it was time for Him to ask the question. He asks about the popular term being used for the coming Messiah, the same one they were indignant about children applying to Jesus in yesterday’s chapter: Son of David. Jesus discredits the term (perhaps in response to their indignation the previous day?) based on David’s own lyrics.
This is a political tennis match with Jesus volleying back and forth with the religious leaders. And it’s in the context of this rising conflict that I must understand Jesus’ parable of the Wedding Banquet. The guests invited to the feast who ignored the invitation are Jesus’ religious enemies. They’ve ignored the heart of God’s commandments to cling to their power, greed, and fundamentalism. The servants who get beat up and killed are the prophets. The King sending His army to destroy the murderers and raze the city is prophetic, as this is exactly what happened in AD 70 when the Romans razed Jerusalem and the Temple. The King’s decision to go to every corner and invite “anyone you can find” is equally prophetic. It is what happens in the book of Acts when the Jesus Movement breaks out of the shackles of Hebrew fundamentalism and embraces anyone, Jewish or not, who chooses to repent, believe, and follow.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself asking what this means for me today. My heart’s desire is to always follow Jesus, but I can look back on my journey and see ways in which I’ve been more like the religious leaders. I’ve been religious, but I confess that there’s hard evidence that my religion has at times been more about being right, condemning others, and holding appropriate political and doctrinal views instead of being about love, grace, and mercy. That makes me more like Jesus’ enemies.
Whenever personal faith intertwines with human institutions and systems, it’s hard for it not to get sucked into the same trap that the Hebrews fell into. And that’s as true for me as it is for anyone else.
So, for me, that’s the take-away. I want to be diligent in living out my “religion” in Jesus’ terms:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27 (NIV)
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.