by Father Mike Stubbs
Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mt 22:1-14, overflows with extremes.
We hear the parable about a king who issues invitations to his son’s wedding and how people respond to the invitation. And it’s quite shocking.
It’s one thing to decline an invitation, but quite another to kill the messenger who brings the invitation:
“Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them and killed them.”
Similarly, we can understand why the king whose messengers were killed would be angry. But why destroy the entire city where the killers lived?
“The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” It looks a bit extreme.
And finally, the guest who shows up to the wedding inappropriately dressed is not only escorted out, but is hogtied:
“Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” Is that any way to react?
These extreme measures certainly catch our attention. And that is part of their purpose. They exaggerate in order to make a point.
This hyperbole follows the general approach of Matthew’s Gospel. It frequently ratchets the level up to make the narrative more dramatic, more intense.
Compare it to Luke’s Gospel, which tells the same parable, but in a much lower key. There, no messengers are killed, no city burned, no inappropriately dressed guest thrown out.
And the person issuing the invitation to the banquet is not even a king, but only a householder. The banquet is not specified as the son’s wedding feast, but only as a great banquet (Lk 14:16-24).
Matthew paints a more colorful, dramatic picture to emphasize his point. This invitation is really important, a matter of life and death.
The various details added by Matthew also lend themselves to allegorical interpretation. For example, we can identify the king’s son with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The city destroyed by the king because of its rejection of his invitation can correspond to the city of Jerusalem, which rejected Jesus and was later destroyed by the Roman army in the year 70.
The guest who lacks a wedding garment corresponds to the Christian who initially accepts the invitation to follow Christ, but then fails to follow through in his manner of life.
The parable ends with us asking ourselves the question: How will we respond to the invitation?