Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reading parables (Proper 23 Year A)

Today’s parable (Matt 22) talks about a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son. The invited guests did not come so he invited those from the streets to come. When they did so, one was without a wedding garment and thrown into the outer darkness.
 This parable is another interesting one. It is the last parable in a little series of three. The other two being entitled (in my Bible) the parable of the two sons and the parable of the wicked tenants. (Matt 21).
 I want to look at this parable in my usual way. That is to take God out of the leading role. I do not think the king is a picture of God.
 Look at how he is described. One who becomes enraged, who sent out troops to destroy people and property and, finally, sent a poor person from the streets bound hand and foot into “outer darkness”.  This is not a picture of God
 Likewise, last week in the parable of the tenants. I don’t think the landowner is a picture of God either.  Landowners were not liked, actually we could be as strong as to say they were often hated. They were seen as those who kept most of the people in poverty. The economic system was such that the landowners were very rich. They usually lived away from their land in the cities. They paid the workers very little so that they were completely dependent on the landowners for sustenance. The workers were often continually in debt to the landowners as there was no relief if the crop should fail or be poor. To the landowner only profit was important, not the people who worked the land.
 Further more, although not always clear in our various biblical translations, the opening starts “there was a person (anthropos), a king”. Although it can be said that this was a typical Aramaism, we also have to consider that maybe Matthew was simply emphasizing that this was a human being not God. Interestingly, the same opening was used in last week’s parable about the landowner, “there was a person (anthropos), a landowner”. 
 I think these parables were simply a comment on the classist system of the day.
 The king is a powerful person who expected people to do his bidding. Perhaps, he was something of a tyrant. He was obviously not well like, friendless, none of the invited guests attended his son’s wedding. When he didn’t get his own way he sent in troops to cause harm and hardship. Then he demanded that the people in the streets were commanded to attend the wedding. They had no choice.
The poor had to do the bidding of the king. They were helpless and voiceless. They had no control over their own fate. Think about the person thrown into outer darkness. This person had no wedding garment, probably beyond the means of a poor person. Yet the king had no compassion, no provision for the poor one. This person had no voice. That is often the situation of those trapped in poverty.
 Why was just one chosen? When one reads the story it sounds like many of the ones compelled to attend were poor, so, perhaps, a little unrealistic to assume only one was improperly clothed.
 I, also, want to cast a glance at the responses of the Pharisees (although that probably encroaches on next week’s reading). After these parables they plotted to trap him.  Interestingly, their minds went immediately to Ceasar and paying taxes. But I will leave that for you to ponder!
 The same with last week’s reading. The passage comments that the chief priests and Pharisees realised Jesus was speaking about them. Perhaps, they saw themselves not as those who did not receive the servants and son of the landowner but as the ‘landowner’ in the parable. They were being exposed because of their unjust economic dealings with the populous.
 Therefore, I think one way of reading these parables is that they were a comment on the social system of the day. Jesus was exposing the injustice of the system to chief priests and Pharisees. Jesus was exposing how desperate, angry, helpless and voiceless the poor were feeling.
May we be as Christ to all we meet.  
May we help the desperate to find justice
May we help the angry to find peace
May we help the voiceless find a voice.

Blessings +Jane