As we try to make sense of today’s unsettling parable, it helps to recall that it was told during the last week of Jesus’ life, as the events leading to the crucifixion were already unfolding. The Jews gathered in Jerusalem were celebrating Passover, recalling how God had led them from slavery into freedom—and yet they were living under the oppressive thumb of the Roman occupation.
The wedding banquet of the parable, like the festival of Passover, takes place against a backdrop of exclusion, injustice, and escalating violence. The king of the parable who sends troops out to wage war on those who have spurned his invitation reminds one less of God, who leads us beside still waters, than of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s King George III of Hamilton, who says, “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.”
And yet, to a people who are oppressed and calling on God to hold the powerful to account, it is indeed good news that God will not be silent and passive forever. It matters to God how we treat one another.
In the liturgy of Holy Baptism, we are asked three times to renounce sin and the devil and all the forces that defy God, rebel against God, and draw us away from God. This renunciation can feel awkward to a people steeped in grace, yet it is critical to recognize and name the fact that there are forces in this world that would pull us into complicity with systems that deny life and liberty to our neighbors.
The God of Matthew’s parable is the same God of Psalm 23, the one who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus reminds us how passionately God resists the powers that deal in fear and death. Instead of claiming that God is on our side, we are invited to join God’s side through our own dedication to justice for all of God’s people.