The Curmudgeon


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Bad Theology

Text for today: Matthew 22 i-xiv

Jesus relates a parable comparing the kingdom of Heaven to a king who gives a wedding feast. Many of the invited guests are busy with worldly concerns, while others seize the king's servants, treat them with disrespect and murder them. The king retaliates by burning the murderers' city, and then sends his servants to bring in whoever they can find on the streets. One of the guests is found to lack a wedding garment, and when the king questions him he is speechless. The king orders him cast into the outer darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.

This parable combines features from that of the tenants with that of the banquet and the image of the bridegroom, with an additional twist in the person of the man who has been arbitrarily plucked off the streets by the king's servants and ordered to attend a banquet, only for the king to kick him out again for not being appropriately dressed. Jesus notes that the man was speechless, and therefore unfortunately unable to remind the king that the body is more than raiment; the moral, which Jesus helpfully points out, is that many are called but few chosen. In other words, Jesus makes clear yet again that entry into the kingdom of Heaven is not in humanity's power but in God's alone.

The figure of the rejected guest, who has sinfully failed to keep himself in readiness by walking the streets in a wedding garment on the off-chance that the king's servants might descend upon him with an invitation, prefigures Jesus' later statement about the approaching massacre of the unworthy: "the one shall be taken and the other left" (Matthew 24 xxxvii-xlii). The kingdom of Heaven can be lost through disobedience or through lack of preparation; but no amount of preparation or obedience will gain it for those whom God has decided, presumably from the beginning of time, to shut out for ever because He dislikes the cut of their clothes.


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