Tag Archives: Judgment of God

Psalm 53 Reflecting Again on the Unjust

Herny Ossawa Tanner, Sodom and Gomorrah (1920)

Psalm 53

To the leader: according to Mahalath. A Maskil of David.
1 Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts; there is no one who does good.
2 God looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.
3 They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.
4 Have they no knowledge[1], those evildoers, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God?
5 There they shall be in great terror, in terror such as has not been. For God will scatter the bones of the ungodly; they will be put to shame, for God has rejected them.
6 O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

When I was putting together my first collection of poems to publish, Creative Words, I almost included the same poem twice. It made it through several edits by me and two editors who looked at the work. In one of my final times working through edits I discovered the duplication. I share this story because Psalm 53 is a close twin of Psalm 14, which may seem incredible when one considers that these ancient texts had to be hand copied, but in a large collection it is easy to forget what one has previously included in the collection. There are some differences, Psalm 53 indicates that it is ‘according to the Mahalath’ which probably indicates the tune or melody for the Psalm and this Psalm, unlike its twin, uses the generic ‘Elohim’ (God) throughout instead of the name of God (often indicated as LORD in English translations). Even though the poem mainly follows its twin there are some additional subtle changes that make it worth treating independently and its placement within this portion of the Psalter helps give some additional insights into reading the Psalm.

In the worldview of the ancient Middle East there is no concept of a world without God or gods but here we encounter one who functions as a practical atheist. In Hebrew, the heart is the seat of will and decision making, and so the one who says in their heart ‘There is no God’ chooses to live in a way that assumes that God or gods will not intervene in their life. The fool here is not unintelligent but instead acts in a way that does damage to the community. The lack of wisdom here is acting in a way that neglects the commitments to the community as described in the law, and instead choosing a way of life that views people as a consumable commodity that can be consumed as easily as bread. These foolish and perverse ones may be within the people of God, or they may be from other nations who are imposing their practices upon the chosen people, but the damage done by this godless lifestyle calls out for judgment.

This foolish humanity which the Psalmist finds themselves surrounded by creates an inhospitable world. The image of God looking down from heaven seeking the wise ones who live according to justice and finding only fallen, perverse evildoers who practice this metaphorically cannibalistic injustice echoes the story of the LORD’s journey to Sodom and Gomorrah. The LORD encounters hospitality from Abraham but goes to investigate the outcry of inhospitality and injustice from these towns which become synonymous with the judgment of God upon these unethical fools. The story of Sodom (Genesis 18: 16-19:29) is frequently misunderstood as being about God’s judgment on homosexuality, but what the story reflects is a society that does not practice hospitality to strangers and sees those strangers, and even residents, as resources to be exploited. The LORD was willing to accede to Abraham’s request not to destroy the city if ten righteous are found within this community, but the divine figures in the story[2] only find Lot who is willing to practice hospitality in this inhospitable place. Many modern people are uncomfortable with these stories of God judging these communities, but the faith of the Psalmist relies upon a God who does judge and does not allow for injustice to continue forever.

The Psalmist trusts that those who live this foolish life will eventually be shamed, rejected, and experience the terror that they have inflicted on others. Unlike the wise who are buried when they die, these foolish ones have their bones scattered and they lie forgotten in the earth. Perhaps the Psalmist envisions a judgment of those who have ‘eaten the people like they eat bread’ like the one associated with Sodom. Regardless of what form the judgement takes, they believe in a God who is an executor of justice and a protector of the community from these godless ones who corrupt the earth. The times of misfortune for the wise ones who live according to the covenant are temporary. The righteous can commit the judgment of the foolish injustice which dominates their world to their God who will bring about deliverance.

[1] The knowledge here is probably closer to the French word connaître, which refers to the knowing of a person rather than the knowing of a fact. As Beth Tanner notes the word is an active verb and the activity of ‘not knowing’ is active rather than passive. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford 2014, 465) This would be more active than the NRSV’s ‘Have they no knowledge.’ These evildoers actively choose not to enter into the relational knowing of God.

[2] The actors change between men at the beginning of Genesis 18, to the LORD who speaks to Abraham and finally to angels who arrive in Sodom.

