The Royal Wedding Feast
Matthew 22: 1 — 14
The setting for this parable continues to be in the Temple Courtyard. This is the third parable our Lord tells his circle of followers with the senior officials still present after they had rudely interrupted his teaching session and tried to discredit him. Despite their apparent rejection of his teaching, Jesus continues to step up the intensity of his comments in a desperate attempt to help them move from an attitude of superior self-righteousness. They are proving the ultimate challenge. They had already made an attempt to arrest Jesus after the last parable (Matthew 21: 46). However, they did not pursue it when they found the crowd so attentive and supportive of our Lord. Unperturbed, Jesus presses on while they are still
(Read an overview of the Text in The gospel Story by R. Cox)
Modern commentaries tend to analyse this account, make comparisons with Luke 14, and explain some of the rather unusual features even suggesting our Lord's original lesson to have been substantially re-constituted. One can certainly gain from a detailed study of these approaches. However, although we draw from a wide range of sources, we have based the narrative of this parable on the general presentation found in "A Commentary On the Holy Bible", Ed. by J.R. Dummelow, Macmillan & Co 1946. This rendering reflects generally how Christians have understood the text over the past 2000 years.
Some Notes On the Text
Verses 1 — 8 (Sometimes called the Parable of the Invitation for the Wedding.)
Our Lord continues his exhausting outreach to the hardened officials who can hear him, but seem to be hardly listening. The desperate situation requires desperate measures. He tells a parable about an extraordinary wedding which features a war being waged half way through followed by a city being burnt! It goes like this:
Verses 2 and 3
"The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
Then he sent some more servants and said: 'Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.'
Verses 5 — 7
But they paid no attention and went off; one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city."
(This is part one of the parable.)
A Pause For Reflection:
So far we are confronted by a number of facts:
- The king represents God the Father.
- He prepared a wedding banquet. Since this would last, in the parable, seven to fourteen days (a very full banquet which would provide everything everyone could possible need, symbolising life with him in heaven) a long time of preparation was essential. (Gn 29: 27. Jg 14: 12. Job 8:
- The marriage is between Christ and his Church (Rev. 21: 2; 2 Cor. 11: 2; Isa 54: 5, etc), which begins here, but is perfected in the world to come.
- In order to call everyone, God sent his servants over a long period to boldly proclaim this message. He sent Moses and the prophets, and especially John the Baptist, the last and greatest prophet of the old dispensation. Despite their obedience to God, and the very clear directions they conveyed on God's behalf, these were largely ignored.
- In his lovingkindness God did not give up but sent more servants, the Apostles, to repeat the invitation to share his presence, his gifts and hospitality.
- These servants were persecuted, and their message trivialised (Acts 5: 40; 7: 58; 12: 2; 14: 5 etc).
- God allowed the armies of the Romans under Vespasian and Titus, to slay those persecutors, and burn the city, Jerusalem, and raise it to the ground.
- Thus did the king deal with those who were given the special place of honour when they dared to treat it with contempt.
- Our Christian forebears never saw this as a cause for fostering a claim to any kind of superiority; indeed they warned of a similar fate, which could befall the Church!
Some Notes On the Text: Verses 9 — 14
Verses 8 — 10
"Then he (the King) said to his servants, 'the wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' So the servants went out in to the streets, and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
(Here ends part 2 of the parable)
Verses 11 — 13 (Sometimes called the Parable of the Wedding Garment.).
But when the King came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.
'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless.
Then the King told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth' "
(Here ends part 3 of the parable)
Connecting this parable with the previous ones and reinforcing his main theme, which is both a warning and a plea, Jesus says,
"For many are invited, but few are chosen."
It is agreed by nearly all commentators that these words are the words of Jesus, not of the King in the parable. (U.B.S.)
Another Pause for Reflection
- Jesus was not (in verse 8) indicating that no Gentile converts were to be made before that date, but that from that time "the fullness of the Gentiles" would begin (Rom 11: 25).
- The 'street-corners' means, more precisely the places where the roads from the country enter a city, and so by metaphor, Gentile territory (Grimm).
In a similar way Euthymius (early 12th Century Byzantine theologian) wrote:
"He calls the cities and villages of the Gentiles
the outlets of the highways,
signifying the forlorn state of the Gentiles."
