I suspect when you come to mass you don’t want to hear about blood and guts, instead you come to hear something uplifting, you hope to go away feeling a bit better. But blood and guts is exactly what you are hearing and getting today. In the Gospel we hear of servants sent with a wedding invitation who are, for the trouble they take, mistreated and killed. And we hear also of the earthly king who sends that same invitation responding by killing the murderers of the servants and burning to the ground their very city. Blood and thunder, violence and destruction – it sounds like the Game of Thrones revisited.
This parable that we hear today at Mass is one of 3 parables that Jesus tells in response to the authorities who ask Jesus why does he do the things he does and on whose authority he acts. The other 2 parables we have heard in the last 2 Sundays: those two sons who weren’t keen on doing what their father had asked and the parable of the vineyard and the tenants.
The first thing to say is that it is easy to misunderstand, to get a wrong handle on today’s parable. Its easy to think of the parable in simple terms: the King as God the father, the son who he sends as Jesus, the people that he invites and don’t come as Israel, the people who are eventually invited as you and me and everyone else.
But that is not in actual fact what the parable is about. In a certain sense we have to unlearn certain things, block out certain ideas, maybe forget about ways that we have looked at the parable before this. Don’t think of it in terms we have known it before!
In order to understand it properly you have to start, to begin, to set out by remembering 2 things: first, who it is directed to, addressed to, spoken to. Getting this gives us our first clue. It is directed to the Pharisees and scribes. These are not just religious people, but they are people of the establishment and structure of government and of the court of King Herod. They are Herodians.
The next sentence, the second thing to remember, is key to the whole parable, what it is about: the kingdom of God has been likened to an earthly king having a wedding for his son.
The parable instead of saying what the kingdom of God is, is saying this is - what it has been likened to, this is what it has been imagined to be like. And much more spikey, this is how the people of Herod’s court imagine it to be. They imagine that God. his kingship and his kingdom, will work in the same way as Herod does, brutal, savage, coercive and high handed.
This is a stick of dynamite, because it is saying that instead of allowing God to be God, they make him into something of their own making, they make him into something he is not.
God’s invitation is often described or pictured in terms of being like a wedding feast in the Old Testament, a marriage, a covenant, a joyful feast in which everyone is sat down. But instead of it in actual fact being a wedding or a joyful feast this invitation sounds like something different, something darker and more sinister, a ruthless king seeking approval, proof of their loyalty, their servitude, their obedience. When this is not forthcoming the earthly king sees this as betrayal, rebellion and uprising. The cruel earthly king reacts, as every earthly king does, and certainly as Herod would do, he puts down the rebellion with all his might, kills many and burns down the city. A strong king may not be loved, the parable seems to say, but he may be feared.
The invitation then goes out to anyone. But the invitation is not as it seems, a generous one, it is merely to save face, to fill the hall, to show his power in fear, to make sure that the seats are filled, that the spaces are taken up.
The high handedness goes on, a wedding guest is ejected because he fails to have the right wedding clothes on. He is not only ejected, he is bound, tied up and thrown out into a terrible darkness of exclusion.
The parable I think real says this: this is what people think that the Kingdom of God is. This is what the Herodians think that Kingdom of God is like. A cruel king who forces people to come to the feast, a cruel king who will murder you if you don’t come and will burn down your city, a cruel king who looks for submission and obedience, a cruel and jealous king who will invite others from the high ways and byways not in generosity.
Its not only a stick of dynamite, it is an Exocet missile at what people make God out to be. A cruel and malicious king, a king who is capricious, a king who subjugates and crushes, a king who has to be pleased and fawned over like any earthly king. A king who is small minded.
To return to this beginning of the parable – this is what people think and liken the Kingdom of God to, but his is not what the Kingdom of God is like.
This parable and the other 2 parables that we have heard over the last 2 Sundays asks the same question – why does Jesus do what he does and on whose authority he does these things? This is Jesus answer: he doesn’t believe in a king or a kingdom of heaven as they do, a cruel and mendacious king, whose invitation to a wedding feast is not what it seems And when you don’t come he sends lighting bolts your way and flame throwers at your house. Who only wants to fill his halls, to show how popular he is, how successful is, how loved he is.
This is not the God of either the OT or the NT. He is the God who welcomes sinners, who eats with sinners, who cures the sick, who forgives and teaches others to forgive. He doesn’t need armies, doesn’t need courts, doesn’t need people to fawn over him. He is not a king who wears fine clothes or a bright gleaming crown, or has people to do his bidding.
It is kind of like an exocet aimed at the fact they make God to be a king like their own, who heads armies, who crushes people, who gets his way by harsh and cruel ways. This infact, Jesus says is not the God either of the Old or New Testament.
The parable says many things.
Maybe all our life we have been worshipping the wrong God. Maybe all our life we have imagined God to be something that he is not. Maybe like the Herodians, we have made him into something of our own making. Maybe we have mistaken his power. Maybe we think he would fight our battles, tuck us in at night, he should always be on our side. Maybe he has become the person that we would go to at the last resort, when we have lost our hope in everyone else. Maybe the parable tells us that he is more much more than we can imagine.