Reading for Tuesday, July 10: Matthew 22
One of the dimensions of Jewish Messianic expectation in the first century centered on the image of the Great Banquet. Based on Isaiah 25, the Hebrew people anticipated the Messianic age to be characterized by a great wedding feast, a table abundantly covered with the finest foods, plenty of wine, and room for all the righteous to gather. The Messiah would preside over this table and share his bounty with his true followers from the great mountain of Zion. Jesus’ parable in Matthew 22 taps into this vein, speaking of a king’s wedding feast in honor of his son. But when the preparations are finished, the invitees refuse to come to the feast. The king issues an invitation to the streets and a posse of characters assembles, both good and bad, to partake. If the parable ended here, it would suffice as a teaching about the availability of God’s Kingdom to those who have never presumed to be “good”, the common man whose lack of perceived piety cast him as an outsider in his culture.
But the parable continues. The king finds a guest lacking the proper wedding garment. This amounts to a rejection of the king’s gracious provision. In these circumstances, the king would presumably make available the kind of clothing needed for such an occasion. Think of the maitre d supplying the coat for the house dress code. The one who rejects the king’s gracious provision is cast out to darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The religious establishment, threatened as they are by Jesus and his pointed attacks, attempts to corner Jesus, first with politics. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But Jesus will not be so easily be trapped. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Image-bearing creation ultimately belongs to God. Jesus is sent to restore this image, even though this mission is obscured from his opponents.
The Sadducees laughably make a similar attempt to trap Jesus, this time with theology. They contrive an absurd scenario for Jesus to respond to: a man dies, his brother marries his widow then dies…and this cycle is repeated seven times. Whose wife is she in the resurrection? This is an absurd question on multiple levels. First, it sets the gold standard for ridiculously hypothetical religious questions. But even more importantly, the Sadducees deny the resurrection. They’re not interested in any sort of legitimate probing of this question. The whole thing is a smoke screen, intended to trap Jesus with His own words.
Listen to Jesus’ response to such manipulations: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead but of the living.” (v29-32). Jesus will not be ambushed by these wicked men. Instead, he confronts them once again, sealing His fate with every truthful word.
The Pharisees try their hand, only to be put down also. But their effort does bear some fruit here: it prompts Jesus to give us the concise summation of God’s will for human life in vv37-40:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
These are the words of life.