Matthew 24: 1-28 Hope in the Midst of Suffering

Section of the Arch of Titus showing the Spoils of Jerusalem

Matthew 24: 1-28

Parallel Mark 13:1-28; Luke 17:5-24,37b

As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be faminesand earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

9 “Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 Then many will fall away,and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this good newsof the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.

15 “So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), 16 then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 17 the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; 18 the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 19 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. 21 For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’or ‘There he is!’ — do not believe it. 24 For false messiahsand false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 Take note, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Among Christians in the United States, this chapter which is sometimes called the ‘little apocalypse’ has become difficult to hear for two opposing reasons. The first reason is the way this, and other texts in both the New Testament and Hebrew Scriptures often labeled apocalyptic have been used and obsessed over in various Christian theologies and groups which focus on the return or coming (Greek parousia) of Christ and the advent of God’s kingdom almost like a script out of a horror movie where a vengeful God inflicts God’s wrath on all who oppose God’s will. While there is a grain of truth in this perspective when it comes to God’s judgment, it is helpful to remember that the grain of truth has often been overwhelmed by a barn full of chaff laid upon it in many modern Christian theologies. The second struggle is that the enlightenment has regarded the apocalyptic as an embarrassment and has often attempted to distance itself from the concept of God’s intervention in the world. It is important to realize that what we often transform into fear was the hope of the early followers of Jesus, they longed for Christ’s return and expected it and were willing to endure the struggles of their time to proclaim what they felt was a gospel of hope. This message also helped the early church endure the loss of several key symbols to the Jewish worldview and to see the suffering of the present as the painful but ultimately life-giving birth pangs of God’s new kingdom emerging in the midst of the world.

The temple was a focal point of the Jewish people in Judea and beyond. The temple in Jerusalem takes up a large amount of the city’s overall footprint and as N.T. Wright can state helpfully,

Jerusalem was not, like Corinth for example, a large city with lots of little temples dotted here and there. It was not so much a city with a temple in it; more like a temple with a small city round it. (Wright 1992, 225)

Matthew is not explicit that with Jesus departing the temple that the presence of God has left the temple, but with Matthew’s Emmanuel theology which permeates the gospel it may be implied in this scene. The temple, for all the grandeur of its reconstruction, will soon for not only the Christians but also for the rest of the Jewish people, will be displaced as a central symbol of their faith with its destruction. The coming destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, which occurs in the Jewish War of 66-70 CE, will cause a crisis which forces both the Jewish people and the early followers of Jesus, both Jew and Gentile, to reexamine their faith in terms of a new central place where God will meet them. For the followers of Jesus, one greater than the temple is currently among them and for Matthew’s community they await his return.

One of the consistent struggles of the disciples throughout the gospel is attempting to understand Jesus’ message in light of the traditional symbols and paradigms the learned. They are still ‘little faith ones’ which see in part, trust in part but still are struggling to let go of the beliefs and practices they learned over a lifetime. They see the temple primarily as a structure dedicated to God’s service, and so the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem seem like the opposite of what to expect after the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. Just like Jeremiah’s message which often fell on deaf ears before the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by Babylon, only to be remembered as the people reconstructed their identity in exile, these words of Jesus which at the time seemed strange, provided meaning, and hope in a future where the followers of Jesus are scattered among the nations. At a time when the Roman empire seems to be consumed by struggles for power, and when the early Christians themselves may be beginning to experience exclusion from their identity with the Jewish people and persecution among the nations these words encourage them to persevere.

Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of heaven has prepared his followers to expect God’s intervention in the world, and there are others in Judaism of the time who also expected God’s intervention in various ways. We know the Essenes and the Pharisees expected God to intervene in history to deliver Israel from its enslavement to foreign powers and (in the Essenes case) unfaithful shepherds leading in the temple. Jewish hope was not for an ending of the world, as is present in popular culture and several late Christian movements, but rather for a reordering of the world around God’s reign through Israel. When the disciples ask about Jesus’ coming (parousia) at the end of the eon (suntelias tou aionos)[1] they are not asking about the end of the world but the advent of God’s kingdom which will replace the kingdoms of Herod or the empire of Caesar. The idea of Christ’s return is probably imagined in imagery similar to a celebration after one of King David’s victories. The other source of imagery would be the celebrations of imperial might by Caesar, but these would be considered only a parody of the expected victorious celebration of the advent of the kingdom of heaven on earth. Yet, Jesus does not answer the disciples with signs of his coming to inaugurate the kingdom of heaven but instead gives warnings about events, false prophets and false messiahs/Christs which will lead people to trust in the wrong things.

