Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Tale of Two Parables

This week's scriptures are Psalm 23 and Matthew 22:1-14.

The first thing that you will notice is that the passage from Matthew is a retelling of the parable we used from Luke 14:15-24 about the folks who refused to come to the banquet. Only this time, those who don't come are wiped out and their cities burned. In addition, even when the party is going on one of the guests in thrown out "into the dark, the place of wailing and grinding of teeth." WHEW!

Now the commentators are mixed in their view of what is going on here. Is this a parable that Jesus told that Luke tells one way and Matthew another, based on what they were trying to say to a particular audience? (In that case, as you'll see below, I have some issues with Matthew). Or, did Jesus tell a similar parable in two different ways in a different setting for different needs? (In which case I have to struggle with the question of what was Jesus trying to get across in the Matthew parable).

What I find interesting about this parable though as I write this blog is the way that my personal history affects the way I read scripture.

I grew up in a very conservative, Southern Baptist church where strong ideas of judgement, condemnation, and the need for salvation from hell were evident. I also grew up in a violent household where one of my parents often used God as an excuse for the violence directed at my siblings and myself. In light of that, this parable has always been terrifying.

What it says (to that part of me still influenced by that history) is you'd better not turn down God's loving invitation to salvation or God will kill you and burn your life down; AND NOT ONLY THAT but even if you accept the invitation, there's a good chance you won't be good enough and will get tossed into the 'outer darkness' anyway.

When viewed this way, this parable becomes truly terrifying. For read this way, there is no safety, there is no peace, there is no celebration. The party in the kingdom when the parable is read this way is like those old films from WWII of the citizens of Poland waving flags and cheering for the Nazi troops as they marched by while their true emotions showed in the tears streaming down their face.

As you can tell, I struggle with the message about God's intention that was given to me in early life. Though my beliefs are different now, every now and then this view of God as just waiting for the opportunity to snatch us up, smack us around, and throw us into hell rears its ugly head.

Then what do we do with this passage? How can we understand what Matthew was trying to do (you'll notice here the choice I made about the difference between the parables)? And how does this passage have anything to say to us today?

Now we're gonna talk more about this on Sunday...and I hope that you're gonna be there for the conversation....but here is what I think:

I think that the poor guy who got tossed is a lot like you and me. We come to the party....but we really can't celebrate (symbolized by the absence of the proper attire). We come still wearing our "I've got to earn it for myself" suit; or our "nobody could ever really love me" dress; or our "if they ever truly knew me and all that I've done/thought/fantasized, not even God could love and redeem me" ensemble outfit. And so, in the here-and-now (notice that I'm not talking about eternity...God's got that covered), we put our own selves outside the party. We're unable to enjoy the celebration that God wants to throw for us right now.

And there we stand...speechless, like the party guest; or like the Elder Brother in the story of the Prodigal Sons, standing outside the party trying to decide what to do.

Now let me tell you what I think we need to do....knowing what I know about God's love and desire for us. Imagine this:

We walk up to the door. We knock. The Host answers and we say, "I need your help. I don't have a party outfit...I never really thought I'd be invited...what's more, I can't seem to get this one off, no matter how hard I try. I don't think I can do this by myself...but I really, really want to come to Your party....and You're right, this outfit I'm wearing really stinks."

And the Host looks down at us, and smiles. Partying Love wraps huge warm arms around us, draws us back into the room and the Host says, "I thought you'd never ask."

Hope to see you Sunday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Uploaded 11-4-08.

Sorry for the delay...try to catch up here!