Here is my first exegesis paper ever! Yay! Excitement! The assignment was:
A 5-page analysis of a miracle story, parable, or narrative incident in the life of Jesus that appears in more than one of the synoptic gospels and/or John. Study the passages in a Synoptic Parallel and/or in John, note chances and differences from one Gospel to the other, read what the textbooks and/or other commentators say about the pericope, and briefly describe the details of the story, determine its purpose and function in the overall narrative, and discuss its theological message or ministerial impact.
(The verses can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/matthew/matthew22.htm
and here: http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/luke/luke14.htm
The question of what it takes to inherit the kingdom of heaven – who will be invited and who will be denied access – is a prominent theme of the gospels. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus addresses this issue using several parables, and while many of them appear quite similar in structure and content from one gospel to the other, a close reading of these parallel parables reveals differences in tone and overall message. These differences reflect the very different backgrounds of the evangelists and their audiences, which in turn direct their various theological interpretations of the life and ministry of Jesus. In this exegesis I will analyze one of these parallel parables as it is told in both Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 14:15-24, exploring both the content of the pericopies and their positions within their respective narratives. I will show that, though the content of each version of the parable is familiar, the instruction of the parable can be seen quite differently from one gospel to the next. For Matthew and his audience, entering the kingdom of heaven depends on upholding, rather than breaking, God’s original covenant with Israel. Luke, by contrasts, insists on a severing of ties with tradition in order to enter the kingdom. Both messages may seem contradictory, but they fulfill the same ultimate purpose in showing two very different communities the requirements involved for entering the kingdom of heaven.
The basic plot of both versions of the parable is the same. In each gospel, Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a great feast given by a prominent, wealthy individual. When everything has been prepared, the master sends his slave (or, in Matthew, many slaves) to bring those who had been invited to come to the dinner and celebrate. The invited guests refuse their invitations, provoking the master to great anger. So the master sends his slave (or slaves) into the streets again to invite others. Those who had originally been thought worthy to attend his dinner refuse to come to his house, so the master withdraws his invitation from them, while those originally deemed unworthy to share his company end up filling his house and enjoying his banquet. In both parables, Jesus is speaking not only his disciples but also to the Pharisees, those in charge of upholding the law of the Torah, and his message can be read as one of warning. Those who finally come to rest in the kingdom of heaven will not necessarily be those who were first invited. God will make surprising choices as to who is in and who is out of the kingdom, and the ultimate price of refusing his invitation is permanent denial from his kingdom. However, exactly who these originally invited guests are, their motives for refusing their invitations, their interactions with the master’s slave-messenger(s), and who the newly-invited guests are vary considerably between Matthew and Luke. Likewise, Matthew’s surrounding context for this parable is very different from Luke’s, changing the tone of the parable considerably. Though Jesus probably told this particular parable only once, it has a wide range of theological, ethical and political implications based on its various renderings by Matthew and Luke to communities of very different people with particular needs.
Matthew's parable falls near the end of the narrative between two extremely bold, controversial, and incendiary actions of Jesus: the driving out of money changers from the temple and the pronouncement of the woes on the Pharisees. In this context, the words of the parable, spoken to the Pharisees, are clearly addressed to enemies. This explains, to a degree, the razor-sharp tone of the language. But why are the Pharisees Jesus' enemies? Again, a close reading of the parable itself will help reveal the answer. In the parable, the feast that the invited guests refuse is no ordinary dinner; it is the wedding banquet of a king. Not only was this to be an occasion of tremendous joy and splendor, the likes of which could not be equaled, but the term "wedding" implies a relationship and a binding covenant. The implication is clear: those who originally shared God's promise, indeed, those who were given the responsibility to uphold God's covenant with Israel, have turned their backs on their task. That the Pharisees had broken their covenant with God and made light of the Torah that they were charged to uphold has already been established in many passages of the gospel. Jesus has claimed that he had come to uphold the law and has told those who would be his followers that their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees or they will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20). Had the Pharisees truly upheld the law that they instead exploited, they would have recognized Jesus as its fulfillment, sent by God. The parable alludes to the hostile way in which Jesus and the prophets who had gone before him were actually received by the Pharisees when it describes how the invited guests "seized," "mistreated," and "killed" the king's slaves (22:6). Therefore, those who should have best understood God's commandment forfeit their opportunity to enter into his kingdom, and the opportunity is instead opened to all the rest, and the wedding hall was filled with "both good and bad" (22:10). Matthew emphasizes the moral character of the newly-invited guests but does not define it; righteous and unrighteous alike, saints and sinners, are invited into the kingdom of heaven, for even those who never knew the law are favored over those who knew it and hypocritically exploited it. However, the parable does not end here. Though the invitation to the feast is extended to all, accepting the invitation means doing so on the king's terms. Thus a man who enters the feast but does not don a wedding robe (which the king provides) is cast "into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (22:13). Thus, though sinners will be invited along with the righteous into the kingdom of heaven, truly accepting the invitation still means conforming to the will of God.