Jesus warns his disciples “See (blepete) that no one leads you astray.” While the NRSV’s use of beware does capture the sense of warning, the disciples are to take an active role in ensuring that they do not follow false prophets and false Christs. It is helpful to remember that Christ and Messiah are the same term, ultimately meaning anointed king, in Greek and Hebrew respectively rather than a part of Jesus’ name. Others will come claiming the same title that Peter has previously applied to Jesus, and they will gather followers. It is helpful to know that in the decades after Jesus’ death there would be those making the claim to be the ‘king of the Jews’ who would lead the people of Judea in multiple uprisings against Rome (not only the Jewish War of 66-70 which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem, but also the 115-117 Jewish revolts in Egypt, Cyrene and Cyprus and the 133-135 rebellion of Bar-Kochba). This was a violent time for the Jewish people, and these followers of Jesus were not to follow these claimants who are attempting to establish God’s kingdom by force. Jesus’ followers are not to look for certain events which herald the advent of God’s kingdom on earth but to continue in their mission of teaching and proclamation to all nations. As Richard B. Hays can state, “The reality of the final judgment is crucial for Matthew, but not its timing.” (Hays 1996, 104) If these followers of Christ seek meaning in the midst of the struggle that is coming it can be read in the feminine imagery of ‘birth pangs’ that must occur before the advent of the new kingdom, or new creation in Paul’s language[2].

The suffering of these followers of Jesus in the midst of wars and rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes in to be expected. As Jesus could tell them in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:10) now they are told they will face ‘oppression’[3] and some will be killed. Matthew, unlike Mark and Luke, indicates that this oppression will come from the nations[4] instead of perhaps their own people which may be assumed in Mark and Luke and this may reflect the situation of Matthew’s community being away from Judea and experiencing persecution primarily from sources outside the Jewish people. Even among the community of Jesus followers some may be ‘caused to stumble,’[5] and others will ‘hand over,’[6] and hate will enter into these communities formed around loving God and one’s neighbor. In addition to false Christs there will be false prophets who tell people a message that did not come from God. The identity of the community is at stake here. Anna Case-Winters helpfully illustrates:

Lawlessness will afflict them and “the love of many will grow cold (v.12). This latter is perhaps the most serious threat for Matthew. Lawlessness (Greek anomia) is the ultimate crisis for a community centered around Torah. For love to “grow cold” signifies the loss of the very heart of Torah, which is love of God and neighbor. (Case-Winters 2015, 271)

The crisis of oppression, death, stumbling, betrayal, and hate threaten to extinguish[7] the love that the community is grounded in. But those who endure to the completion[8] will not be left on their own. This scene anticipates the great commission with its promise of both the authority and presence of Christ as well as the commission to take this gospel to all nations. As David Garland can helpfully state,

the church is not to circle the wagons until the danger passes but is to engage in active mission. In spite of the trauma, the community’s responsibility to love and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom remains in force. (Garland 2001, 242)

Matthew, who has been intent throughout the gospel in helping the reader understand scripture, adds the citation of Daniel to the comment about the ‘blasphemy’[9] standing in the holy place so the reader might find:

Forces sent by him shall occupy and profane the temple and fortress. They shall abolish the regular burnt offering and set up the abomination that makes desolate. Daniel 11:31

