Matthew 22:1-14 – “A Haunted House and A Flashlight” [OR “Of A King and A Son and A Thrown-Out One”]
Caitlin Trussell on October 12, 2014 with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver
Matthew 22:1-14 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
It’s closing in on that time of year. The time of spooks and ghouls, candy and costumes. As the official door answerer in our home, I myself sport a combo of halo and horns – get it, saint and sinner – a ginormous bowl of candy, and a big smile for the kids in costume…and maybe even a tolerant smile for the teenagers in masks and make-up who show up hoping for the Snickers score. It’s also the time of year when someone invariably comes up with the idea for a field trip to a haunted house.
Haunted houses are a thrill-a-minute for those who love them. For me, they’re too much. Too much dread. Too much dark. Too much lurking in the dark. I’m not built to enjoy the buzz of adrenalin in response to being terrified. In fact, midway through the last haunted house I let myself get talked into twenty years ago, I stopped in my tracks and said into the pitch-black-dark, “Show me the way out of here…RIGHT NOW!” To which some ghoul flicked on a flash-light and, said in that ghoulish Hollywood way, “Waaalk thisss waaay…” while guiding me out with the flashlight.
At least when we open the Bible, there’s no haunted house there. Oh, wait, maybe there is, sort of. At least this parable that Jesus is telling sure seems dark, with a lot of built in dread.
Jesus has already told a few stories since entering the temple after being questioned by the religious leaders. These religious leaders ask him about where his authority comes from and then Jesus waxes on into story, into parable. If the first two parables he told were intense, this third one is downright extreme. And Jesus also ups the ante by beginning with the teaser, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…” This lead-in is so much bigger than “once upon a time.” Jesus’ listeners, the religious leaders, having already challenged his authority, are even more attentive to what he might say because he mentions the kingdom of heaven.
“Once more, Jesus spoke to them in parables saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” There’s an immediate kicker in that no one who is invited to the party comes to the party. Huh. The king, to whom no one usually says, “no,” suddenly isn’t even getting RSVPs. People just simply aren’t showing up. And this is only the beginning of the absurdity.
The king sends slaves with a message of good food, good smells, and good company with the king. Some of the people laugh and walk away, while other people kill the king’s messengers. The king throws a king-sized hissy fit – kills the people invited but who didn’t show up to the wedding banquet and burns down their city. Anyone in need of that ghoul with a flashlight from the haunted house yet – showing us the way out of this death and destruction?
Then the story softens just a bit, going from worse to just bad, when the king sends out more slaves to simply collect whoever will come to this now farcically enforced banquet. “Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.” I don’t know where you land on the topic of forced festivity but it doesn’t work for me. Imagine being collected for a party where you know the host killed the other people who didn’t show up for the party and burned down their town.
In the middle of this murder, mayhem, and enforced festivity, is a man. A man not dressed to play the part into which he was conscripted by the king. A speechless man who did not respond when the king would call him, “Friend.”
One horrifying part of this parable is indeed the king and his actions. The move that often gets made out of this parable is that this king is interpreted to be God. Jesus begins the parable by saying that, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king…” Suddenly, we as listeners’ make the leap that the king must then be God before we get to the end of the parable. Yet another easy move to make in this parable is that it’s so easy for us as listeners to equate ourselves with the ones not thrown out. And suddenly we live into what the theologian James Alison calls the pathology of belonging – creating togetherness by getting rid of someone.
This speechless man is bound hand and foot and tossed out. Not just tossed out of the party but tossed out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. He becomes the tossed-out one. Where else in the Gospel of Matthew may there be found such a one? Try a few chapters later in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. During the events leading up to his crucifixion, through the crucifixion itself, we are told of one who dies. The one who is silent in the face of challenge, the one who is mocked for being in the wrong clothes, the one who is bound hand and foot, the one who is hung on a cross where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, the one who is forsaken, the one who hangs under a sign announcing his kingship, and the one who is finally announced as God’s Son.
The parable’s king and the wedding banquet for his son are an absurd portrait of kingship and its festive accoutrement run amuck. The parable’s thrown-out-one is the one who reveals the farce.
On Friday evening, my husband Rob and I attended the New Beginnings Church Annual Celebration and Fundraiser here in Augustana’s Fellowship Hall. Many Augustana people were also in the mix of almost 200 people from other churches and denominations. Thank you to those of you who came, those who gave money, and those who pray for and volunteer with New Beginnings Church.
New Beginnings is a congregation that worships within the walls of the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. This is a great ministry for which I’ve been substitute preaching over the last seven years. For the obvious reason of incarceration, the congregation is 100% dependent on donations that include supporting the leadership and pastoral care given to the women by ordained Pastor Terry Schjang.
The women of New Beginnings are held accountable for their crimes while at the same time receive care for the high rate of sexual and physical abuse they experienced prior to incarceration, typically early in their lives. These women are often the thrown-out ones, forgotten behind the double razor wire fences and the severity of their crimes.
On Friday night, we heard from Denise. Denise is a four-time offender recently released from prison. She claimed responsibility for her choices and named the shame that began it all. Different for her this time in prison is her experience in New Beginnings. Different for her this time is how she hears that Jesus, the thrown-out one, the crucified and risen one, is the one who has occupied the place of shame and is not run by it. Jesus, the one who undoes our narrative of futility. Jesus, the one whose forgiveness opens up our past in such a way that stretches out our future.
Denise’s story, while socially extreme, bears similarities to many of our own stories. The mash-up of paradoxes may be more visible in her story but the tension of those paradoxes exist nonetheless. The paradoxes of accountability and forgiveness, justice and freedom, past and future, shame and wholeness, perpetrator and victim all collide at the cross of Christ.
This collision at the cross of Christ puts to death the pathology of belonging and brings to life a community through which God brings all people into God, through which God reconciles us to God. All of us brought to God through the God humbly born into skin and solidarity with us in the person of Jesus, the God who shows us through Jesus how to love and how much we are loved even through death on a cross. This is the mystery of faith that is for Denise, for me, and for you. This is the mystery of faith that we are called to steward. This is the mystery of faith that claims us in a broken world, in the valley of the shadow of death, drawing us into life right now, today, through the cross of Christ singing a defiant “alleluia”.
[Those who assemble for worship sing many “alleluias” together in the hymn “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” – ELW #362]
 Many people try to explain what a parable is by explaining what it’s sort of like. Explaining parable can sometimes sound like this, “Well, it’s allegory but not really clean allegory with obvious 1:1 correlation; it’s metaphor but not simple poetry.” Since it’s not clear-cut, I’m going to suggest that today we go with James Allison’s explanation of parable – that parable disrupts the listeners’ unexamined assumptions.
 Debbie Blue, one of the founding pastors of House of Mercy in St. Paul, MN. Find her commentary on Matthew 22:1-14, “Murder and Mayhem” archived at the following link to Spark House: The Hardest Question: http://thq.wearesparkhouse.org/yeara/ordinary28gospel/
 James Alison, Catholic theologian, writer and speaker presenting at Rocky Mountain Synod Theological Conference in Colorado Springs; September 24-25, 2014. Dr. Alison’s website: www.jamesalison.co.uk
 Matthew 26:63
 Matthew 27:28,
 Matthew 27:31b
 Matthew 27:33
 Matthew 27:46
 Matthew 27:37
 Matthew 27:54
 More from James Alison’s lecture – see footnote #3.