Matthew Chapter 22:1-13

Apparently, Jesus is still engaged with the same Pharisees and high priests as he was at the end of the last chapter. Their conversation continues, with Jesus beginning another parable. This comes third after that of the Two Sons and the Wicked Tenants.

1 Καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς πάλιν εἶπεν ἐν παραβολαῖς αὐτοῖς λέγων,

2 Ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ἀνθρώπῳ βασιλεῖ, ὅστις ἐποίησεν γάμους τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ.

And answering, Jesus again spoke in parables to them, saying, (2) “The kingdom of the heavens is like a king to men, who prepared a wedding ceremony for his son.” 

The “king to men” is a dative of possession. It’s like “c’est a moi”, which is also a dative of possession. And here we see Jesus is still speaking to the high priests.

1 Et respondens Iesus dixit ite rum in parabolis eis dicens:

2 “Simile factum est regnum caelorum homini regi, qui fecit nuptias filio suo.

3 καὶ ἀπέστειλεν τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ καλέσαι τοὺς κεκλημένους εἰς τοὺς γάμους, καὶ οὐκ ἤθελον ἐλθεῖν.

4 πάλιν ἀπέστειλεν ἄλλους δούλους λέγων, Εἴπατε τοῖς κεκλημένοις, Ἰδοὺ τὸ ἄριστόν μου ἡτοίμακα, οἱ ταῦροί μου καὶ τὰ σιτιστὰ τεθυμένα, καὶ πάντα ἕτοιμα: δεῦτε εἰς τοὺς γάμους.

(3) “And he sent his slaves out to call those invited to the marriage, and they did not wish to come.

(4) “Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those invited, ‘Look at my best I have prepared, my bulls (oxen) and *fatlings* have been burned and all is prepared. Come to the wedding’.

This is the only use of the Greek word here translated as *fatlings*. As such, we have no way to know what it means. Here is where the Vulgate comes in handy. It is rendered into Latin as “altilia”, and this is a word that has some usage, so we know–in this instance–that “fatling” is actually the proper translation. And it certainly fits the context. 

3 Et misit servos suos vocare invitatos ad nuptias, et nolebant venire.

4 Iterum misit alios servos dicens: “Dicite invitatis: Ecce prandium meum paravi, tauri mei et altilia occisa, et omnia parata; venite ad nuptias”.

5 οἱ δὲ ἀμελήσαντες ἀπῆλθον, ὃς μὲν εἰς τὸν ἴδιον ἀγρόν, ὃς δὲ ἐπὶ τὴν ἐμπορίαν αὐτοῦ:

6 οἱ δὲ λοιποὶ κρατήσαντες τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ ὕβρισαν καὶ ἀπέκτειναν.

(5) “Those being neglectful (i.e., of the invitation) went away, on one hand one (went) to his field, while another to his business. (6) The rest seizing his slaves acted in a high-handed fashion and killed them.

What I’ve rendered as “acted in a high-handed fashion” is the verb “hubrizein”. You may recognize this as from the root of “hubris”, which is the overstepping of one’s allotted purview in Greek tragedy, thereby invoking the “phthonos” of the gods, who send “nemesis”. So these invitees overstepped the bounds of their place and their authority by acting improperly towards the slaves of another man and killing them. So it’s not like there are two separate ideas here, they didn’t beat the slaves and the kill them; rather, they acted outrageously by killing them.

5 Illi autem neglexerunt et abierunt, alius in villam suam, alius vero ad negotiationem suam;

6 reliqui vero tenuerunt servos eius et contumelia affectos occiderunt.

7 ὁ δὲ βασιλεὺς ὠργίσθη, καὶ πέμψας τὰ στρατεύματα αὐτοῦ ἀπώλεσεν τοὺς φονεῖς ἐκείνους καὶ τὴν πόλιν αὐτῶν ἐνέπρησεν.

 

(7) “Then the king waxed wroth, and he sent his army to kill these killers and burned their city.

Once again the Vulgate bails us out. The verb translated as “burned” is extremely rare, pretty much occurring exactly this once. So what does it mean? Well, St Jerome decided it meant “to burn”, and the Latin verb again is fairly common in the sense that the word is used a number of times by different authors. This way the context can be checked and cross-checked for the word’s meaning.