Daniel, which most scholars would say is pointing to Antiochus IV Epiphanes a Seleucid king who persecuted the Jewish people leading to the Maccabean revolt, is now read in light of the actions of the Romans conquering the temple and removing the holy items for their victory parade in Rome. Instead of being drawn into this conflict with the empire of Rome, those followers of Christ in Judea are to flee. The war, which will continue beyond 70 as the imperial forces continue to quell their rebellious Jewish province, will indeed bring great suffering for the people of Judea. Ironically, these warnings to flee throughout this chapter are misread drastically by some later Christians into talking about a ‘rapture’ where the hope is to be the one taken but to the original hearers they would understand this as a warning to prepare to flee on short notice. They may need to flee without packing, without re-entering the house or taking additional garments.[10] Into this time of great affliction (thlipsis) those claiming authority as leaders, or those who claim the authority to interpret God’s will as prophets will come claiming to create meaning out of the suffering, but they are telling a false story. These false prophets and false Christs, who most likely portrayed themselves as being the saviors of Israel from her oppressors, were probably an attractive alternative to the message of Matthew’s community and the gospel they proclaimed. Yet, they are warned not to go out seeking these leaders and prophets.

To the early community of Jesus followers these warnings probably were intended to keep them away from the revolutionary movements gaining strength in Judea, Galilee and beyond. Matthew’s closing line that Wherever the corpse is, there the eagles[11]will gather may refer to the massing of Roman standards (eagles) gathered around Jerusalem. Although I believe Warren Carter rightly discerns the echo of Rome in this verse, I believe he misinterprets the direction of the verse. Carter indicates that the verse indicates a judgment on Rome and the corpse is the Roman army, (Carter 2001, 87-88) but I believe the plainer reading in the context is to avoid Judea and Jerusalem in revolt where the legions assemble to wage war against the revolt. The corpse may refer to the crucifixion, to the temple (especially in the context of this chapter) or to Jerusalem, but the geographical location would be understood.

In a passage like this one, especially where I have covered a lot of historical ground, it is perhaps more difficult to allow it to speak to the church today, yet I believe there is no way to separate Christianity from the apocalyptic portions of its scriptures.  Every time one prays the Lord’s Prayer asking for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, one is praying for God’s intervention to bring about God’s promised new eon. Yet, throughout the gospel and throughout history there have been forces which are opposed to God’s reign and the changes that will bring. What may be perceived as a blessing to the poor in spirit, the meek, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness and the others mentioned in the beatitudes may be experienced as a woe to those who have become invested in the maintaining of the current order or who may want to bring about God’s order in their own terms. This chapter, even as it has been frequently misused in modern times, holds a key insight for the way of Christ: it is a way of hope even as one endures suffering. The Christians were not zealots who attempted to bring about God’s order by driving out the Gentiles from the promised land, rather they were those sent into the nations bearing witness to the gospel of peace. They meet violence by turning the other cheek, the learn to find blessing even when they are oppressed, and they find meaning amidst the times of affliction and tribulation by trusting in God’s hearing of their prayers and acting on them. This is a hope that would be at home in the psalms and the prophets and has sustained Christians for millennia. It is a hope that has sustained non-violent groups through the years and as I write this the lyrics of “We Shall Overcome,” used in the civil rights movement but has its origins in Charles Tindley’s adaptation of the 19th Century Spiritual “No More Auction Block for Me.” Oh deep in my heart, I do believe, that we shall overcome one day, and that overcoming comes when God changes the world bringing down the mighty and lifting up the lowly.  Until that day we work, and we wait, and we suffer, and we hope. We hold fast to what we have received and are alert for false prophets and false messiahs which proclaim cheap and easy paths to claiming God’s kingdom


[1] We again encounter the common Matthew word telos, here with the prefix sun attached to it, meaning completion, consummation, end. I think the older word eon is helpful, since it is both a direct transliteration of the Greek aion but also does not have some of the baggage of ‘the end of the age’ in Christian parlance.

[2] Paul can also use the imagery of labor pains of the creation giving birth to something new in Romans 8:18-25

[3] This is the Greek word thlipsis which occurs twice in this passage meaning ‘oppression, affliction, or tribulation’

[4] Ethnos can also be translated Gentiles.

[5] This is a passive form Scandalizo, where we get the English scandalize from, which has the connotation of stumbling. Has been used frequently in Matthew.

