Radical Preaching

Can preaching again have something to say?
This blog marks the attempt to bring the theological vision of Radical Orthodoxy into the worship and preaching of the local church.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Judgment as the Refusal of Gift

Again, I will begin with some quotes:
"The present volume [Being Reconciled] ... is concerned with the restoration of a refused and ruptured gift" (xi).
"In consequence, for Augustine ... no one, after the Fall, is guilty as an individual on account of original sin which is the guilt of Adam... People are only guilty if they refuse the offer of grace and remain content with their deficient inheritance" (Being Reconciled, 10).
For those of us who are deeply committed to Christian pacifism, at first blanch, judgment parables are difficult to swallow, particularly as combined with a parable of the kingdom. Upon the rejection of his invitation, the king becomes angry and sends troops to destroy the murderers and to burn their city. The man who does not wear a wedding garment is bound up hand and foot and cast out into the outer darkness. The king judges harshly and violently.

Context probably helps here somewhat. Matt. 21-23 contain Jesus' judgment of the Temple and Israel. In Matthew 24, Jesus' words become apocalyptic. In Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo, David Toole questions whether Milbank's move away from pacifism towards just war may prevent him from being to outnarrate nihilism. He critiques Milbank's failure to move more towards Yoder's understanding of apocalypse. Specifically, the wager of Christian pacifism is that "God will fight for us" freeing us for worship, discipleship, and witness. As the Scriptures describe in rich detail, when the Kingdom comes, the evil and violent will be judged and destroyed. The question then becomes, "What is it about the actions of the invitees and the man at the wedding feast that bring such harsh judgment?"

For Milbank, peace is "positive justice, harmony, affinity" (Being Reconciled, 26). He adds,
"Evil always removes and destroys. The depriving of good is perforce also a disturbing of the peace. Inversely, if peace is a harmonious plentitude, when it is disturbed there is always an instance of noisy distortion, which impairs just distribution" (26).
Thus, when the first group of "friends" refuse to come to the king's feast, they in effect refuse to receive the gift of the King's love. Not only is the gift refused, but it is also ruptured. The superabundant economy of charity is filled with noise, and the gift-exchange is interrupted. The gift is further ruptured when the "friends" abuse and kill the king's servants. Remember the idea of gift exchange as involving the lover (the giver) and the beloved (receiver of the gift) and the love that flows between them (the mutual exchange of gift), which is now ruptured.

As a result, more is at stake than just a wedding invitation- the entire economy of the kingdom has been interrupted. Further, very quickly, the practice of violence begins to replace the practices of charity. At some point, the king must have considered the invitees to be friends since they alone were invited to the wedding. After their initial rejection, he sends his servants out again with the message that the feast is prepared and ready. Rather than responding with love, they make excuses and then abuse and kill the servants. The king must act because to fail to act jeopardizes the entire economy of the kingdom. Note, however, it is the king who authorizes the action and his troops who carry it out. It is not a lynch mob organized by the families of the slain servants seeking vengeance.

To conclude then, judgment rests at the core of this parable; however, even here, the grace of God is very evident. The remainder of the parable spells this out beautifully. Judgment comes not as a result of worthiness but by receiving the King's invitation and coming to the wedding. After his "friends" violently spurn his repeated invitations to the party, the wedding hall is opened to all, and the servants go through the streets gathering up everyone they see- both good and bad. All, who will come, are brought into the wedding hall for the king's feast. The only ones judged are those who refuse to come. The only one cast out is the one who refuses to dress appropriately. This brings us to the issue of doxological selfhood, to which we will turn to next.

What do you think so far? Is this a fair reading of Milbank? Is this a fair reading of Matt. 22:1-4? Please critique, add thoughts, etc.

Grace and Peace,


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