47. The Wedding Banquet

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 47.  The Wedding Banquet

Mt 22:1-3   Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “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.

In chapter 21 Jesus had told the parable of the bad tenants to remind the Jews of their past history of rejecting God’s prophets, as well as prophesying that they would reject and kill him. Then to drum home the point he used the references to the rejected capstone and when he had finished the two illustrations he declared, Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (21:43)

Thus we now arrive at the Parable of the Wedding Banquet where Jesus pushes this point even further. As always, the content of the story is simple: There is a king preparing a wedding banquet for his son. (v.2). In those days, a preliminary invitation would be given and replied to, but then as the time drew near, a second invitation was given saying, “Come now, we are ready for you”, but in this case as the servants went out with the second invitation they found everyone ignoring or rejecting this ‘come now’ invitation (v.3). So the king tells more of his servants to go out and do all they can to encourage those people to come (v.4) but they ignored them, one going to work in his field, another in his business (v.5) while others seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them (v.6). The king was understandably angry at this response and sent his army to kill them and destroy their city (v.7)

But the story doesn’t end there, as bad as that was. No, instead he sends his servant to go out into the city and gather all the people they could find, both good and bad (v.8-10). Now there is a little extra scenario included for the story continues. At the celebration the king spots a man without wedding clothes and challenges him but the man had nothing to say (v.11,12) and so, “the king told the attendants, `Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (v.13)

Now most parables have just one main point to make but this one is unusual in that it appears to have THREE points to make:

  • First, all those invited and who rejected the invitation were killed.
  • Second, the king then simply invited others to come.
  • Third, once they came, the king expected the man to be properly dressed and when he wasn’t he inflicted the most severe punishment.

Now Jesus doesn’t spell out the interpretation of this three-part story but it seems fairly obvious, at least for the first two parts.

First of all, in the light of his previous teaching, the original invitation refers to that given to the Jews to be the people of God which had come about from the Exodus onwards. Over the centuries the Lord had sent prophets to call the people to Himself, again and again, and yet again and again they were rejected. The end conclusion is that (temporarily at least?) the Jews were rejected by God. This should not be seen as shocking because we see it in the ministry of the apostle Paul: “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:44-46) and that is how it continued.

Second, as we have just seen in those verses, the Gospel was then taken to the Gentiles. i.e. the rest of the world. Paul explained it, “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ” `I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'” When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:47,48)

The third part is not so simple. It has been suggested by commentators that it may have been the custom for the host to provide the guests with wedding garments. This would have been necessary for the guests at this banquet in particular, for they were brought in directly from the streets. The failure of the man in question to avail himself of a wedding garment was therefore an insult to the host, who had made the garments available, and thus he receives such a strong response.

A few more comments are applicable. First, note the context of the parable: a wedding banquet.  The Old Testament often speaks of the relationship of God to His people in terms of bride and bridegroom or of a marriage (see, for example, Isa 50:1, 54:1, 62:5,  Jer 2:32, 31:32) as does the New (e.g. Jn 3:29, 2 Cor 11:2, Eph 5:32, Rev 19:7). The wedding or the wedding banquet thus speak of the rejoicing in the coming together of Christ and the believer through salvation.

Second, note that the Gentiles who are invited in were ‘good or bad’. It is purely an act of grace on God’s behalf. Yes, we all come the same way – by receiving what He has already prepared for us.

Third, the wedding garments that the one man failed to put on, must speak of ‘putting on Christ’, the new self (Eph 4:24), being willing to let Christ transform you as he both imputes and imparts righteousness through the work of the Cross and the work of his Holy Spirit. The challenges in these things are obvious.

We should perhaps note the final verse in this passage: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (v.14) which the Message version has as, “That’s what I meant when I say, “Many get invited; only a few make it.” God calls to all, but many are self-absorbed and so don’t heed the call. Some hear and think about coming but don’t want to pay the price and put on Christ’s ‘robes’ and become like him. It is another set of stories all wrapped up in this one parable that are strong warnings, especially to the Jews who maintained the rejections of their history, but also to anyone else who hears the call but can’t be bothered or is so self-absorbed they fail to respond to the most wonderful invitation in history.