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, maltreated 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.’
Translation: And again, Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to an earthly king who gave a marriage feast for his son. And he sent his servants to call the-ones-who-had-been-called to the marriage feast, but they did not want to come. Again, he sent other servants, saying, 'Speak to those-who-have-been-called: Behold! I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and fat calves are killed, and all is ready. Come into the marriage feast.'
But the ones being neglectful went away, one to his land, another to his trade, and the rest seized his servants, treated them with insolence, and killed them. The king became angry, and sending his soldiers, he destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Then he said to his servants, 'The marriage feast is ready, but the-ones-who-had-been-called were not worthy. Go, therefore, upon the journey-ways and call into the marriage feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the 'ways' and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good, and the wedding feast was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to behold the guests, he saw there a person who had not put on the wedding garment. And he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here not having a wedding garment?' But he was speechless. Then the king said to the deacons, 'Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the outer darkness. There, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For the invited (are) many, but the chosen (are) few."
Background and situation: The lection is mostly from Q--the parallel is Luke 14:15-24--though Matthew's version is some different from Luke's.
In Luke, "a man" gives "a great dinner." Matthew kicks this up a notch or two. The main character in Matthew's parable is a king. (Matthew has a special fondness for royal images. He frequently presents images of king-ship and kingdoms.)
Likewise, the "great dinner" in Luke is the "marriage feast" in Matthew--indeed, the Great Banquet itself. The marriage feast as a symbol of God's abundant fellowship with humanity at the culmination of history goes back at least to first Isaiah (c. 750 BC):
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. (Isaiah 25: 6)
Matthew tells three parables between 21: 23 and 22: 14--the parable of the two sons, the parable of the wicked tenants, and, now, the parable of the wedding banquet. In the first parable, the parable of the two sons, tax collectors and prostitutes are said to go into the kingdom of heaven before the religious leadership.
In the parable of the wicked tenants, the kingdom will be taken away from the religious leadership and given to people who produce fruits. In the parable of the wedding banquet, the invitation is rejected by those first invited and given to those rounded up at the last minute.
Having been led through three parables which place the religious leadership in a negative light, the surprising conclusion at the end of the parable (11-13), added by Matthew, focuses attention on the shortcomings of the church. The old leadership is compromised, yes, but the new community also has its own problems.
Parable of the wedding banquet: The king sends his servants out to "call those who have been called" (tous keklemenous). The root Greek word (kaleo) is the same as that which also designates the church--ekklesia, which literally means: the "called out ones." Matthew is the only one of the four gospels to use the word ekklesia (16: 18).
In this parable, however, the "called out ones" refers to the first "called out ones," the Hebrews. They are represented in this parable, and throughout Matthew's gospel, by the Jewish religious heirarchy. (Matthew has nothing against Jews per se. He is one himself, as was Jesus. His argument is with the religious leadership.)
This is made clear by a brief re-cap: It is Holy Week. Jesus has entered Jerusalem, driven the profiteers out of the Temple, then publicly embarrassed and verbally assaulted the "chief priests and scribes"--the Temple heirarchy--by reminding the crowd of the heirarchy's complicity in the murder of John the Baptist.
Then, he tells the parable of the two sons, the point of which is to accuse the "chief priests and scribes" of not practicing justice and of opposing God. After that, he tells the parable of the wicked tenants, the point of which is the rejection of the religious heirarchy in favor of those who "produce the fruits of the kingdom."
Then, he tells this story, the parable of the wedding banquet. The king is holding a wedding banquet in honor of his son. He sends his servants to call those invited--the original "called out ones"--but they hold the king's invitation in low regard and did not want to come.
This is a surprising impertinence. An invitation from the king was as close to a "command performance" as could be found in the ancient world--or today either, for that matter. This disregard for the king's invitation symbolizes Israel's resistance to the first servants sent by the king, the Old Testament prophets.
The king then sends out "other" servants to the same group. These "other servants" of the king represent the followers of "the way"--the early Christians, in other words. They issue the announcement of the arrival of the Great Banquet. This time, the invitation is stated fully and explicitly: "Behold! I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and fat calves are killed, and all is ready. Come into the marriage feast."
