Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
Sundays after Trinity (17)
Matthew 22. 1-14:
"Insider or Outsider?"
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
How have you dealt with unanswered invitations? Share your feelings of rejection when someone has declined your offer of hospitality, or examples of times when you have said “yes” to something and then regretted it.
Reflection on the text
There is more to this story than just being annoyed when someone doesn’t respond to our invitation. And there’s more too than just saying ‘yes’ to be polite, when actually we would rather be somewhere else.
High-level social intercourse between kings of city-states in the ancient Middle East had serious political overtones. You checked out who else was coming before you accepted the invitation – if the right people were going, so would you. And if the in-crowd stayed away, so would everyone else – and trivial excuses might follow.
Jesus is aiming yet another parable at the Scribes and Pharisees – the elite of the religious system. They’ve already seen Jesus arrive in Jerusalem, and overturn the money-changers’ tables, heal the blind and lame, and encourage children to shout and play in the temple precincts. They certainly wouldn’t want to accept any invitation of his and run the risk of sitting and eating with the riff-raff.
When the king’s invitation is repeated and the sumptuous banquet menu described in detail, he is rejected: both his authority and his generosity. They reject the Kingdom of Heaven so the non-elite are invited instead.
But take care – just because you are one of the impoverished ordinary folk reduced to hanging around on street corners doesn’t automatically mean you can behave in any way you like. The king provides clean clothes ready for those now accepting his invitation to the wedding feast: anyone who persists in spurning this offer would be shaming the host, and shaming his other guests too.
Matthew seems to draw on this material to address issues of inclusion and embrace in his own communities. The religious leaders in Jesus’ day and disciples in Matthew’s community who did not ‘bear fruit’ placed themselves on the outside whilst those who ‘did justice’ found themselves on the inside. Judith Johnson-Siebold (The Christian Century, 2005) sums it up well: "When we are Christian in name only, or when we adopt a stance we call Christian that overlooks justice and hospitality toward others, we are depriving the world of Christ’s influence through us."
some questions for group discussion:
- How should we engage with parables such as this, when the people described had lives, cultures and customs so very different from our own?
- Where is the good news in this text?
- Does God exclude people, or do we exclude ourselves? How important is hospitality in the life of our church community?
- Do we stereotype people, thinking all the rich ones are bad and all the poor ones must be good – or maybe the other way round? Do issues of economic justice lead us to assume that all in the global North are wicked capitalists, exploiting the downtrodden poor of the global South – or, alternatively, that all poor countries are hopelessly corrupt and we, the rich ones, have all the answers?
- Matthew’s version of this parable has been used by some as grounds for anti-Semitism and events like the destruction of Jerusalem (burning the city) are interpreted as God’s judgment as a consequence of rejecting Jesus the Christ. In what ways is the ‘blame game’ played out today? How should we respond when faced with such attitudes?
- Ask someone to read Psalm 23 and ask group members to think of the ways God’s goodness and mercy have followed them as individuals and as a community.
- Give thanks that we have been invited to the banquet – the kingdom of heaven – along with many other guests that we might be surprised to see.
- Pray in repentance for times when you rejoiced over the suffering of others.
- Pray for renewed commitment to a Kingdom in which no-one will be hungry, and all will be welcome. And pray also that our churches may have the grace to receive all guests as they would receive Jesus himself.
More background information
- This parable follows similar ones about the two sons, and the tenants in the vineyard. All are aimed at the religious leaders and their apparent inability to recognise Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven. It is important to remember that it is the Jewish authorities that are being denounced and not the Jews as a race of people.
- The king’s burning of the city would immediately bring to mind the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70 for Matthew’s original readers.
- Such ‘double invitations’ as the king sent out are well known from ancient papyri. They allowed potential guests to find out who was coming and whether everything had been arranged properly. Excuses are a traditional Mediterranean way of signalling disapproval on the part of the elite who have been invited. (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Malina & Rohrbaugh).
- “Friend” is an expression used ironically to someone who you think is in the wrong, or is using inappropriate behaviour; other examples are Matthew 20.13 and 26.50.. (Matthew and the Margins. Warren Carter). A modern example might be a politician who says “with due respect” when they are about to disagree with someone, or a barrister referring to an opponent as “my learned friend” .
- Brian P. Stoffregen at CrossMarks says:
"This text confronts us with the paradox of God's free invitation to the banquet with no strings attached and God's requirement of "putting on" something appropriate to that calling. As with all paradoxes, both are true, and concentrating only on one extreme is unhealthy. The trick is learning to manage the two extremes -- knowing when to appropriately apply each one."
- Go to
for a reflection by Catholic theologian John R Donoghue SJ.
- If you wish to revisit the problem of parables with violent endings go to: http://www.baylor.edu/christianethics/ParablesArticleReid.pdf
- Marty Aiken approaches the passage in a radically different way and sheds new light on it by suggesting that we should stop taking this violent king as a stand-in for God and to instead see him as a representative of human kings like Herod, who actually did these sorts of things. See http://girardianlectionary.net/year_a/proper23a.htm#matt22 and "The Kingdom of Heaven Suffers Violence: Discerning the Suffering Servant in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet").