Sunday, October 11, 2020

Matthew 22: The Critical Chapter

     Every story, humble or exalted, must have a center around which its events will turn: a point at which the critical issues are made clear. So it is with the Gospels.

     The Mass readings today are rich in imagery, first in images of food and feasting. Food is a human fundamental. We express many things through it, including love and welcome. Jesus used a parable of a wedding feast to illustrate the nature of the kingdom of God:

     And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.
     But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.
     And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.

     [Matthew 22:1-14]

     Shortly after Jesus concluded that parable, the Pharisees tried to trap Him into treason against the Roman occupiers:

     Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
     But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
     They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.
     When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.

     [Matthew 22:15-22]

     Then it’s the Sadducees’ turn, for they hoped by confounding Jesus to score points against the Pharisees:

     The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.
     Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine.

     [Matthew 22:23-33]

     When the Pharisees heard about this, they figured their turn had come again, and tried to “test Him on the Law:”

     But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
     Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

     [Matthew 22:34-40]

     That was the first plain, open proclamation of the ultimate foundation of God’s laws for Man – and as Jesus said, all other laws depend upon those two Great Commandments.

     But who was this Jesus character to be making such pronouncements? Neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees could count Him as an ally – and He wanted them to know, beyond all doubt, that His authority was plenipotentiary:

     While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David.
     He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?
     If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?
     And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.

     [Matthew 22:41-46]

     I consider this chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew to be the central element in the story of Jesus Christ, because:

  • He established through His parable that merely being a Jew would not guarantee admission to God’s Kingdom, and also that not being a Jew would not preclude admission;
  • He defeated the probes and dismissed the enticements of both the major religious factions of Judea without conceding anything to them;
  • He proclaimed the basis for God’s laws for Man, and said plainly that all other laws must descend from it;
  • He established Himself not as the son of David, but as the Son of God the Father, and therefore filled with the authority to make such pronouncements.

     In one chapter of forty-six verses we have a complete depiction of Jesus’s stature as preacher, His disdain for the factionists of Judea, and His divine origin and authority!

     Matthew, who according to other sources was a despised publican before he embraced Jesus, was supremely fortunate – indeed, divinely guided – in combining those encounters in a single chapter. They don’t make reading the rest of the Gospel “unnecessary;” they provide a fulcrum around which all of Christ’s other teachings may be said to turn. And they illustrate why He had so many highly placed enemies eager to undermine Him...and ultimately to put Him to death.

     May God bless and keep you all!


Glen Filthie said...

Have yourself a great Sunday too, FP.

JWM said...

A comment and a question.
Over the last couple of years, and during the last year in particular I have added quite a few bookmarks to my daily reading. The desktop is pretty much my sole source of news and information. I will have no TV in my home. When I peruse this very long list I find I often don't remember how I came across most of these writers, but they all ended up on the list for the same reason: I read a post, or an essay that resonated with me, and I thought, "This writer has his head on straight. He(or she) gets it." In recent months I've come to realize that, with a very few exceptions, all these writers have one thing in common. They are all Roman Catholic. I have long been in the habit of beginning my every morning in prayer. Part of that prayer is "Show me the way that You would have me follow..." I think I can take a hint.

Last week I took a deep breath, and sent an email to the pastor of the nearest Catholic church, and spent an hour talking with Fr. Dave.
Now I know. I just know that the next step is to attend a mass.

But on to the question. I have read this passage from Matthew many times, but I cannot make any sense of the parable of the wedding guest. In contemporary terms, The father of the bridegroom sent word out to the street. "Invite everyone to the feast." Most of the guests put on a suit, and tie, but one fellow arrived in jeans & a T-shirt. It may have been a fashion faux paw, but it hardly seems like grounds for what seems to be a dire punishment. Can you elaborate? Thanks.


Francis W. Porretto said...

I'd say it was Jesus's way of referring to the positive requirements of God's law. We are expected to do certain things, as well as to avoid doing others. Some, such as honoring your parents, arise from the Commandments; others from the dictate that you must "love your neighbor as yourself," or "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Mind you, this can be a cleavage point between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians. The latter tend to dismiss the notion that charitable works are required for admission to heaven. However, they do acknowledge that we must devote some time to worship on Sunday: a positive requirement. It's certainly worthy of more thought, and perhaps a conversation with a pastor.