There is a message for us in our text for today—which is Matthew 22:1-10—the parable of the great banquet. I promise, there’s a message. In order to get at that, though, you really have to understand something about the context in which the scripture passage was written. Sometimes, no joke, I will have four or five books open on my desk as I work with a scripture passage. That’s what I did this week as I worked with this passage. Today, since we are as hen’s teeth few, I thought I would invite YOU to sit with me at my study table, so to speak, as I work to interpret the scripture passage. We are going to engage in a Bible study together. I hope that by the end, we will all be a little bit wiser, and you will have a new appreciation of the work that goes into interpreting scripture.
So again, this is a Bible study. Since I don’t have enough copies of the books I used this week, I thought I would provide some helpful texts for you on our handouts.
So again, our text is Matthew, but before we study that, I want us to consider our Old Testament scripture passage for today. You can see that on your handout.
Isaiah 25:6-9. I hope you noted that the theme in this passage is the same as the theme of our Matthew parable—it’s a feast, a banquet. Hum, we think to ourselves, “Jesus’ parable of the banquet we read in Matthew is based on OT scripture. Same symbolism.” No surprise really. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. He would have been very familiar with this Isaiah passage.
One word I will point out to you in this Isaiah passage—an important word for our purposes today. It is this: ALL. Isaiah says that in God’s kingdom ALL are welcome and all will come—Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, rich and poor, tax collectors, and tax payers, barons and thieves. All. The Lord God wipes away the tears from ALL faces, too. What a fantastic vision. God considers each one of us, no matter our life circumstance, a beloved child.
We still aren’t ready to tackle Matthew, yet, though. Let’s move on to the Targum. What’s THAT, right? The Targum is the translation of the Old Testament into Aramaic. Remember Jesus spoke Aramaic. It was the language of the Jews in Jesus’ day—a close cousin to Hebrew. The Targum was just beginning to be used when Jesus was alive. But whoever translated Isaiah from Hebrew into Aramaic, just couldn’t let it go—the part about ALL people being part of God’s kingdom feast. “That can’t be,” the author of the Targum thought to himself. “Surely everyone is not invited to be part of God’s kingdom!” Why would he think that?
The author of the Targum thought that because in his day—again the first century AD, things had definitely taken a turn for the worse for the Jewish people. Rome had invaded Judah and, of course, their beloved city, Jerusalem. The Jews were forced to pay high taxes to the Roman governors. Many Jews had their land confiscated. Some Jews were starving. Terrible time.
So the author of the Targum thought to himself, “No way God loves, cares for those dastardly Romans, those gentiles. No way does God wipe the tears from Roman eyes. So our Targum author edited Isaiah. That’s right. He looked over his shoulders to make sure no one was watching and then he edited the holy text—a bold thing to do! Here is what that translator wrote (you can read along with me). “The God of hosts will make for all the peoples in this mountain a meal; and though they suppose it is an honor, it will be a shame for them, and great plagues, plagues from which they will be unable to escape, plagues whereby they will come to their end.” Who is targeted by God with plagues? It’s the non-Jews, that’s who. There’s no universal grace. “Take that, you Romans! Take that you Gentiles!”
Ok. NOW we are ready for Matthew, the parable of the Banquet that I read a few minutes ago. It’s on your handout too. So probably you already figured out that the King mentioned in our parable is God, right? The son for whom the banquet is prepared is Jesus. The banquet is the Kingdom of God—The same Kingdom mentioned in Isaiah. Maybe you aren’t really sure who the guests are. Let’s put them on a mental sticky note. G-u-e-s-t-s? We’ll figure that part out later.
I hope you are disturbed as I am disturbed, by the would-be-guests’ actions and reactions. They decline the invitation, then when pressed, they say they have to go to their farm, or their business—lame excuses, right? But the really disturbing part has to be with their abuse of the messengers! They actually KILL the messengers. Who DOES that in real life? No one does that. “Hey, I’m having a birthday party. I’m sending you an invitation in the mail. When you receive it, if you decide not to come, please, please don’t kill the mailman.”
Another disturbing part of this parable, is King God’s action. God retaliates against his would-be guests by burning down their city. Why does he do that? Wouldn’t it have been more just (and God IS a God of justice, right) for King God to round up the murderers and punish them—Surely the whole city should not have to suffer the consequences. An eye for an eye would be the appropriate response from God. Or even better, turn the other cheek. I read that somewhere. Why is King God so mean?
