Q&R with Brad – “Banished to Outer Darkness?”
My wife and I are doing our best to understand how the heck to interpret what we read in the Bible, now that we understand that Jesus is our filter.
In reading Matthew 22:11-13 there is a curious detail. Who is this guy and why is he “banished into outer darkness?” The kingdom of heaven can be compared to this story? “Many are called but few are chosen?” Isn’t that separation and not inclusion? Where is the “love” in this story?
This is certainly a difficult passage when read at face value and in its most immediate context. Let’s start there. Some VERY important interpretive keys are missing in the parable that we actually now hold.
First, we are not the chief priests and Pharisees (21:45-46) who were plotting Jesus’s death and setting in motion not only the crucifixion but also the events that would lead to the utter destruction of Jerusalem. The harsh rhetoric is directed toward a character in the parable who represents them. The function of rhetoric is always toward persuading or dissuading a listener, and in the case of harsh rhetoric, a wake-up call designed to actually avert the forthcoming tragedy. Jesus loves these people and is appealing to impending consequences precisely so they WON’T be cast out into “outer darkness.” And in any case, we shouldn’t be too quick to assume what that phrase means … we just know that in the parable, it’s a bad outcome.
Second, we are post-resurrection Christ-followers who know what the first hearers couldn’t see prior to the Passover climax. Namely, that the punchline to this parable is that their conspiracy to bring about Jesus’ death will actually be subverted into the very means of their salvation. Even if they continue to defy him, crucify him, martyr his disciples, and eventually bring the wrath of Rome down on Jerusalem and its temple, die horribly and find themselves in the “outer darkness” of hades, who gets the last word?
From the Cross, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them,” and the Father will say, “Yes, Son. For you, anything.” And then Christ himself descends as the great Light into the outer darkness, to shatter the gates of hades, overcome death, and even to “bind the strongman and plunder his goods”–i.e. prisoners. It has a good end, but the parable is not just about good ends (the delicious banquet to which ALL are welcome). It’s about averting the messy and self-defeating path of his opponents, whether or not they will listen.
Remember: it’s a parable. A symbolic story that is primarily about a great and generous invitation. But this addendum is an aside at a critical point in these guys’ demonic decision-making. So it’s not surprising that he doesn’t add, “But don’t worry, it will work out in the end.” He’s forecasting the tragedy that is contingent on their response. In that sense, the parable is also a prophecy that invites them to change while they still can. And if they don’t? They’ll hear the good news about that after the resurrection.