Friday, April 28, 2006

A Human King

One of the most surprising things I found in Luise Schottroff's book on the parables was her translations including the phrase "a human king", as in Matthew 22:2, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to the reality in the following story of a human king who made a wedding supper for his son" (a translation of Schottroff's German translation).

I'm pretty sure the bit about "may be compared to the reality in the following story" is paraphrase on Schottroff's part, and simply there to emphasize what she takes "may be compared" to mean. So I was also skeptical about "a human king." I thought this too must be a gloss. Checking a number of translations I found "a king" or "a certain king" but no "human king."

However, as you may recall, I am trying to learn Biblical Greek, one of the chief benefits of which is I it gives me confidence to look at the Greek text and see what's there. So I did. And at Matthew 22:2, I found "anthropo basilei." Hmmmm.

Now I know that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, but in my limited Greek vocabulary, I do know both of these words -- human and king.* What's more, I'm told that word order in Greek conveys emphasis rather than meaning. So if "anthropo" is possibly being emphasized, why is it dropped from most translations?

My guess is that most translators think it's unnecessary. Of course this is a human king. What other kind of king would it be? Well, in most interpretations it would be God.

But, what if the king in this parable isn't meant as a picture of God, just as the judge in the parable of the persistent widow wasn't a picture of God?

This is a prime example of the traditional intpretation being a horror show. Is this really a parable about how God will kill and torture those who insult him by refusing his invitation? Surely a human king might do that, but God?

We've touched now on the mystery of hell. This parable certainly seems to suggest something about hell, but I don't think we must see God as choosing to destroy those who reject his call like a monarch throwing a temper tantrum.

The parable speaks very clearly of how people disregard the invitation to God's feast. We make light of it. We go about our business. And even if we "go to the banquet" we may not take it seriously (the guest without a wedding garment). All these things, Jesus tells us, are going to get us into serious trouble. This is, I suppose, more a starting point for reflection than an interpretation.

I must also mention here Luise Schottroff's critique of the "ecclesiological" interpretation. There's a temptation here to anti-Jewish interpretation. It sees those first invited as the Jews, and those who subsequently go to the banquet as the Christian Church. Because those "first" invited rejected the invitation God "sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city." Some would even say that the author of Matthew took this slant and interjected this message into Jesus' parable.

Against such interpretations we must ask, who are "those who have been invited"? Are the Jews "those who have been invited" while the Gentiles are those in the street? I don't think so. It seems to me that "those who have been invited" is a broad and inclusive term.

Who is invited to the wedding feast? All are invited! This is the very heart of the Gospel. And if the parable tells of a two-part invitation, it is only so it can teach us of two perspectives of the invitation. I also agree with Schottroff that it we would be missing Jesus' point to limit our understanding of those who accept the invitation to Christians. To say otherwise is to reduce the Gospel to a mere transaction. The Gospel is surely bigger than that.

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