Extra resource for Church Action on Poverty Sunday: Bible study

Voices from the Margins logo no straplineThis reflection on  Matthew 22:1-14 and ‘voices from the margins’ was written by Revd Raj Bharath Patta. You could use it in your church or house group to mark Church Action on Poverty Sunday, 11 February.

Kin(g)dom of God Made Open for All

The parable of the wedding banquet reflects the worldview of their times, for Jesus (narrator), Matthew (writer) and Jewish-Christians of the early Church (the audience of this Gospel) were all living under the Roman empire, occupied, colonised and governed by the powers in Rome. It is a royal wedding, and invitations would be sent to all selected invitees – in fact two invitations, one like ‘save-your date’ and the other like ‘invitation for wedding banquet’ with all those colours, pomp and royalty. Those that received the royal wedding invitation would have jumped in celebration, for these invitation cards were a recognition of their worth by the empire: that among the colonised, they were leading people of their times. They wouldn’t have missed any opportunity as recipients of the royal invitation to update their status on their social media sites, posting  photographs of the royal wedding cards.
Mind you, the two previous parables that Jesus told in Matthew 21 are addressed to the chief priests and Pharisees, and this parable also forms part of that genre. So, the ‘recipients of the royal invitations’ in this parable were part of the colonised communities, knew the struggles and hardships of their communities under the cruel empire of Rome, and were aware how their communities have been exploited under the regime of this occupying empire. The colonial ploy of the empire has always been to divide and rule, and therefore in this parable too they invited a few selected people, whom they thought would serve as their agents for the colonial empire. These selected invitees, should they respond positively to the royal invite, would have climbed up the ladder in the colonial regime and would have received more perks, favours and medals for their sincerity towards the throne in Rome.
But these selected invitees from among the colonised communities in the parable took courage, thought this to be an opportunity to express their dissent against the empire by not responding favourably to the royal invite, and “made light of the invite, went away, one to his farm and another to his business” (verse 5). This act of protesting the empire was an expression of their courage and solidarity with their own struggling community. These signs of dissent have taken a different turn, and ended up in violence against the messengers of the empire by the rest of the people. On hearing this protest, dissent and violence that irrupted in the colony, the empire was enraged, came back forcefully on them, destroyed and burned their city using strong troops and stronger weapons. The selected invitees dissenting against the royal colonial empire came with a huge cost; it cost them their lives and even their city, for they were all turned into ashes, as a display of the strength of the empire. The destruction and violence made by the empire enjoys impunity, for they are the rulers and theirs is the rule.
This martyrdom of the colonised community inaugurated a new dynamic in the kingdom, for now the king was forced to issue an order to “go into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet” (verse 9). The messengers went out into the streets (not just the main streets) and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests (verse 10). If it wasn’t for those who expressed their protest at the royal wedding invite, the wedding wouldn’t be made open for the people on the streets, for both good and bad. The uninvited come to be invited not because of their worth, but because the wedding banquet is made open to all people on the streets, for it came with a cost – the lives of those courageous martyrs. Jesus is soon to pay the price for resisting the empire in this Gospel, by being crucified on the cross, which has made the Kingdom of God to be open for all people, those uninvited, those that never saw a royal palace, those that are good and bad, those that did not have an identity, for the banquet is now ready for all of creation. The Kingdom of God is a kin-dom of God, wide open to all people of God.
This parable therefore calls  us as Christians in the 21st century, firstly to be bold and courageous in resisting the ploy and plots of the empire which exists in the forms of market, state, institutionalised religion, structures of oppression, systemic injustices of our times. This might involve not succumbing to the powers and principalities of the empire, not bowing down to them to earn temporary favours. The call for us is to stand firm in our faith in Jesus Christ who fought tooth and nail against the empire, to stand committed with people who are oppressed and struggling in life, and to dissent on the invitations of empire that come our way. This parable is a call towards a courageous discipleship.
Secondly, it is a call towards a costly discipleship. Dissent comes with a cost. Welcome and inclusivity comes with a cost. But for the martyrdom of these dissenters, the banquet would not have been made open to all. If our churches are to be welcoming and inclusive, it calls for a cost from those that claim to be members. Welcome and inclusiveness today have become a rhetoric that we keep claiming for our communities, not recognising it comes with a cost, a sacrifice, giving up our comfy locations in inviting and embracing the other, those on the streets, and strangers. Be prepared for a cost. ‘All are welcome in this place’ is a song that challenges us to be welcoming churches.
Thirdly, it is a call towards a community discipleship. The kingdom of God is a community of people who we think are not worthy to be invited, an open community, a community with no walls, boundaries and barriers. The Kingdom of God works on the means and methods of God’s grace, and is a prerogative of God, who chooses to invite anyone at any time. It is not dependent on human worth but is purely based on God’s grace, which finds people who never ever thought that they would be invited to a royal banquet. Be prepared for a surprise, for the Kingdom of God is a place to surprise each of us. Those of us who think we are the custodians of God’s reign might not find a place, and those of us whom we think can never ever get to God might be there. Be willing to find a community with those who are on the margins, for the calling is to seek a community discipleship.
Finally, the parable has another parable within it (verses 11-14), for when the king comes to the banquet, he notices a man without a wedding robe, and calls him a “friend” and asks how he got in without a wedding robe. This man is ‘speechless’ (verse 12). This speechlessness is what disturbs the king, and calls for punishment. The Kingdom of God is all about relationships and conversations. The Kingdom of God is about communication, and nurturing of relationships.
May God bless us all to take up courageous, costly and community discipleship as ways of being and becoming a church in this 21st century. Few were invited, but their bold acts of dissent paved way for all to be at the royal wedding banquet.

church-action-on-poverty-sunday-logoRevd Raj Bharat Patta has pastoral charge of St John’s Methodist Church and Heaton Mersey Methodist Church near Stockport. He blogs regularly at http://thepattas.blogspot.co.uk
Click here for more resources to use on 11 February 2018, Church Action on Poverty Sunday.