My Confession

So I was teaching an adult ed hour this past Sunday on the topic of parables. Particularly, we talked about the text for yesterday, Matthew 22 — the parable of the wedding feast. One guy raised his hand toward the end and said, “I have no idea how to read this. I know the tyrannical king is God, but I don’t know who anyone else is.”

Hang on a second… What?!

Then I got to thinking about how these kinds of parables are interpreted by people of empire. Why is it that we want to think that in these parables God is always the rich man, the ruler, the slave owner, the tyrant? Is it because we’ve always been told that God is on the side of the powerful? That God helps those who help themselves? I suspect that most Christians have been told something of the subversive nature of the gospel. Yet we feel that dissonance between the subversion of the gospel and the way we live.

Peter Rollins tells story that hints at this point quite well. It goes like this…

There was a young minister sitting in her house on a Sunday afternoon who was disturbed by a frantic banging on the front door. Upon opening the door, she was confronted by a distraught member from her church. It was obvious he was exhausted from running to her house and was on the verge of tears.

“What’s wrong?” asked the minister.

“Please can you help?” replied the man. “A kind and considerate family in the area is in great trouble. The husband recently lost his job, and the wife cannot work due to health problems. They have three young children to look after, and the man’s mother lives with them because she is unwell and needs constant care. They are one day late with the rent, but despite the fact that they have lived there ten years with no problems and will likely have the money later in the week, thel andlord is going to kick them all onto the street if they don’t pay rent by the end of the day.”

“That’s terrible!” replied the minister. “Of course, we’ll make some of the church funds available to help them. May I ask how you know them?”

“Oh,” replied the man. “I’m the landlord.”

A gap exists between the landlord’s desire to help the family and the reality of his actions. But the problem arises when he doesn’t experience this gap as a conflict. He says he wants to help, and yet he continually perpetuates the system that oppresses. It’s like people who drive gas guzzling tanks to Starbucks to complain about the evils of corporations. You’re perpetuating the system you’re railing against.

So how does this relate to the parable and “God as tyrant” imagery? We say we are Christians and want to help the poor and the widowed, and yet we passively participate in a form of government that actively oppresses them.

I think the kingdom of Heaven is more like the person who says “no” to the empire. The person who wants no part of the charade enacted by the tyrant king. And yet I type this on my Apple computer, drinking coffee from exploited South American farmers. Maybe I’m the worst of them all. I see this gap as a conflict. I experience this conflict.

I just don’t do anything about it.

And I sense some of you can feel that too.

Cheers,
Eric

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