- Date: March 12, 2023
- Bible Reading: Matthew 22:1-14
- Free Resource: Plan a Feast (Youth, NL)
- Unit Theme (February 26—March 26): The Ways of the Kingdom
- The Point: All are invited to be part of God’s feast.
Jesus tells the Parable of the Wedding Feast to teach about the kingdom of heaven. The message: God welcomes everyone. But what about the violent details of the parable?
With this reading from Matthew 22, we have made it halfway through the regular Sundays of Lent (not counting Palm Sunday). And this is the third parable in our Lenten theme: The Ways of the Kingdom. Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of heaven, and to do so, he is using parables. Which is good and bad. Good because parables are stories and stories are vastly more interesting than lists and lectures. Bad because, well, parables can be hard to understand. And I find that especially true of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. This is, as I said four years ago, a difficult passage.
Why is this parable a difficult passage? And what makes a passage difficult? Passages can be difficult for two reasons. First, the passage can just be difficult to understand. That’s the most basic, and the easiest to fix (often). For a difficult-to-understand passage, you can do research: look at commentaries, learn background information, talk to experts, etc.
The second is that a passage can be difficult to accept. The Book of Joshua provides a prime example. In the “conquest of Canaan,” Scripture records that God commanded the destruction of Canaanite cities, including the execution of “all in the city, both men and women, young and old” (Joshua 6:21). To put it bluntly, the people of Israel committed genocide on the inhabitants in order to take their land, all on God’s command. I’m not alone in feeling uncomfortable with worshipping a God who commands genocide. And while research and study can definitely help in this regard, we need to figure out how to wrestle with these difficult-to-accept passages.
Why do I consider the Parable of the Wedding Banquet difficult? Primarily because there are several seeming non-sequiturs. More on that is below.
The Simple Approach
One way to approach a difficult passage is to focus on the most easily accessible aspects of it and teach that, trying to make sure you aren’t twisting the text to say something it doesn’t and keeping with the broader witness of Scripture. This is the most appropriate way to teach a difficult passage to children, by themselves or even in an intergenerational context.
Indeed, this is how we approach this passage in our Narrative Lectionary curricula for early and later elementary students. For this parable, we developed The Point: “All are invited to be part of God’s feast.” This follows verse 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.Matthew 22:10
And this is a teaching that we get from many other parts of Scripture. So, I feel quite comfortable teaching children that God loves everyone.
The Complex Approach
For youth and adults, it can be beneficial to take a closer look, particularly at the twists and odd parts of the parable. I mean, we start out fine; Jesus is describing the kingdom of heaven like a king giving a wedding banquet for his son. Both wedding and feasting metaphors are common ways to look at God’s kingdom, so awesome.
A bit of a predictable twist: there’s a problem (it’s not an interesting story if there isn’t). The invited guests don’t want to come. Strange, as a) who would pass up the opportunity for a LOT of free food, and b) turning down your king’s invitation is not a great political move. But, as they say, that’s not all! Some of the invitees seized the king’s slaves, beat them, and then killed them. What? Why?
How does the king react? He sends out his army to kill the murderers and burn their cities. Now, remember, the food is ready at this wedding feast and the king is going to war. Not to mention utterly destroying whole cities.
So, the original guests aren’t coming, and there’s still a banquet, so the king tells his servants to gather everyone they find from the street. This is the part we focus on in the simple approach. All are welcome.
Finally, these random people are pulled off the street and into this banquet, but the king sees one of the guests not wearing a wedding robe. Okay, so he’s not appropriately dressed. Is the king going to have mercy and give this rando something to wear? Or is he going to ask this poorly dressed fellow to leave and go get changed? Nope. Neither. The king commands his attendants to:
“Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”Matthew 22:13
What Do You Do?
If you have time with youth and adults, then reading and discussing the parable slowly, and asking questions, is useful. But then, what do you do?
- Do research. Parables are like jokes; you need to know the context to get them. Find resources in print or online (or even an expert in person if you have one) that can give you background information, things Jesus’ listeners probably just knew. This is good practice for youth and adults to read the Bible by themselves.
- Ask open-ended questions. Help participants wrestle with what’s going on. Don’t ask them for a definitive interpretation, but, even if people leave without fully grasping the parable, they will still have been engaging in Scripture and talking about their faith.
- Say the magic words “I don’t know.” There are things that actual Bible scholars don’t understand fully, so how can you or I be expected to be experts? I have been surprised a few times by people I’ve been in Bible study with commenting on how glad they were when I admitted I didn’t understand something (given that I have a theological degree). Having an expert (ha, ha) admit their limits gave these laypeople permission to not stress about an unattainable goal: full mastery of the Bible.
Faith Formation Connection
Notice what faith formation participants are walking away from your class/group/time with. With the simple approach, kids and others are walking away with the message that God loves everyone and invites everyone to a kingdom feast. With the complex approach, participants have practiced skills on how to dig into the Bible more, learned background knowledge, and reflected on their own faith.
Not a bad day’s work in faith formation.
May you have a blessed and holy Lenten season.
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 11 to May 28), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “Plan a Feast” from our Living the Word: Youth (NL) (Year 1, 2022-2023 and Year 2, 2023-2024) curriculum. This activity can be used intergenerationally or with most age groups individually.
Order Faith Formation Resources
Lent is upon us! Do you have your Spring lessons yet (starting on Lent 1, 2/26/23)? You can order Spring lessons of our Narrative Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary resources, or one of our Learning Together units! You can download the lessons as soon as your payment is processed.
At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we might just have exactly what you are looking for:
- Resource for the Revised Common Lectionary (2022-2023) (or 2023-2024) (intergenerational classroom)
- Resources for the Narrative Lectionary (2022-2023) (or 2023-2024) (products for all ages)
- Classic Sunday School Curriculum (key Bible stories for PK-2nd and 3rd-6th)
- Learning Together: Five-lesson topical units for VBS, Sunday school, children, and intergenerational classes.
- Cross+Generational Confirmation
- Worship and Liturgy Education