In the Lectionary

October 15, Ordinary 28A (Matthew 22:1-14; Isaiah 25:1-9)

The parable of the wedding banquet is a horror story.

If religion is supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, argues Amy-Jill Levine, then we should think of Jesus’ parables as doing the latter. If we read the parables and find ourselves unsurprised and unchallenged, we haven’t read them honestly or well. Jesus was no teller of cozy bedtime stories; his parables are meant to disturb us—to wake us up, shake us out of our complacency, and compel us to ask hard questions about ourselves and about God.

This week’s parable of the wedding banquet is no exception. No effort to soften its jagged edges will suffice; it is a harsh, hyperbolic story, steeped in violence. If someone were to make it into a movie, the genre would be horror.

And yet for centuries, Christians—including the very well-meaning ones I grew up with—have attempted to soften this story by flattening it into allegory. In this rendering, the king represents God, the son/bridegroom is Jesus, the wedding feast is the Messianic banquet, the rejected slaves are the Old Testament prophets, and the A-list guests who refuse to attend the wedding are the Jewish people of Jesus’ day. The B-listers who come in off the streets to fill the banquet hall are us, the gentiles.