Interesting that we have two such words in the space of a few verses in this story. What does this mean? It means that the author was both very familiar with Greek, but familiar with perhaps a non-standard version, or a version that had a number of idiosyncrasies. The vocabulary was a bit unusual. Generally, such rare words are the result of either an older form of a language being preserved by being in a secluded enclave, away from the mainstream development of a language. Hence, “hark, what light through yonder window breaks” would only be found in Shakespeare or Appalachia, the latter being an enclave cut off from the mainstream, thereby preserving these archaic forms. Or, we go to the other extreme, that words are formed in the very centre of the civilisation, where neologisms are created. “Sisista”, the word used for “fatlings” does not entirely sound Greek to me. It sounds like a loan word from another language. If this is true, that it was imported, the language of origin could provide a pretty strong clue about where this gospel was likely written. Matthew almost certainly gathered stories from different sources and places; if the word were, say, Persian, then we could suggest that Matthew lived somewhere that there was a certain amount of interaction with Persians. Such a place would be the eastern border of the Roman Empire, like Mesopotamia, where the Sassanid Empire and Rome faced each other in an uneasy truce that held most of the time. In those times there would be a certain amount of commerce back and forth, and the word got imported with whatever other Persian products made their way into the Roman sphere. The verb “to burn”, OTOH, sounds pretty much like it’s of Greek origin. So an old form? Someplace in the shadow of Persia could be a likely spot where an enclave of Greek-speakers lived on cut off from the mainstream of Greek speech.

All very fascinating, but I have no idea of the origin of “sisista”. So this is pure speculation, but the principles and the processes described are accurate. It’s just a matter of isolating the location.

The bit about “burning their city” is almost certainly a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70. This time, the king did not send a son as well as slaves, but coming hard on the heels of the parable of the Wicked Tenants, it was probably not necessary to repeat the idea. I’m sure it was not lost on listeners, especially those who were listening to this in a continuous stream. So this third parable reaffirms the message of the first two, and provides the additional reassurance that, yes, Jesus had foreseen the sack of the city.

Of course, it’s interesting to note that the king invited people from a city that he subsequently burned. This is clearly an act of vengeance, but it also does not reflect well on the king for inviting this particular group of guests in the first place, especially if he felt that he could burn down their town. But, as I am wont to say, this is a myth; it’s not intended to have a one-to-one correlation to real life. The reason I bring this up is to point out how this relates to the Predestination debate that will create havoc for a thousand years, and which still has never been “settled” in Catholic doctrine. For if God predestines all to either Heaven or Hell, why were the Jews the Chosen People if at some point they were going to be superseded by pagan non-Jews? But the pursuit of this debate is beyond the scope of this commentary. As I said, it has never truly been settled, largely because it cannot truly be settled. At least, it can’t be settled without some contravention of our understanding of “God”.

7 Rex autem iratus est et, missis exercitibus suis, perdidit homicidas illos et civitatem illorum succendit.

8 τότε λέγει τοῖς δούλοις αὐτοῦ, Ὁ μὲν γάμος ἕτοιμός ἐστιν, οἱ δὲ κεκλημένοι οὐκ ἦσαν ἄξιοι:

9 πορεύεσθε οὖν ἐπὶ τὰς διεξόδους τῶν ὁδῶν, καὶ ὅσους ἐὰν εὕρητε καλέσατε εἰς τοὺς γάμους.

(8) “The he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding (banquet) is prepared, those having been invited are not worthy. (9) Therefore go out upon the passageways of the roads, and whomever you find invite (him/her) to the wedding.’

It’s tempting to point out that the king just sent out a military expedition to burn a city. Now he’s telling his slaves to invite whomever they encounter to a banquet that has been prepared, presumably hanging fire while the city was razed. But again, that is asking for a degree of literal truth that is simply beyond the intent of the story. This is, in truth, an excellent example of “myth”; of course it doesn’t make sense in a literal way. To ask this to make sense is to miss the point entirely. It’s meant to cause the listener to look back to the events of 70, and to understand them in a symbolic way. The Jews had been invited; they declined to attend, so their city was burned in the best “God is annoyed” fashion from, say, Judges, and so bad things happen to the Jews; God delivered them into the hands of their enemies. Then, to make up for the empty places, the pagans are to be invited. So, mythically and symbolically, it makes perfect “sense”. This is how much of the narrative of the entire Bible is to be taken.

8 Tunc ait servis suis: “Nuptiae quidem paratae sunt, sed qui invitati erant, non fuerunt digni;

9 ite ergo ad exitus viarum, et quoscumque inveneritis, vocate ad nuptias”.

10 καὶ ἐξελθόντες οἱ δοῦλοι ἐκεῖνοι εἰς τὰς ὁδοὺς συνήγαγον πάντας οὓς εὗρον, πονηρούς τε καὶ ἀγαθούς: καὶ ἐπλήσθη ὁ γάμος ἀνακειμένων.