So here is what I know. Like the Targum, Matthew too was written in the first century, but the END of the first century. Jesus came preaching peace, and love of neighbor and love of enemy even. He preached that in Roman occupied Judah. The Jewish leaders particularly didn’t want to hear about peace and love of enemy. They wanted to hear about God’s salvation from and God’s vengeance toward the Romans. So the Jewish religious leaders opposed Jesus. The Romans didn’t really want to get involved in Jewish religious squabbles. The expeditious thing to do was to put an end to Jesus. The Romans, egged on by Jewish leaders, had Jesus executed.
That didn’t end the turmoil, though. You still had Jews against Romans and Romans against Jews, and NOW you had both Romans and Jews against this new group of Christ followers, called Christians. With Jesus’ death, Jesus’ message went viral! WHAT A MESS.
In 70 AD, a mere forty years after Jesus’ crucifixion, the Romans decided they had had enough of the Jews altogether. They destroyed the temple and burned the city.
So, what do we read in Matthew, a book written, probably around 80 AD—after the destruction of Jerusalem? Let’s return to that text now: “The rest of the would-be-guests seized the King’s servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”
Ok. Is it coming together for you yet? The would-be guests are the Jews. The servants are God’s servants, Christians. The army is the Roman army. The city is Jerusalem. So, put it all together: Matthew says in effect: The Jews seized Christ’s followers, mistreated them and killed them. King God was enraged. King God sent the Roman army to destroy those murderers and burn Jerusalem.
That’s what Matthew is saying. That’s his take on the events of his day. God allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed. It was God’s punishment of the Jews.
But is this parable, then, NOT true to Jesus? In other words, what DID Jesus actually say to his listeners that day in Jerusalem? That’s the struggle we have, isn’t it? We want to know Jesus. We aren’t as interested in other peoples’ interpretation of Jesus—even Matthew’s interpretation of Jesus. How do we get to Jesus?
One thing that might get us closer to Jesus is to look at other versions of the same parable. This same parable, with a few differences, actually appears in Luke. So, let’s look at that now.
Luke wrote his gospel before the destruction of Jerusalem, probably in the 50’s or 60’s. He may have been alive when Jesus walked the earth—we don’t know. In Luke 14:15-24, King God throws a dinner party. He sends A slave out to invite his guests to the banquet. Who is the slave? It is Jesus himself. Who are the would-be guests? Let’s see. One of them has just bought some property. He didn’t inherit it, he bought it. This man must have been very wealthy. Someone else has just bought five yoke of oxen. That’s a lot of oxen. Again, this man must have been very wealthy. The third guest has just gotten married. He’s on his honeymoon. Evidently he is too happy and content, to be bothered with a banquet. In fact, all the people invited are content, happy, secure in their finances. They don’t need to attend a banquet. So, King God tells his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” These people come and fill the banquet hall. That’s it. Unlike the same story in Matthew, there is no bloodshed whatsoever.
This version of the story is not about religious affiliation—Jew vs. Christian. In fact, if this parable is true to Jesus, then there was as yet no such thing as Christianity. Neither is this story about Jew versus Roman gentiles. It’s about economics, the rich and the poor. And, it’s about those who are well, and physically able, versus those who have physical disabilities. It is true that just as religion can divide people, economics and able-ness also divide people. Luke says that poor and disabled people will be most receptive to the invitation to the kingdom.
Ok. Now for our recap. Drum roll. Whew! (1) In Isaiah we read that all are people are invited in and all will take part in the kingdom of God. Simple as that.
(2) In the Targum we read that gentiles are invited to be part of the kingdom, but it’s a trick. Once they get in, God will send a plague to kill them.
(3) In Matthew we read that the Jews decline the invitation and kill the messengers. God retaliates by burning down their city.
(4) In Luke as in Isaiah, all people are invited in but some people decline the invitation. It’s the not-so-well off, who actually enjoy God’s kingdom feast—in our society that would be the drug addicts, the homeless, people languishing in prisons and in nursing homes. The invitation is open to all, but how we respond depends on how much we need God. Money and happiness will not get you a place at the Kingdom table. Amen