The parables of Jesus are meant to be a way to teach. But parables can be tricky because we can take the wrong point away from the story. This is precisely the problem with the king who throws a banquet. The point of the story comes at the end: “Many are invited but few are chosen” (Matthew 22: 14). Even our interpretation of this line can be questioned. But I’ll return to that later.
Let’s look at the king in the story. What a mean dude! What does he do to those who refuse to come? He sends his troops and destroys them and burns their city! He then fills the banquet with the people from the surrounding streets, probably some pretty poor folk. “Invite whomever you find.” One of them doesn’t have on the prescribed wedding garment. The king casts him out into the dark where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Yes, a mean dude indeed!
So what is Jesus saying? Is He saying that the king is an image of God? If He is, I/we are in big trouble. I for one would not want anything to do with a god who treats people so harshly and unfairly. Unfortunate, a good many people have such a negative image of God. They think God is an angry God who punishes or a just judge who condemns. In a related matter, I recently had an email from someone who questioned why God did not let someone live a few more days for an important event. My response was rather direct: “You still think God is a puppeteer pulling the strings of life. He is not.”
St Anselm of Canterbury was unfortunately successful in his influence on Christian theology with his theory of atonement that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, either to pay a debt to the devil or to pay a debt to the Father. This leaves us with a terrible view of the Father as a vengeful God who exacted blood from His only Son because we were bad. This makes the king in the parable as a rather tame mean dude by comparison! (The problem may not be with what Anselm intended but with how we have interpreted this throughout the ages).
John Duns Scotus was a philosopher theologian who came on the scene toward the end of the life of St. Francis of Assisi and was a member of the Franciscan order. (God bless those Franciscans!) He taught that the Incarnation (the Son of God entering into human life) was the “first idea in the mind of God” and not a later attempt to solve the problem of sin. In a similar vein when St. Paul says that we are saved by the faithfulness of Christ, one interpretation is that God always intended to send Jesus into the world from the very beginning of time and eternity. The coming of Jesus is not to accomplish what the prophets and the kings failed to accomplish with the chosen people (as if the Father said to the Son: “We better do something drastic because they are not getting it. Why don’t you go down and suffer and die”).
If we truly believe that God is love (not that God is loving or capable of love but that God is love) then Jesus is a natural and spontaneous expression of God’s love in its fullness. Yes, the Father sent the Son to Calvary but not as an act of vengeance or to satisfy a hurt but as an act of pure love. In this sense we could say that the Father and the Holy Spirit were present with Jesus at Calvary. (Jesus crying out “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me” does not negate this point since that cry came from His human anguish and anyway Jesus was quoting Psalm 22 that ends in trust).
In other words, Jesus is not the victim of the Father on the Cross. He is still the Beloved Son. And we are not the victim of the Father (the puppeteer pulling the strings of life). We are the beloved sons and daughters of God who live in a fallen world struggling to return to the source of love and truth.
“Many are invited; few are chosen.” I think all are invited but few choose to respond. What do you think?
Re. James M. McNamara