Matthew 22:1-14 - A Gracious Invitation
22:1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Background: Today’s parable (a parable is just a story told to make a point) is the third in a series of pointed stories that are probably addressed to the chief priests and the Pharisees who are resisting Jesus’ ministry. All three of the stories show God’s gracious reaching out and people’s less than gracious response. Scholars believe that Jesus’ original parable, in its context, was probably told to justify the scandalous inclusivity of his table fellowship. The point being, that his own people and their leadership spurned him and so he included those who were considered outsiders or unclean. By the time Matthew records the story, years after the crucifixion and resurrection, the evangelist expands the meaning for his own time. He intends the story as an allegory with the king representing God, the first guests representing the Jewish leaders, the messengers representing the prophets and the second round of guests representing those who respond to the kingdom’s calling. The issue for Matthew was that God calls and some do not take it seriously.
Vs. 2 – the kingdom of heaven – this is the phrase that Matthew uses where other gospel writers use the phrase ‘kingdom of God.’ It does not refer to heaven as we think of it today. Rather, the kingdom of heaven is the state in which God rules life and community. It happens in this life and hereafter.
A king – Matthew intends for us to think of this king as representing God.
Wedding banquet – wedding banquets were wonderful community celebrations and an invitation to be a part of one was a big deal. In the Bible, the symbol of wedding banquets also has a rich history of referring to the coming new age or a time when fulfillment comes. As is the case in this story, invitations were sent out in a proscribed way. First an announcement that a feast was being prepared went out, much like we would send a save the date card. This was to give guests time to prepare for the event. Then when the feast was ready a second invitation was issued calling invitees to the festivities.
Vs. 3 – but they would not come – this is a tremendous insult to the king. It says that his invitees do not take either his invitation or his son seriously.
Vs. 4 – Again he sent other servants – the king tries again to reach out to his guest list. Probably Matthew sees these servants as the prophets and John the Baptist.
Vs. 5 – 6 - The invitees not only do not take the kings invitation seriously, they mistreat and abuse his messengers. They even kill some of them.
Vs. 7 – the king is furious at the abuse of his messengers and retaliates by destroying their city. Matthew understood this to represent the Roman troops that destroyed the Temple in 70 AD. In the early church the Roman troops were seen as instruments through which God executed judgment.
Vs. 8 – not worthy – those who do not take God’s invitation seriously are not worthy of sharing in the benefits of the great celebration.
Vs. 9 – Go therefore – this is an important phrase in Matthew’s gospel. These are the words that Jesus uses to send the apostles to the Gentiles.
Vs. 10 – good and the bad – the second invitation goes out to everyone regardless of status.
Vs. 11 – wedding garment – there were no special wedding garments that were expected at this time. This probably just refers to clean fresh clothes. Clean clothes were often symbols for righteousness and good works. Matthew wants his church to understand that while all are graciously invited into God’s celebration, repentance and good works are still needed by those that God has chosen. In other words, one can’t expect the benefits of the kingdom with no effort.
Vs. 12 – friend – this is a special word used only in Matthew and always refers to people who are somehow in the wrong. How did you get in without a wedding garment – the early church believed that the only requirement for kingdom living was repentance. Still, repentance issued in changed lives. The king is asking how the guest could expect to enjoy the banquet without repenting and changing his life.
He was speechless – the Jews thought of good works as intercessors before God. The man has no good works therefore he is silent. There is no proof of change to speak for him.
Vs. 13 – attendants – this is a different word from the previous word for servants. It often refers to angels.
Bind him hand and foot – similar to the weeds of the field that were gathered to be burned.
Outer darkness – life apart from the kingdom without intimacy with the king and the enlightenment that comes from it.
Vs. 14 – called – from the same root for invited.
Chosen – Greek eklektoi – means chosen by God for the richness of life in the kingdom.
Questions for Personal Reflection
1. We can fruitfully look at this parable in two ways. First, we can view it as Jesus probably intended when he first told it, as a story to explain why he included everybody at his table, even the most marginalized. When looked at from that point of view, how do you think we have done as a church in that kind of inclusion? Does that inclusion only refer to worship? Does it also include other kingdom activities such as advocacy? How do you see this story addressing cultural, racial, gender and other prejudice? How might we approach the King’s table with ‘cleaner clothes’ ourselves?
2. Matthew understood this story to allegorically shed light on Israel’s own history, especially with accepting God’s invitation to the banquet and benefits of kingdom living in Christ. Looking from that point of view, how do you think the invitation to the Christian banquet of life can be most winsomely made today? What are the competing invitations that make people refuse? Are there ways that we invite that turn off or exclude the very ones with whom Christ most wants to fellowship? How might we refine our invitation?
3. A major point of the story is that saying yes to life in Christ should result in changed life that is noticeable at a glance. How do you think others see our lives as changed by our fellowship with God? Our worship? Our actions in community? Our dedication to the Word and to the disciplines of faith? Does your life seem much different, more moral or loving, than the lives of your non believing friends and neighbors? If so, how? If not, why not?
4. As a church, if we were to plan a metaphorical ‘clothes washing’ to be able to demonstrate our changed lives as a result of our walk together with Christ, what would we need to do first? What actions or inactions might we need to address personal and as a community of faith? What spiritual resources do we need to deepen or strategically employ?