11 εἰσελθὼν δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς θεάσασθαι τοὺς ἀνακειμένους εἶδεν ἐκεῖ ἄνθρωπον οὐκ ἐνδεδυμένον ἔνδυμα γάμου:

12 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἑταῖρε, πῶς εἰσῆλθες ὧδε μὴ ἔχων ἔνδυμα γάμου; ὁ δὲ ἐφιμώθη.

13 τότε ὁ βασιλεὺς εἶπεν τοῖς διακόνοις, Δήσαντες αὐτοῦ πόδας καὶ χεῖρας ἐκβάλετε αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων. 

14 πολλοὶ γάρ εἰσιν κλητοὶ ὀλίγοι δὲ ἐκλεκτοί.

(11) “Then the king going out to see those having been invited saw there a man not garbed in wedding garb. (12) And he (the king) said to him (the guest), ‘Comrade, how did you come this wan not having wedding garb?’ But he was silenced. (13) Then the king said to the deacons, ‘Bind him foot and hands (and) throw him out into the darkness that is outside. There there is the wailing and gnashing of teeth.’ (14) For many are called, but those chosen are few’.”

 

Comment below.

10 Et egressi servi illi in vias, congregaverunt omnes, quos invenerunt, malos et bonos; et impletae sunt nuptiae discumbentium.

11 Intravit autem rex, ut videret discumbentes, et vidit ibi hominem non vestitum veste nuptiali

12 et ait illi: “Amice, quomodo huc intrasti, non habens vestem nuptialem?”. At ille obmutuit.

13 Tunc dixit rex ministris: “Ligate pedes eius et manus et mittite eum in tenebras exteriores: ibi erit fletus et stridor dentium”.

14 Multi enim sunt vocati, pauci vero electi ”.

Here is another great example of the difference between myth and literal truth. Think about it: the slaves are told to invited whomsoever they found. There was no stipulation that they were to be in wedding garb. And yet, someone is at the wedding not in proper attire. Are we to assume that all the others, upon being invited, first went home and changed into proper dress before coming to the banquet? No, of course not. To ask that, or to assume that is, again, to impose a burden of factuality on a story that is an example; it’s a parable. So this level of realism is as inappropriate as the man’s dress.

To be quite honest, this story used to bother me for exactly that reason: it didn’t (really) make sense. But it does. We are all invited to the banquet, but we’d best show up dressed properly or we’ll be tossed into the darkness. What is most interesting to me now is that he is tossed into darkness, rather than into the unquenchable fire threatened by the Baptist back in Chapter 3. But again, that’s asking for a consistency appropriate to a closeted theologian who is conceptualizing Heaven and Hell somewhere in an Ivory Tower, where she has the time to reflect, to think through, and to spot inconsistencies. Because how many places have you been where there was an unquenchable fire burning outside? But we all have been places where and when it was dark outside. As a final note to this, we have Zoroaster to thank for this image of the dark as something bad. 

As a final word on the parable as a whole, it should be pointed out that this is unique to Matthew. As such, it cannot be said to be part of the Q material since it wasn’t used by Luke. As such, it’s ascribed to the M material, the sources that were only available to Matthew. Here again, this explanation and categorization pretty clearly demonstrates how Biblical exegetes will find a way to set up a pathway by which all the material can be traced back to Jesus; that is, nothing was composed in the interim between Jesus’ death and the time of the writing. This story does not trace back to Jesus. It was composed after 70 CE, after the destruction of Jerusalem. Did Matthew have a source than handed this story down to him? Perhaps. Did Matthew compose this? That’s at least as likely as his having a source, and I would say it’s even more likely. I find it difficult to believe that Matthew set out to write a gospel without actually, you know, writing part of it. With Mark, I find it easier to accept that he did sit down with a bunch of different stories from different sources and try to cobble them together, and that he eventually did cobble them together into something like the gospel that we have bearing his name. With Matthew, however, that’s much harder to accept since there is so much more in Matthew’s gospel. There are a dozen (no, I didn’t actually count them; it’s a metaphorical number. Like the Twelve) stories added in Matthew, including the three chapters of the Sermon on the Mount. Most of what is added is stuff Jesus (supposedly) said.

So why didn’t Luke include this story? Really, why should he? Luke easily has a dozen more stories that aren’t in Matthew, many of them being the most memorable in the NT. Does this constitute evidence that Luke never saw Matthew, and didn’t use Matthew as a source? Absolutely not. When we get to Like, a comparison of the stories that they share will demonstrate, pretty conclusively, I believe, that Luke did use Matthew. The stories of John the Baptist and the Temptations are great examples. But that will be more appropriate to discuss when we get there. 

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on March 25, 2016, in Chapter 22, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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