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Sermon – 10/09/05
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Matthew 22:1-10

I invite you to take out your pew bibles this morning because I want to do some serious bible study.  Or if you brought a bible with you, to use your own.  I'm reading from the New Revised Standard Version which is the same version in your pews.  We're going to look at 3 texts this morning, starting with the sermon passage from the gospel of Matthew, the 22nd chapter, verses 1-10:  

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. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again 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.” 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

And then following the parallel version in Luke (you may want to keep your finger there in Matthew's version), we'll look at Luke's version of the story in the 14th chapter of the gospel of Luke, verses 16-24.  And look for similarities and differences:

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.” 19Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.” 20Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” 21So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” 22And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.”’

So what are the similarities you note?  There's a feast, right, in both stories.  Invitations are sent out in both cases, and refused in both cases.  People from the streets are brought in.  Any others?

Dissimilarities?  There's actually quite a few, aren't there?  The King -- in the first story it's a King, and in the second story is the master of a house.  What else?  The murderers -- Matthew's version is much more violent.  The kind of feast -- did you note that?  In Matthew's version it's a wedding banquet.  In Luke's story it's a dinner party, instead of a wedding banquet.  There's only 1 slave [in Luke] instead of multiple slaves [in Matthew].  

Big point, this is part of the violence in Matthew's version -- the city is destroyed.  I'll come back to that, that's important.

Who is invited in?  In Luke we have a very specific list -- the poor, the crippled, the blind.  In Matthew, good and bad are included.  Much broader list.

There's also an addendum in Matthew's story that Luke doesn't even have (I didn't read it) -- if you continue reading Matthew this business of the guy that shows up that doesn't have the right garments and gets thrown out.  That's a whole other story, I'm not going to go into that today.

The degree of the differences here raises an obvious question -- who changed the story?  Was it Jesus, or the gospel writer?  In other words, did Jesus tell two different versions of this story (one preserved by Luke, one preserved by Matthew), or did one of the gospel writers change the story?

Hopefully for anyone who's been paying attention to my preaching for the last 14 years, this notion that the gospel writers may have changed the story should not come as a surprise to you.  Indeed, if you think about the birth stories, for instance, from the very beginning the gospel of Luke presents a very humble story -- Jesus born in a manger with shepherds in attendance.  The gospel of Matthew presents a very royal story, with signs in the heavens, the star, the Magi that bring rich, royal gifts.  Matthew talks about (in the sermon on the mount) blessed are the poor in spirit.  Luke simply says blessed are the poor, the economically poor, the destitute.  The gospel of John has Jesus say 'I am the light of the world'.  In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says 'You are the light of the world'.  In the gospel of John, Jesus' ministry begins with the cleansing of the temple.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it ends with the cleansing of the temple.

And so on and so forth -- the gospel writers portrayed things in different ways.  And it's not that they changed the facts or played with the truth, but that the truth of the gospels determines the reality and defines history.  Very important principle.

Now the point of our inquiry is not to figure out who got it the most 'right', Matthew or Luke.  But rather what is that truth, the larger truth that is larger than history and greater than fact to which each gives witness?  Keep all those questions in mind as we look at the 3rd account of this story, which of course is found in the Gospel of Thomas.  OK, turn to the gospel of Thomas. . . . . . and you won't find it.  You didn't bring your copy of the complete gospels with you?!

The gospel of Thomas, for those that don't know, is a second-century text found in 1945 (there were little fragments prior to that), but in 1945 they found a complete copy of it in the Nag Hamadi library in Egypt.  Kind of gives an image of someone going into a library and looking back to the archives on some dusty shelves and finding this old forgotten book.  No, no no.  The Nag Hamadi was unearthed, in clay jars.  It was a community of people who felt these texts were so important to them they went to great lengths to preserve them.  Many, many ancient texts, many that we knew of, and others that we had not known before.  The gospel of Thomas is one of those.

And it is a text solely of sayings of Jesus.  No narrative whatsoever -- no birth stories, no death, no resurrection, just a collection of the sayings of Jesus.  Many of which are very familiar to us, others are completely new ideas.  Some are familiar ideas put into new form.  Some very foreign to Jesus.  For instance, Jesus says that women will be included in the realm of God.  So far so good, very familiar.  So long as they first become male.  Well, now maybe that's a new idea, maybe it's the gospel truth?  If you heard Leitha talking at the dinner a couple weeks ago, it sounds more like Augustine than it sounds like Jesus.

So the gospel of Thomas includes this story as well, in the 64th chapter, and since you don't have a copy with you, you'll just have to listen:

Jesus said:  "Someone was receiving guests.  When he had prepared the dinner he sent his slave to invite the guests.  The slave went to the first and said 'My master invites you'.  The first replied 'some merchants owe me money, they are coming to me tonight.  I have to go and give them instructions, please excuse me from dinner'.  The slave went to another and said 'my master has invited you'.  The second said to the slave 'I have bought a house and I have been called away for a day.  I shall have no time'.  The slave went to another and said 'my master invites you'.  The third said to the slave 'My friend is to be married and I am to arrange the banquet.  I shall not be able to come, please excuse me from dinner'.  The slave went to another and said 'my master invites you'.  The fourth said to the slave 'I have bought an estate and I am going to collect the rent.  I shall not be able to come, please excuse me'.  The slave returned and said to his master 'Those whom you invited to dinner have asked to be excused'.  The master said to his slave 'Go out on the streets and bring back whomever you find to have dinner'.

Sound like Matthew, or Luke?  Luke -- much, much closer to Luke.  Thomas is not 'scripture' -- we don't consider it at the same level as the others.  But it provides a witness to a tradition apart from scripture.  Some scholars think a tradition as old as scripture.  That's hotly debated among scholars, but still the point is we have here an independent witness.  And what that says to us is that since it is easier to explain how it is that one author would modify this story than it is that two authors would modify it in the same way, and that none of the authors recall both versions in their text, scholars have concluded, therefore, it is more likely that Matthew has modified the original parable of Jesus.

