Invited…but then what?

Next Sunday is the celebration of the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. You can read a complete commentary on the Gospel here.

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.” (Matthew 22:1-14)

In the Various Traditions. Among the various sources of Christian tradition, this parable of the wedding banquet has been preserved in three distinct versions. The simplest, and some say most authentic, rendering of the parable can be found in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas. In Thomas’ version, the parable is comprised of a series of refusals to a dinner. Each of the guests who begged off did so for reasons of business or commerce. Consequently the host sent servants into the streets to bring back whomever they could find. The tag 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.

Matthean Differences. 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.

In verse seven, the parable takes a strange twist; the city of the guests is destroyed. Starting a war while the meal is prepared and on the table strains even the wide range of flexibility allowed to parables. Add to that the mention of the burning of the murderers’ city – especially in the light of the Lucan tradition of the story and we begin to suspect something added from Matthew’s community – or something Luke thought to omit  Most scholars believe that the Matthean community and evangelist were referencing the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in 70 C.E. at the hands of Titus and the Roman army. Matthew projected this event back into this parable of Jesus. By so doing he was simply updating the history of salvation as it had unfolded by the time his gospel reached its final form in the mid-80s C.E.

Remember, you can read a complete commentary on the Gospel here.

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