Lectionary Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Matthew (BTCB) by Stanley Hauerwas, commenting on Matthew 22:1-14:

A king gives a wedding banquet for his son, sending his slaves to call on those who had been invited, but they would not come. He sent other slaves to tell them that a great banquet has been prepared. But those invited made light of the invitation and went about their daily business. Some even seized the king’s slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops to destroy the murderers and burn their city.

Again he sent his slaves into the street, gathering all who were found there, both the good and the bad, and the wedding hall was filled. When the king came to see the guests, one man was not wearing a wedding robe. The king asked him, “friend”—the same address of the owner of the vineyard to those first hired—how did you get in without  a wedding robe? The man was speechless.

The king had the attendants bind him and throw him into outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus concludes that “many are called, but few are chosen.”

This parable reprises Matthew’s gospel. Jesus has come to feed us. He has fed the five thousand and the four thousand. The kingdom is about food and, in particular, food for the poor. But the food given by Jesus is not only to feed the hungry but to stage a banquet.

This is a feast of God’s abundance. Yet many seem to think that they have all they need and refuse to take the time to attend the king’s banquet. They act as if they need no king, consumed as they are by their daily lives. Some, insulted by the persistence of the king’s invitation, even kill his slaves. Jesus, just as he had in the parable of the wicked tenants, suggests that the way the king’s slaves were treated is the way that Israel had treated God’s prophets.

This is an extraordinary parable that makes for uneasy reading for those who want Jesus to underwrite a general critique of elites in the name of creating a community of unconditional acceptance. To be sure, just as the previous parables had been, this parable is meant to make those in power and the well-off uncomfortable. Most of us, particularly in the commercial republics of modernity, refuse to recognize that we are ruled by tyrants or, worse, that we have become tyrants of our own lives.

We believe that we are our own lords, doing what we desire, but our desires make us unable to recognize those who rule us. We have no time for banquets prepared by the Father to celebrate Jesus’s making the church his bride. We have no time for the celebration of that great thanksgiving feast in which we are “living members” of the king’s “Son our Savior Jesus Christ” (Book of Common Prayer 1979, 365). Such a people are right to be challenged by God’s hospitality to those who must live in the streets.

Yet this parable also makes clear that those who come to the banquet from the streets are expected to be clothed by the virtues bestowed on them through their baptism. If the church is to be a people capable of hospitality, it will also have to be a community of holiness. Jesus expects those called to his kingdom to bear fruit (Matt. 21:43). He has made clear in the Beatitudes how those called to his kingdom will appear.

To be poor and outcast may well put one in a good position to respond to Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom, but Jesus expects the poor and downcast to live lives worthy of the Lamb who will be slain. Only a people so formed will be able to resist emperors, who always claim to rule us as our benefactors.


©2006 by Stanley Hauerwas. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.