[6] Paradidomi is an important word in all the gospels which means both betray, but more literally to hand over (presumably into another’s custody)

[7] The Greek Psucho can mean grow cold or extinguish. I think the future indicative tense leads to the more absolute reading, especially when paired with lawlessness.

[8] Telos again used as a term of completion in verses 13 and 14.

[9] Bdelugma-blasphemy, abomination, detestable thing. NRSV ‘desolating sacrilege’

[10] Imation, which is translated a coat by the NRSV, means garments or clothing in general.

[11] Aetoi can be translated vultures, as the NRSV does, but it often refers to eagles

Matthew 22: 1-14 The Call of the King

By Bernardo Strozzi – Own work, Daderot, 2013-09-25 11:42:46, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33266293

Matthew 22: 1-14

Parallel Luke 14: 15-24

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.”

This final parable continues to be challenging for many modern readers of Matthew who struggle with the wrathful king’s judgment on both those who reject their calling and on the improperly attired guest. Many scholars who view the versions of this parable in Matthew and Luke coming from a common source argue that Luke’s easier to reconcile version is closer to the parable that Jesus originally told as a way of distancing themselves from the portions of the parable which make them uncomfortable. Yet, Matthew’s version uses several prophetic motifs which are probably unfamiliar to many modern readers of the New Testament which are worth slowing down to engage and hear. Perhaps Matthew has something to teach our communities about the way we attempt to eliminate God’s judgment because it is uncomfortable for people living in peaceful, affluent communities very different from either Jesus or Matthew’s time.

Matthew groups parables together in a way that they build upon one another in a group of three. In hearing this parable, it is important to place it alongside the previous two vineyard parables (two sons and wicked stewards) as Jesus uses a new image, that of a wedding banquet. While there are images in Israel of people being invited to a great feast prepared by God for people, perhaps the best known coming in Isaiah 25: 6

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged-wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged-wines strained clear.

Yet, the idea that this feast is a wedding celebration is unique to Matthew and there is not an echo of God throwing a wedding banquet that I am aware of in either the Hebrew Scriptures or the Apocrypha. Yet, Matthew has used this image previously in 9:15 with Jesus referring to his disciples’ conduct during his presence among them:

And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will mourn.”

This image of a wedding celebration will also link this parable to the first parable in the next and final set of parables in 25: 1-13. The parable links both images of the feast of rich foods prepared by God for all people and with the identity of Jesus as the bridegroom and son of the king in Matthew.

Yet, the story turns upon the rejection of the call of those who are called. The Greek work kaleo (to call) occurs frequently throughout this narrative as the king sends his slaves to call the ones ‘having been called.’ In our culture we think of invitations as optional, but these who have been called to appear by the king and snub that call by extension reject the authority of the king to summon them. As Warren Carter notes, “Refusing the king’s invitation is tantamount to rebellion.” (Carter 2001, 434)  This is heightened by the action of those who seize, mistreat, and kill the slaves sent[1] who like the vineyard workers in the previous parable invite, and in the answer of the hearers of the previous parable require the ‘housemaster’ and now the king to “put those wretches to a miserable death.” (21:41)

The wrath[2] of the king is perhaps difficult to many modern readers who are used to thinking about God as unemotional or immovable, but these modern conceptions of God are based more on Greek philosophical ideals rather than the God of the scriptures. A God who sends his loyal slaves over and over with the hope of a harvest or the invitation to the celebration of the wedding of his Son, only to see these slaves mistreated and killed is compelled to act on behalf of the slaves. If, as most interpreters assume, Matthew is using this parable as an explanation of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by Rome in 70 CE (destroyed those murders and burned their city) they seem unable to reconcile this God who invites with the God who destroys. Yet, perhaps this says more about our unwillingness to stand under God’s judgment or our desire to take judgment into our own hands. That God’s troops would include the Roman legions which destroyed Jerusalem, who like Babylon and Persia previously had served God’s purposes without knowing it, should not surprise, nor should the experience of  God’s people receiving judgment for being unwilling to respond to God’s continued call.

