Scripture: Matthew 22: 1-14
This parable of the wedding banquet astounds with its violence. Unlike the version in the gospel of Luke, in which the host’s first invitees reject the party because of their busy-ness, and the host simply invites any and everyone to the table, in Matthew murder abounds. The first invitees kill the slave messengers, and are in turn killed by the king’s troops. Their city is burned. The king then invites the “B list” of everyone in the streets so that the wedding hall is filled. The one poor person at the wedding feast who didn’t have time to change clothing or didn’t own wedding attire is then bound hand and foot and throwing into darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Ouch. A brutal parable.
Interpreters of this text indicate this parable is a parody of ancient Mediterranean social and political conventions of honor and shame. The parable was clearly understood from the first readers of the scripture to not be literal because of its absurd, unrealistic nature. Early church fathers such as John Chrysostom (late 300s AD) reflected on this parable as a symbolism for God’s dealings with Israel, in which:
- The marriage feast represents the marriage or covenant between God and the people of Israel
- The King is God.
- First (list A) wedding guests– Israelite elites, who didn’t fully accept God’s invitation to them.
- slave messengers–These are the prophets of Israel, whom the elites did not hear or mistreated
- The fire/burning of city- This could reference the burning of the temple in 70 CE by the Romans.
- Second (list B) wedding guests–This represents Israel’s poor and non-elite
- Absence of special clothing– The lack of wedding attire by one guest represents the failure to honor God.
Even with this helpful parallel interpretation, God remains a vengeful, violent king and there is seemingly no instructive point to the story. In the next interpretive move later biblical scholars looked to the setting of the parable for the community to whom the Matthean author is writing. The Matthean community represents a Jewish minority that sees itself as outside the synagogue and its subsequent power and cultural influence. Matthew’s Jewish audience understands themselves as marginalized among more powerful, establishment Jews. They feel isolated, alienated, powerless, alone. They don’t feel worthy. No wonder violence erupts in such a context as the solution.
Our culture today has seen an eruption of violence from people who feel isolated, alienated, unworthy and alone. This group has been culturally told that all their worth comes from what they do and how much they earn. Ironically enough, this group represents the one with the most cultural power–white, heterosexual men. Nationalist, neo-nazi, supremists and mass shooters are overwhelming white men. In a fascinating article in this past week’s Time magazine, Jill Filipovic remarks that American white men and the obsession with guns and violence is about a tribal identity, a “deepening identification of self and clan” that “forges an identity and bond with a like-minded community. ” The gun culture provides white males a place to belong while holding onto power through physical domination. In a world in which white men feel their status slipping, guns and supremacist communities assure them that they still hold their grip on the trigger of power. No wonder violence erupts as the solution–as the means of redemption from profound lack of worth and loneliness.
Yet, this parable does point to one who has no cultural power, yet shows us the way of sacrificial love. You have to lean in and look closely to see who Jesus is in this violent parable. Who is the one who shows up, who responds, who is present, but that presence isn’t welcome—is harshly critiqued and tossed out, in fact? The poor wedding guest who isn’t dressed appropriately, who suffers unjustly at the hands of power. This is what God looks like—poor, beaten, thrown out. The author of the gospel of Matthew is trying to get his community to see that they can actually resemble Jesus. A disenfranchised, poor, marginalized community looks like the way God shows up in the world. Their worth doesn’t come from cultural power or kingship–their worth comes from being made in the image of the one who comes among us as a poor, ‘B list’, shabbily dressed guest.
I wonder if God doesn’t still call a community to embody God’s worth to people. I wonder if the church could actually become a place where white men who feel unworthy can come to feel of priceless worth–who can trust in their redemption by a poor Savior rather than through violence. I wonder if any of us who struggle to have a sense of worth can take a seat at the table of the gathered church and feel we belong. You are worthy, not because of anything you do or what you earn, but because you are made in the image of a wedding guest who invites us all to a feast of grace. You are worthy.
The yoga practice for this class focuses upon postures that embody worth. Of course, this means warrior poses–poses where we ground into God’s strength and worth, and shine that out into the world. The following description of the pose is taken from Yoga Journal.
Warrior II Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions
Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). With an exhalation, step or lightly jump your feet 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and reach them actively out to the sides, shoulder blades wide, palms down.
Turn your right foot slightly to the right and your left foot out to the left 90 degrees. Align the left heel with the right heel. Firm your thighs and turn your left thigh outward so that the center of the left knee cap is in line with the center of the left ankle.
Exhale and bend your left knee over the left ankle, so that the shin is perpendicular to the floor. If possible, bring the left thigh parallel to the floor. Anchor this movement of the left knee by strengthening the right leg and pressing the outer right heel firmly to the floor.
Stretch the arms away from the space between the shoulder blades, parallel to the floor. Don’t lean the torso over the left thigh: Keep the sides of the torso equally long and the shoulders directly over the pelvis. Press the tailbone slightly toward the pubis. Turn the head to the left and look out over the fingers.