- Main Text: Matthew 22:1-14
- Accompanying text: Psalm 45:6-7
What this passage means to us
A question arises as to whether Luke 14:15-24 is the same parable as found in Matthew. The timings are different, and Matthew’s version is more extensive than Luke’s. It’s possible that Jesus told a similar story twice, and that he varied it according to his audience. There is much to say about the historicity of both accounts, in that the details reflect how things happened when it came to wedding banquets in high society. For example, two invitations were often sent out, one well in advance and the other nearer the time. Also, the word “dinner”, used in Matthew 22:4, is better translated as “breakfast”, and it refers to the late morning wedding receptions that were customary in first century Palestine. These and other references suggest that the narratives within the parables are authentic in their settings.
The parable in Matthew has been subject to many interpretations, and it’s easy to over-read it and to try to apply import to its every word and phrase. Some see it as having eschatological significance, meaning that it has implications of what might happen when Christ returns to receive people into the fulness of his Kingdom. Within its given context as Christ’s response to the hostility of the Pharisees, the parable would first and foremost speak to them. To the Pharisees it must have sounded like both a warning and a condemnation. Were they the group who were chosen to receive an invitation and yet failed to respond or gave excuses? Or is Christ referring to Israel and the Jews? Is Jesus saying that they had killed the king’s messengers and would be destroyed because they were not worthy? So now the invitation would go to anyone – did that mean to publicans and sinners and, even worse, to the Gentiles? Is their city, Jerusalem, about to be destroyed by armies? And, the Pharisees, who were trained scholars of the Law, would they be cast out? “Ancient banquets were usually held at nights in rooms which were brilliantly lighted, and anybody who was excluded from the feast was said to be cast out of the lighted room into ‘the outer darkness’ of the night. In the teachings of Jesus, such exclusion is likened to the day of judgment…Because of this fear of darkness, the Saviour could have chosen no more appropriate words than ‘outer darkness’ to represent the future punishment of the unrighteous” .
In considering its broader application, “this parable must be read in the context of all the gracious invitations to ‘sit together in Christ Jesus’ (Ephesians 2:6), be they Old Testament antitypes, Gospel events, present realities, or eschatological promises. The world has been summoned to a party — to a reconciled and reconciling dinner” . In other words, everyone who has ever lived and who will live is invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). In this mixed analogy we are called as guests to the wedding feast, and those who wear the wedding garments become the Bride.
The idea of grace is throughout the parable. The king reminds people of his invitation just as God reminds us of our invitation to grace. No one has prepared the meal — the king arranges everything. All get invited, “the bad as well as the good” (Matthew 22:10). The wedding garment section is of particular interest in this regard. We understand that God grants us the clothes of righteousness. We don’t acquire them by ourselves. “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you” (Zechariah 3:4), and, in reference to the Bride of the Lamb, “Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear” (Revelation 19:8). In the parable, how did everyone find a garment to wear? Would those who were unprepared have been provided with a garment to wear? When the king sees someone without the wedding garment, he still speaks to him, still offering a chance for him to put on the garment. God’s desire is that no one should perish, and that all should receive eternal life. The man, who was already a recipient of the king’s favour by being included in the banquet festivities, is speechless, without excuse. He doesn’t respond to grace, and in not doing so, puts the spotlight on himself and confines himself to be chosen for rejection from the wedding hall that is “filled with guests” (Matthew 22:10).
Context and Story-line
About one third of Matthew’s gospel account concerns the days leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus. It must have been vivid in Matthew’s mind as he recalled what Jesus both said and did during that final week. His intimate knowledge of the seemingly insignificant parts of the Old Testament comes to light throughout his account as he applies them freely to how Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecies (e.g. Matthew 21:5 in reference to Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9). Matthew moves on swiftly as he describes Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem; the cleansing of the temple; how children called out “Hosanna” in the temple (unique to Matthew 21:15-16); the cursing of the fig tree: and how the plot against Jesus was intensifying. These events point to Christ’s Kingship and authority, and to how the priests and other religious leaders saw him as a threat to their influence and power. Jesus infuriated them more by telling them, in the story of the two sons, that “the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31). When Jesus preached the parable of the wicked husbandmen/tenants, in which he recounts the murder of the landowner’s messengers and son, the chief priests and the Pharisees “knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet” (Matthew 21:45-46).
And then, to make matters much worse, Jesus answered their attempts to seize him by presenting the parable of the Wedding Banquet in still clearer and stronger language. Afterwards “the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words” (Matthew 22:15). They, along with the Herodians and the Sadducees, tried to entangle Jesus with their various questions, but they failed. Then Jesus posed them a question to them about the nature of God, and “no one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22:46). They were indignant. Something had to be done with this Jesus.
- Zechariah 3:1-5
- Revelation 19:1-10
- Psalm 45
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and references
- Fred H. Wight, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands (Chicago, USA: Moody Press, 1953). 62-63.
2. Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgement: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Michigan, USA: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2002). 457.