I am not a fire and brimstone preacher, as a Lutheran pastor I’d rather focus on the grace of God, but I’ve also come to understand that the wrath of God or anger of God is not the opposite of God’s grace. God is angry because God care: God cares about the slave sent to carry the message, God cares about the wedding banquet which they have been invited to, and, although it may seem strange to modern ears, God does care about the called ones. The God of Israel may be patient and slow to anger, but this God will not be taken for granted. God continues to desire repentance and is willing to continue to send those precious to God to seek a change, but eventually God’s patience becomes too costly for those who carry God’s message, and like the saints under the altar in Revelation 6: 9-11 they cry out,“Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth.

That Jesus, and Matthew, understand God at work in the movement of the nations is a part of the bold claim of the faith of Israel that their God is not only their God, but the creator of the world and the Lord over all nations. This may be challenging for modern believers who have separated the spiritual world from the political world and who may be slightly embarrassed to suggest that God can be at work in the world in strange and mysterious ways, but that also highlights the way culture has changed our faith. The early followers of Jesus could trust that God’s kingdom would come into the world, that God’s will would be done on earth just as they assumed it was done in heaven. This is faith was an openness to perceive the ways that God was at work in the world, an awareness of the time they found themselves within with the bridegroom, and a trust that while God will is ultimately good for them, for the people of God and for all the nations, God the creator of the world should neither be tamed or domesticated into a household god that served the desires of those who called upon the name of the Lord.

There is a common strand with this parable and wisdom literature where the character of wisdom is not heeded:

Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, and because you ignored my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, when panic strikes you like a storm, and you calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me, but will not find me. Proverbs 1: 24-28 (see also Proverbs 8:35-36 and Jeremiah 6:16-17)

There is an call from their God (or from Wisdom on behalf of God) which is refused, and although the call is extended with the hope that the called ones will finally turn (or repent) the continued reality of rejection is not met with indifference by God. Yet, this rejection can also be used in strange ways to extend the invitation to others. In the parable now the slaves are sent to the crossroads or the roads leading out of town to gather everyone to the banquet, both good and bad, filling the wedding celebration with guests. Just as the tax collectors and prostitutes heard John the Baptist’s message and turned even though the Pharisees and Sadducees did not (21:31) now those on the streets find themselves in the wedding hall.

The final scene of this parable, unique to Matthew, with the guest not wearing the proper attire has also caused distress for many readers for the same reason as the earlier judgment, and again many scholars want to view this as an addition to the original parable of Jesus, but before we pass judgment on it, perhaps we should hear it out. Just as the rejection by the ones called to the banquet was tantamount to rebellion, so is being present in a way that is disrespectful to the host. We often assume referring to someone as ‘friend’ assumes intimacy, but in Matthew’s gospel, and in ancient cultures, it can imply a power differential or distance between the speaker and hearer. (20:13, 26:50) The fact that one is invited later does not give one permission not to heed counsel or ignore reproof, and as Matthew’s gospel has focused on building a community of Christ where the actions of the individuals in the community matter, just as the original invitees can find themselves encountering their king’s wrath, so can the newly invited.

One final word, Matthew’s gospel paradoxically is viewed both as the most Jewish and the most hostile to the Jewish people, since these parables and many other things we will encounter in these final chapters have often been read in a supersessionist way by Christians.  I will continue to address this as we move through these final chapters, but it is important to note that in this parable those invited are still a part of the king’s original people, not from new nations, and throughout these parables what are sought are more responsive sons, tenants, and subjects, not a new people. Much of Jesus’ conflicts will be with the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, the Sadducees and the Pharisees and not with the people as a whole, and Jesus’ life from the beginning of Matthew is to, “save his people from their sins.” (1:21) That Jesus, like the prophets (or in the parables slaves), who went before him challenges the leaders of the people is a part of the reason the people are able to see him as a prophet, and like the prophets his calls often fall upon ears that cannot hear. Yet, I think Matthew would echo Paul when he says to Gentile Christians who came to be a part of the community of Christ:

But if some branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Romans 11: 17-21


[1] The word for sent is the verb apostello where we get our English apostle (sent ones).

[2] This is the Greek orgizo, which is the verbal form of orge, which often is used to refer to the wrath of God in judgment against God’s people (for example in Exodus) or upon those in continued rebellion in Revelation.