The Wedding Feast: context

Gospel_MatthewMatthew 22:1–14 1 Jesus again in reply spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. 3 He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. 4 A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’ 5 Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. 6 The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. 9 Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ 10 The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. 11 But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. 12 He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. 13 Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ 14 Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Context. Our text is the third of three parables: (the two sons 21:28-32; the tenants in the vineyard 21:33-46; and the wedding banquet 22:1-14). All three have images of father and son(s). The first two also have the image of a vineyard. The last two have the sending of servants, the murder of servants, and the punishment of the murderers. In each case, there is a distinction between those who do the will of the father/landlord/king and those who don’t. To put it all in context, Eugene Boring has offered an outline of this series of parables which marks the conflict between Jesus and the leaders of Jerusalem:

A Jesus’ response: a question (21:24-27)
B Three parables
The Two Sons (21:28-32)
The Lord’s Vineyard (21:33-46)
The Great Supper (22:1-14)
B’ Three controversy stories
Taxes to the Emperor (22:15-22)
The Resurrection (22:23-33)
The Great Commandment (22:34-40)
A’ Jesus’ question (22:41-46)

Scott (Hear Then the Parable) talks about all three parables starting with the first one:

The parable is the first of three that challenge the legitimacy of the Jewish leadership. They all expose Matthew’s ideology of the true Israel demonstrating the claims of the Pharisees to be false and those of the church true. The parables of the two sons, the wicked tenants, and the king who gave a marriage feast exhibit a progression from John the Baptist to the rejection of Jesus and punishment of those who rejected him through the final judgment, when those without a wedding garment will be cast out. [p. 81]

The parable of the “Great Supper” (described as a wedding feast in Matthew) appears in canonical gospels – as well as non-canonical texts such as the “Gospel of Thomas,” the latter of which is the simplest rendering of the parable. The “Gospel of Thomas” is not a unified narrative as much as it is a collection of saying and parables of Jesus that seems to have been assembled in Egypt among the Copts [not discovered until the 20th century]. Greek fragments of the text were unearthed at Oxyrkynchus, Egypt, ca. 1900 C.E. and the complete gospel written in Coptic was discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945.

In Thomas’ version, the parable is composed of a series of refusals to a dinner. Each of the guests who declined did so for reasons of business or commerce. Consequently the host sent servants into the streets to bring back whomever they could find. The closing line of the parable proclaims: “Buyers and merchants will not enter the places of my Father” (Thomas 64:12).

Luke’s version of the parable (Luke 14:16-24), also preserves the reversal motif and bears evidence of the evangelist’s conviction, that the poor, outcasts, those otherwise marginalized from society will find a welcome in the kingdom. However, when Matthew’s rendering of this parable is compared to these other sources, there are, several obvious differences. The main portion (vv. 1-10) of the parable is offered as an allegorical presentation of salvation history. The host has become a king (God) who was preparing a wedding banquet (symbol of kingdom) for his son (Jesus). The two groups of servants were probably representative of the Hebrew prophets and the Christian apostles, whereas the invited guests who repeatedly refused the king’s invitation and brutalized the servants were intended to portray Israel. People from the byroads represented the gentiles to whom the gospel was also to be extended.

The contribution of the Matthean church can also be detected in the incident regarding the guest who was ejected from the feast (vv. 11-13). Aware that God’s invitation to salvation was extended to all of humankind, good and bad alike, the early Christians were also aware that not everyone who received an invitation would remain as a guest. The improperly dressed guest represented those who had not cooperated with or appropriated the invitations that God had offered. As a result of his/her unresponsiveness, the improperly dressed guest forfeited a place at the banquet. It was then a reminder to the Matthean church that the divine invitations to love are a daily invitation. Thus one must possess a willingness to be daily transformed by God’s grace and according to God’s will. To do otherwise is to refuse the invite to the “wedding feast” or to appear improperly attired. Either open the road to an eternity of insatiable hunger and unquenchable thirst.

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