- To feast the poor was quite common. The Talmud says, "It was a custom among rich men to invite poor travellers to feasts."
- The apostles were dispatched to bring back "both good and bad". This signifies, as in the parable of the net, that the Church is to consist of good and evil, and that the entrance into it is not to be denied to any but scandalous sinners.
- In verse 11, the scene changes to the last judgement, when the fitness of the guests to be there, will be the subject of a solemn scrutiny.
- Theophylact (11th Century Byzantine Biblical Scholar) wrote:
"The entrance to the marriage feast is without scrutiny, for by grace alone were we all called, both good and bad. But the subsequent life of those who have entered in will not be without scrutiny, but the King will make a most exact scrutiny of those who after their entry into the faith, shall be found with filthy garments. Let us therefore tremble, reflecting that unless a man live a pure life, faith by itself is of no avail, for not only is he cast out of the marriage feast, but is cast into the fire.'
- The reference to "not wearing wedding clothes" or, in older versions, "a wedding garment" is highly symbolic. The Dummelow commentary notes:
A wedding garment — Eastern etiquette is strict, and to appear without the festive garment that custom prescribes, would be a serious offence. Since the judgment is according to works, the wedding garment is not faith, or imputed righteousness, but a holy life.
Read the beautiful Jewish prayers in preparation for daily worship.
- The U.B.S. Translator's Guide to Matthew has a useful note on verse 14. It will help us all as we paraphrase our Lord's words to convey understanding.
Many are invited: if possible this general statement should stand, as without being made more specific; to do so is to run the danger of interpreting it wrongly. This conclusion actually applies to the part of the parable in verses
2 — 10 and not to the concluding incident (verses 11 — 13). Many scholars believe that the incident in verses 11 — 13 does not belong to this parable but was part of another parable.
Both passives invited and chosen have God for the subject, but to translate "God invites many people (into his Kingdom) but chooses few of them" is to portray him as arbitrary and capricious. The parable itself (verses 2 — 10), however, shows that the
chosen are those who accept the invitation, so it seems legitimate to translate "God invites many people to enter his Kingdom but few accept the invitation.
- 14. Cp. 20: 16 Some think that this indicates that only a few of all mankind will be finally saved, but Theophylact is probably right in saying that it refers to the Jews of our Lord's time, all of whom were called, but few were chosen, because few accepted the invitation. The 'calling' must be carefully distinguished from the 'choosing.' The calling is the act of God, and does not depend on human will; but whether a man is finally chosen or not, depends upon his own conduct after his call.
John Meier, in his "Matthew" closes the commentary on this passage by saying:
"Matthew has developed a simple parable about a meal into an allegory of the whole of salvation history, from the initial invitation to the Jews to the final judgement of Christians."
The parable has massive proportions and is not easy for us to grasp. It is for meditating on. Some of Jesus' critical listeners, on the occasion this was taught, did meditate on it, and later took up his invitation to "the greatest feast." Others "went away to work out between them how to trap him in what he said" (verse 15)
This is a frightening story, and it is meant to be. But then, we have a natural tendency to fasten our attention on those who reject the approaches of Jesus. As always, there is the danger we can end up thinking, "Thank goodness I'm not like that!": while all the time we can be just as impervious to the call of Jesus for us to teach and obey
everything he has taught.
The natural tendency we have to judge success by quantitative results such as the number of people won over, is, in the Christian faith an unfortunate contamination from our materialistic, consumeristic society. We are not doing very well in keeping ourselves free from such atheistic influences. If the mission of Jesus were judged in this way, his outreach was a pitiful failure. However, his success was not to be assessed by the number of converts he made, or the number of rabbinic arguments he won. Rather, he kept himself constantly aligned to carrying out his Father's will regardless of apparent failure. Nothing deterred him from this, and we must follow his example. The question before us is, how? The answer is by keeping our focus on Jesus.
The real centre of our attention in this and the previous two parables of the two brothers and the tenants should be the loving outreach of Jesus. He is the model of God's outreach to all of humanity. Here we see him desperately straining to reach the hearts of those who remain either opposed to him, or indifferent in that they have other priorities.
The paradox for Christians is that in focussing on our Lord's earnestness and perseverance, we will remain his humble servants yet passionate disciples who want to achieve only God's plan and not our own. His message is that unless we get the vision right, we will get the mission wrong.