Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Matthew 22:1–14

Matthew 22:1–14 (ESV): The Parable of the Wedding Feast

Synopsis

In this passage Jesus tells another parable, this one about a wedding feast. The salient points in the story:
  • A king’s son is getting married, so the king gives a wedding feast and invites a bunch of people
  • He sends his servants to gather the people who are invited, but they refuse to come
  • He sends another set of servants, but the invitees pay no attention. Worse yet, some of the invited guests actually treat the servants “shamefully” and then kill them (verse 6 (ESV)).
  • The king is understandably angry at this, and sends his troops to kill the murderous invitees and burn their city
  • Since the first set of invitees was “not worthy” (verse 8 (ESV)), the king sends his servants out to the main roads, instructing them to simply start inviting anyone they can find, which they do—“both good and bad” (verse 10 (ESV))
  • Once this is done, the wedding hall is filled with guests
  • The king arrives at the wedding feast, but when he gets there he sees a man who is not wearing wedding clothes, and asks the man how he got in dressed as he is
  • The man is speechless (as was I, when I first read this passage)
  • The king has his servants bind the man and throw him into the “outer darkness,” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (verse 13 (ESV))
The last verse of this passage sums up the message of the parable:

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (verse 14 (ESV), Jesus speaking)

Thoughts

In some ways the message of this parable, summed up in the last verse, is the easiest part to get. For the rest, there are a number of cultural issues going on, that have to be understood in order to properly understand this parable. Well… to fully understand it. I understood the parable before, but knowing the cultural issues helps me understand it better.

Thanks to the ESV Study Bible (as usual) for pointing out some of these issues:
  • For guests to refuse an invitation from the king to a wedding feast would be a huge insult. That’s not difficult to understand; you can sort of get the idea if you imagined the President of the United States or the Queen of England inviting you to dinner, and you responding, “No, sorry, I’m busy that day.” (Or the Prime Minister of Canada, although, being Canadian, somehow I don’t think it would be as big of a deal…)

    The difference, however, is that in Jesus’ day, if you’d turned down a king like this, it could be hazardous to your health—which explains the king’s actions in having them killed and their city burned.
  • The idea of a king then deciding to send his servants out into the street extending his invitation to anyone they can find would be unheard of. What king is going to invite the rabble to his son’s wedding feast?

    With that in mind, you can see why the Jews would be so reluctant to believe that God was going to start extending His invitation for salvation beyond His chosen people to Gentiles; that would also have been unheard of to Jews.
  • The part which most confused me, when reading this parable, was about the king throwing out the man who was improperly dressed. It shocked me simply because the king had already extended his invitation out to everyone—to people who hadn’t previous been considered worthy of invitation—so why would the king have then gotten angry at the man’s attire? Some thoughts from the ESV Study Bible:
    • The notes indicate that “there is some evidence in the ancient world for a king supplying garments for his guests …” If this is true, then the man would have insulted the king by not wearing the clothes that were provided to him. We can easily see this as an allusion to the pure garments that God metaphorically clothes His righteous children in, when they become saved.
    • The other alternative is that when the passage refers to “wedding garments” it simply means clean clothes, rather than a particular outfit (especially one fit for a king’s feast). In this case, the man would have insulted the king by coming without bothering to get clean.
    In either case, the point is that even though the person was invited to the king’s feast, that invitation wasn’t good enough. He still had to live up to his end of the bargain, whether by wearing the clothes the king had provided or by cleaning himself off. In either case, we can see these garments as referring to righteousness. You can see how this parable continues on from the lessons Jesus taught in the last passage; being called, and/or calling yourself a Christian, isn’t enough. If you’re not also obeying God, following His commands (as they now pertain to Christians) and doing His good works, then you’re not really a Christian at all.

    (Not that I want to push the idea of “cleaning yourself off” too hard; it’s not something we can do on our own, we need the Holy Spirit to do it. However, if we are Christians, He will do it; if He isn’t—if you’re not getting cleaned off—then He isn’t with you, because you’re not saved.)
Which brings us to Jesus’ lesson in this parable: many are called, but few are chosen. The general sense we have in North America (and maybe the West in general?) is one of everyone going to heaven except the really bad people like Hitler or Stalin. That is not the message of the Bible: the Scriptures show very few, relatively speaking, entering God’s kingdom, even though He extends the invitation to everyone.
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