"All is ready" is clear eschatological language. One should ask: How is it that "all is ready"? Note that the figure of "the son" does not actually appear in this parable. This "son" had been killed in the parable of the wicked tenants immediately preceding.
Yet, in this parable, the son is obviously alive. The parable of the wedding banquet assumes that the son has been raised from the dead. In his death and resurrection, "all is ready."
This time, the invitees are called "neglectful." They "did not care" about the king's dinner. One went to his farm. The other went to his business--emporium, in Greek. They went back to preserving and expanding their economic interests, in other words. Agriculture and commerce were primary sources of wealth for the ruling families of Jerusalem.
The "rest"--loipoi--inflict violence upon these "other" servants. The "rest" are the minions of the ruling class, those not directly wealthy themselves, but rather those who lived high on the hog off the largesse of their benefactors, the wealthy ruling families.
The "other servants" are seized, mistreated, and killed. The king retaliates by sending soldiers who destroyed the murderers and burned the city. (Any connection with a real event is hereby sundered. You don't get angry, start a war, and conquer a city all before the pot roast gets cold.)
The mention of a burning city is an obvious reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in the Roman-Jewish War, AD 70, and Matthew's audience would have recognized this immediately. For Matthew, the destruction of Jerusalem was the judgment of God against those who resisted the "way of justice" and killed Jesus.
The original "ones who were called" turn out to be "not worthy." The king then tells his servants to "go, therefore." (In chapter 28, the same phrase will announce the mission to "all nations.") Here, the servants are to go to, in Greek, diexodous ton 'odon--literally: "through out of ways of ways."
The meaning of diexodous itself is unclear. It appears to mean road-exits leaving a town. You'll notice also the word "exodus" in it, a recollection of the Hebrew people on their journey out of slavery into freedom. (Does diexodous ton 'odon suggest that following the way of Jesus is true freedom?)
The servants go out on these "road-exits" or, as I've translated it, "journey-ways," and "gather together"--synagoge--"all" they found, "both bad and good." Placing "bad" before "good" draws attention to this pointed rejection of morality as a basis for determining who goes to the banquet.
Morality is not a consideration. The servants are to gather up all they find without regard to whether anyone deserves it or not. Accordingly, the wedding banquet is "filled with guests."
The "friend": Matthew then appends vss. 11-13 which are unique to Matthew. The king enters the wedding hall to "behold the guests" whereupon he notices one person who was not dressed in the proper wedding garment.
This person is called "friend" (etairos). Matthew uses this word three times in his gospel--once to describe the "friend" who complained about the justice of the owner in the parable of the laborers of the vineyard, its use here, and once in relation to Judas, the betrayer. The word carries a certain chill. Think of it as "hey, pal" expressed ironically.
Robert Capon imagines that the host of the banquet supplied the wedding garments. Otherwise, how could you expect people rounded up off the streets to have the proper clothes? You don't leave for work in the morning by packing a tux in your lunch box on the outside chance that someone might call you to a wedding party.
The host supplied the wedding garment of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Great Banquet has been made possible and ushered in by that and that alone.
One person has apparently thought the banquet is based in something other than that. He wears some other garment. We are not told whether the man wore rags or a tux. It matters not which. Anything other than the wedding garment of Christ's death and resurrection is irrelevant.
The man is asked how he got in without the proper dress. The man was "speechless." In essence, by refusing to respond or speak, the man refuses to enter into a relationship with the king. Capon argues that if he'd said anything at all--if he would have acknowledged a relationship in any way--he'd have been all right. But he didn't. He was "speechless."
The man is unceremoniously shown the exit because the death and resurrection of Jesus is the only reason that anyone is there. Their presence has nothing to do with their "goodness" or "badness." It has nothing to do with whether or not they are in any way "worthy." It has everything to do with a "new creation" in which none of that counts.
The lection closes with a line which, at first glance, doesn't relate very well to the rest of the story: "For many are called, but few chosen." On the basis of the story, who are the "many"? Conversely, who are the "few"?
For me, the word for "chosen"--eklectoi--indicates the people of the early church, the ekklesia. Many have been called, in other words, but only a few have been chosen for the church. Thus, Matthew is able to affirm the universal message of the gospel and simultaneously explain why it has not taken the world by storm.