Furthermore, the way in which it is modified is fully consistent with everything else we know about Matthew and the context in which it is written.  So as odd as it may sound, I want to focus this morning on those modifications to the parable of Jesus and the banquet because they give witness to the truth experienced by Matthew which he felt so important to preserve in his gospel account.  Just as that early community preserved those texts in those earthen clay jars at Nag Hamadi.

So let's look then at the changes made by Matthew.  Matthew takes the parable of the banquet and turns it into an allegory.  An allegory is where every element in the story alludes to some other event or person.  So we have the master of the banquet who becomes a King, a reference to whom? Most likely, the obvious, to God.  The banquet becomes a wedding feast for the son.  There you go -- in the messianic tradition of the time the messiah was often portrayed in terms of a wedding banquet.  This would be a very familiar image for the messiah, therefore a reference then to Jesus.

The slave in Thomas and Luke becomes plural in Matthew -- slaves.  What happens to them?  They're beaten and killed.  A reference to?  The early disciples, the martyrs who were killed for sharing the story, telling the good news.

On the dinner menu, in Matthew's version, oxen and calves.  Sorry, vegetarians J.  An obvious reference to the Arizona State Sun Devils, slaughtered last night by the mighty Ducks!  Very clear.

There there is the new element introduced into the story, the destruction of the town, which would be a reference to what?  The destruction of Jerusalem, destroyed in 70 A.D.  Most scholars think Matthew was written after that and so has included that in the story.  And finally, the blind and lame in Luke becomes everyone, good and bad.  Could be an allusion to Jew and Greek, could simply be another way of restating the parable of the wheat and the weeds, also in Matthew's gospel -- grow up side by side, are not separated until the harvest (e.g. final judgment).

The overall effect, then, of these changes is first of all to heighten the tension between the invited guests who refuse the invitation and the King.  And secondly, to strengthen the contrast between those who refuse the invitation (and found to be not worthy) and those who are brought in at the last minute, obviously an allusion to all the Gentiles now included in God's realm.

Now in the last few decades of the first century, one could not read or hear this story without thinking of Jerusalem and that therefore its destruction was God's punishment for the rejection of Jesus.  Which is part of the point of the allegory.  But is that really the way that God works in our world?  Destroying those who reject the word of God?

I know of two groups, at least two, that I could name that hold such a view of God.  Neo-fascists, who consider themselves to be Christian (the White Aryan Nation, the Christian Identity Movement), and Islamic terrorists, who consider themselves Muslim.   I think neither is true.

Do we really want to keep as a doctrine of our faith such a violent, destructive view of God?  Indeed, to believe that God destroyed Jerusalem for rejecting Jesus is to embrace the most basic tenant of anti-Semitism.  And if you reject anti-Semitism as contrary to the gospel, as does the apostle Paul (Romans 11), then you must reject the notion that the destruction of Jerusalem or any other city can ever be the will of God.

Now does that invalidate the truth of the wedding banquet story?  By no means.  For here is the larger truth, the truth that defines history and determines reality -- that everyone, good and bad, poor and rich, Arab and American, pagan and priest, gay and straight, Republican and Democrat, Jew and Gentile, everyone is invited to the table, to the wedding banquet.  The only thing that differentiates us is our response to that invitation.  

Are we willing to make attendance at that banquet more important than our business affairs?  In the version of Thomas, I didn't read the conclusion of the parable, Jesus says "Therefore buyers and merchants shall not enter into the Kingdom of God".  Ooooh.  That's pretty tough.  But you have to know that Thomas was an aesthetic, he preferred an aesthetic way of life, therefore it's easy to see that as Thomas' addition to the story.

Is our attendance at this banquet more important than our personal affairs?  We note that in both the Luke and Thomas version that the newlyweds that need to attend to their personal affairs are excluded.  

So how important is this banquet to us?  Here is the insight, the gospel truth of Matthew.  To refuse the invitation is to end up like Jerusalem.  Or if you were writing today, you might say to end up like Hiroshima, or to end up like the World Trade Centers.  It is that important for our well-being.  

Now we issued an invitation to dinner last Sunday.  We had a full house down in our basement, lot of people came -- responded to the invitation.  A few didn't show.  I know, I know, they had good reasons.  Some had bought a cow, some are newly married, some have property they need to take care of, whatever -- good reasons.  And it would be really low of me, it would be beneath me, to suggest that by not coming and seeing that wonderful video (even though I spent lord knows how many hours working on it), but it would beneath me to suggest that if you missed it that you're placing yourself in mortal jeopardy.  I would never make that suggestion.

Ah, but not to return your estimate of giving card, now we're talking serious J.  And seriously, I do want to say why it is important, vitally important, for us to participate in our Generations of Generosity campaign by doing so, by providing our estimates of giving for the upcoming year.  In ascending importance, beginning with the least:

5. Because it determines our budget, the level of our staffing, the salaries and benefits we pay, and therefore the ministries that we are able to support and hopefully to expand.
4. It determines our level of outreach, both to the community and beyond.  Our ability to support the mission efforts of the larger church depends on our support given to and through the local church.
3. Returning tithes and offerings to God in thanksgiving for blessings we have received is one of the most basics tenants of scripture.
2. It reflects our commitment not just to our church but to our God and it is an indication of our faith.  
1. Lastly, it is the response which differentiates us from those who refuse the invitation to join the wedding banquet.  It defines the history that we will make, and determines the reality we will achieve as a light to the world, here, in the heart of Eugene.

 

 


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