What’s going on here?
It is always helpful when reading a passage a scripture to recognize where the passage occurs in the larger text. Where are we in the story? What has happened just before and what happens just after the part we are reading?
The Gospel According to Matthew has 28 chapters, so we are near the end of the book. In fact the Passion narrative, the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, begins in chapter 26. Jesus has entered Jerusalem and the conflict between the religious leaders and Jesus has been growing (chapters 21-23). Now in chapters 24 and 25 we have Jesus’ final teaching to his disciples. Notice that Jesus is not speaking to the religious and political elite. He is not speaking to the crowds. These are parables for Jesus’ followers.
These two parables are about what is required of the faithful. When Jesus speaks about the kingdom of heaven, he is not talking about what happens when one dies. Jesus is talking about the coming reign of God. These parables are instructions for how followers of Jesus are to live until the time God’s empire is fully present. Disciples, followers of Jesus are to ready, and actively about the business of the kingdom of God. Passive waiting won’t do. It’s not enough to be a follower in word only.
It’s interesting that Jesus saves his harshest words for the ones who ought to know better. It’s the spiritual elite, the religious insiders he is hardest on. In the previous chapters of Matthew, Jesus takes the Pharisees, the scribes, the chief priests to task for not being faithful to God’s purposes. Jesus warns his followers not to make the same mistake. The tenants, those already invited to the party, the bridesmaids, the slaves, the ones who know what they ought to be doing, and who don’t do it- they are the ones who lose, who miss the party, the ones cast out.
In other parables, the lost sheep, the missing coin, the wayward son- these are the ones heaven rejoices over. Jesus welcomes the outsiders. No words of condemnation, no warnings for these. Those outside of the reign of God are welcomed with celebration and joy.
This week’s gospel contains uncomfortable parables for those of us who say we are followers of Jesus. Our first impulse is to look for some meaning other than the obvious one. But with these parables, there’s no tricks, no theological loop de loops. They’re simple stories, with a hard point. Discipleship is more that just believing. Our belief must be evident in our actions.
I’d like to know, what do you think?