Matthew was a Jew writing for those Jews who had separated from mainline Judaism (whether or not they called themselves "Christians" at this point is unclear) by accepting Jesus as the fulfillment of the scriptures. Carl Holladay, in A Critical Introduction to the New Testament summarizes Matthew's task as "help[ing] the Christian community define itself over and against the synagogue" (137). This negative definition of establishing an identity in contrast and opposition to a previous one explains the highly polemical tone of his gospel and particularly the parable in question. Matthew addresses an audience of converts still new to the Jesus movement, and he has a duty to uphold Jesus' message in light of Jesus' Jewish identity and his relationship to the Torah, and interpret it for those who knew themselves to be breaking away from their tradition. Even while Matthew's gospel and this parable in particular is highly polemical, establishing an "us-verses-them" mentality toward the Pharisees, it should also be seen as keeping in continuity with the scripture. The message of this parable is that one must break with the Pharisaic interpretation of the law and accept the invitation of God's "slaves" (the prophets and Christ) in order truly to keep the covenant of God.
Luke's parable appears far gentler than Matthew's upon first glance. The polemic tone is replaced by more rational language, and the metaphors are not as extreme. While Jesus is still speaking to Pharisees (and presumably his disciples as well), the gospel has not yet established them as enemies seeking to trap or kill Jesus, as has Matthew's by the time this parable is presented. Rather, Jesus has been invited to a sabbath meal at the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees, and so his parable can be seen as a word to the wise addressed to acquaintances. The guests are invited to a "great dinner" rather than a "wedding banquet" and thus the covenant implications of Matthew's gospel are not implied in Luke. The most striking difference between the two gospels, however, is found in the behavior of the invited guests. Whereas Matthew's guests are portrayed as evil and ungodly, Luke's guests are simply busy. They give the master's slave reasonable excuses and even send their regrets. When the master becomes angry at their ingratitude and withdraws his invitation, the new guests who are invited are defined not by their moral character but by their status as social outcasts -- "the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame" (Luke 22:21).
Luke's parable must be understood in light of his Gentile background and Gentile audience. Luke was writing to bring outsiders from the fold of Judaism into a movement that was begun by a Jew primarily among other Jews. Whereas in Matthew’s parable, many slaves are sent to bring the invited to the feast, in Luke, only one slave is sent, who can readily be identified as Jesus, who opens the gates of the kingdom of God to Gentiles and Jews alike. Although Luke is careful to show the continuity between Jesus and the prophets who came before him, his own community of Gentiles does not have the same history with these prophets, and therefore his audience would not relate to the story of many slaves, or prophets, being rejected and killed, nor would they have a personal stake in the covenant that is being “made light of” in Matthew’s parable. Luke instead addresses communities who are new to God’s promises, and the newly invited guests of his parable are the not only the most destitute of society, but they are also those who have been marginalized due to the low status of their wealth or physical condition. Like these social outcasts making their societal debut in unexpected splendor, Luke’s community is quite new, not, as in the parable, to grand society and material satisfaction, but to the sharing in the responsibility that comes with being adopted into the family of God.
Two lessons can be learned from Luke’s parable and an understanding of his audience. First, Jesus is not looking for half-hearted discipleship but full commitment. The invited guests who turn down their invitations are not the ungodly traitors of Matthew’s parable, but their fate is the same: “None of those who were invited will taste my dinner” (14:24). Luke intends to make sure his community knows what is at stake to become a follower of Christ; they must leave behind their ways of life, and even the presumed necessities that take time away from God are to be discarded. This message is made clear in the following verses, 25 – 33, when Jesus claims, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (14:26). To follow Jesus is a sacrifice for all who choose, Jew and Gentile alike, but for the Gentile community in particular it meant a parting of ways with their old traditions and with the family and friends who cling to those traditions. Those who place higher priorities on their possessions, the worldly pleasures or burdens to which they cling, will be those kept out of the kingdom. Secondly, in identifying who will be let into the kingdom, Luke effectively communicates the spirit, if not the letter, of the Torah to his Jewish community. By showing that those who would be given access to the kingdom are the poor, the sick, and the oppressed, Luke shows the members of the community how they are to treat “the least of these” and interprets the ministry of Jesus as modeling a life of selflessness and generosity, without the attachment to possessions that leads to greed, self-absorption, and ultimately dissatisfaction. Therefore, Luke not only instructs his community negatively, that is, by showing what they must forfeit and sacrifice in order to become a follower of Christ, but he subtly provides positive instruction for a life of giving, caring, and healing.
In both Matthew and Luke’s presentation of this parable, the demands on those who enter the kingdom of heaven are high. Yet for Matthew, speaking to a community of Jews who had separated (or were separating) from the Judaic tradition as it was taught to them by the scribes and Pharisees, an emphasis is placed on upholding the original covenant of God and not only that, but going a step further to understanding the true meaning of scripture as it was fulfilled in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Luke, whose community of Gentiles had no such connection to the scriptures of Israel, emphasizes instead a severing of ties to all the things that keep human beings separated from God. Yet though Matthew’s parable emphasizes a strengthening of ties to the spirit of the Torah while Luke’s emphasizes a severing of ties to tradition and community, the message of the parable to those who would be followers of Christ is clear. The spirit of the law that Matthew implies in his parable is clarified in Luke’s message of faithful living involving selflessness and generosity toward the poor and weak. The renderings of the parable by both Matthew and Luke should be seen as complementing one-another, teaching that the key to discipleship and entering the kingdom is committed faithfulness to God marked by sacrifice and service.
I'm happy with it and would like to know what my theologically-inclined lj friends (or any of my friends, for that matter) have to say!