|Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at|
For an inductive approach to this text, try this CrossMarks Bible Study: Just Don't Call Me Late for Supper!
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.
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 judgement, when those without a wedding garment will be cast out. [p. 81]
Richard Jensen (Preaching Matthew's Gospel) offers three suggestions for presenting all three parables: (1) "... to fashion a sermon which calls for repentance and self-examination with an eye toward fruit bearing." (2) "... to accent the closing line of this week's text: 'For many are called, but few are chosen'." (3) to "focus on the graciousness of God's inviting." He goes on to write about this theme:
This graciousness is clearly seen in all three of these parables. Tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom before the chief priests and elders because they witnessed the ministry of John the Baptist and believed. Other nations (Gentiles) are offered the kingdom of heaven because the tenants of the vineyard (Israel) killed the son. People in the thoroughfares of the city are invited into the kingdom feast because those who were first invited were not worthy. The first task of this sermon, therefore, would be to tell this week's text in light of the previous week's text as a text offering God's gracious inviting. [pp. 194-5]
The Fall 1996 Journal of Biblical Literature includes an article by Richard Bauckham called "The Parable of the Royal Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) and the Parable of the Lame Man and the Blind Man (Apocryphon of Ezekiel)" [pp. 471-488]. Ignoring the section about the parable of the lame man and the blind man from the Apocryphon of Ezekiel which I don't think would show up in our sermons, the author presents a different slant on the canonical parable (especially Matthew's version where it is a king who gives a wedding feast for his son rather than Luke's "Someone gave a great dinner and invited many" [14:16]) I found his political approach made the parable more realistic. I will intersperse Bauckham's quotes marked [RB] with some more allegorical comments from other sources.
[RB] The wedding feast of the king's son is a celebration with obviously major political resonances. Few interpreters have done justice to the political nature of the story that follows. [p. 483]
Note that immediately following the parable is the question about paying taxes to Caesar -- clearly a political question.
[RB] The attendance of the great men of the kingdom at the wedding feast of the king's son would be expected not only as a necessary expression of the honor they owe the king but also as an expression of their loyalty to the legitimate succession to his throne. Political allegiance is at stake. Excuses would hardly be acceptable, and the invitees (unlike those in the Lukan parable) offer none. To refuse the invitation is tantamount to rebellion. In refusing it, the invitees are deliberately treating the king's authority with contempt. They know full well that their behavior will be understood as insurrection. This is what they intend, and those who kill the king's messengers only make this intention known more emphatically. The king responds as kings do to insurrection (v. 7). It is only because interpreters so regularly fail to register the political significance of the wedding feast of the king's son that they equally regularly find v. 7 explicable only as an allegorical reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, which has been inserted incongruously into the story. [p. 484]
He ends the above paragraph with a footnote: "A glaring example of failure to read the parable in its own terms is Schweizer, Good News, 418: 'The parable deals with ordinary citizens, who buy fields and use oxen, not with men who rule entire cities.' Though offered as a statement about Matthew's parable, this is in fact a statement about Luke's parable."
Patte (The Gospel According to Matthew) takes a similar, but less political approach. He notes that the primary reason the invited don't go is because they don't want to go [p. 302].
In v. 3c, there is the imperfect of thelo = "they were not willing to come." It's not a situation where they can't come. They just don't want to. Similarly, the first son in 21:29 is literally "I am not willing" -- the present tense of thelo. Their "not wanting" to attend indicates that they did not view the invitation as an honor or privilege -- even though it came from a king. Perhaps crudely stated, "They don't give a damn about the invitation -- even if it did come from the king."
This is followed by a second invitation. Even if they don't like the king, perhaps they will come because of all the good, free food -- prime rib, cooked to perfection (or fill in your favorite food).
Again the invitees response shows a lack of respect. In v. 5a, the NRSV's "They made light of it" misses the sense of the Greek, ameleo, which has more of a response of apathy: "to disregard, to ignore, to pay no attention to, not to care about."
A political theme is briefly suggested by Boring (Matthew, The Interpreter's Bible): "Refusal of the king's invitation -- especially in concert suggesting conspiracy, is equivalent to rebellion." [p. 417]
The mistreating and killing of the slaves by the invitees and the king's response of war (while the meat is on the grill!?), makes better sense within the political rebellion arena.
Another approach is that it is an allusion to the destruction of the temple in 70, which is interpreted to be a sign of God's judgment against the unbelieving Jews.
However, one could also take the approach that the invitation to come was a threat to the invitees' own pursuits. They want to do what they want to do when they want to do it. One goes to his field and another to his business. These aren't excuses (as in Luke 14:18-20), but personal concerns that they think are more important than the king's invitation to this most important celebration for his son.
One definition of sacrifice is: "an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy." If we are going to talk about sacrificing in the church, it is asking people to give up something they value, something of importance. I've often said that if Christ required me to stop eating octopus in order to follow him -- that would not be a sacrifice. However, to give up chocolate is a different story.
[RB] That the banquet is for the king's son's wedding explains also the continuation of the story. Why must other guests be invited when those originally invited have refused? ... On this occasion, as on no other, it is essential that the banqueting hall be full. Whether such a sequence of events is plausible in 'real life' is beside the point. The point is that the sequence has its own narrative logic and does not require allegorical interpretation to explain it. [pp. 484-5]
What do we do to make sure that our "wedding halls" are filled with people on Sunday mornings? How concerned are we that they are not full? Are we concerned enough to do something about it?
The first part of the parable has some strong connections with our worship services. Does God not invite us there? Aren't we also the Lord's slaves who are told to go to tell the invitees (the whole world?) that everything is ready? (Note that poreuomai = "to go," also used in the great commission, 28:19 -- and it is a present tense imperative, implying a sense of "repeated goings" or "continue to go" until the hall is filled! Until our naves are filled, can we ever think that we can stop going out to streets to gather in both the good and bad?) Isn't it part of worship to celebrate a "wedding feast" -- or at least a foretaste of the great feast that is coming? Are some people absent because they have other "pressing" business that they think is more important? Doesn't this sound like a story of the church? However, we probably shouldn't send troops to destroy the non-attenders and burn their houses. Likewise, they are not usually guilty of mistreating and killing representatives from the church. [That could quickly make pastoral visits a thing of the past <g>]
Smith (Matthew, Augsburg Commentaries) comments on "the bad and the good" of v. 10:
The new community in Matthew's view is a mixed body, both wheat and tares (13:24-30), good fish and bad (13:48), obedient and disobedient sons (21:28-32), sheep and goats (25:31-46). As Matthew pondered the strange make-up of the new community, he saw the grace of God in its odd assortment of people. God has acted with a marvelous disdain for all the old rules, all the old definitions of worthiness or acceptability and has filled the banquet all to the rafters. Matthew loves to celebrate the surpassing depth and splendor of that grace. At the same time Matthew was painfully aware of sad tendencies among the good and the bad: (1) "Good" people in the community are tempted to embark on programs of purification, to weed out the tares or to cast out the erring. (2) And the "bad" are tempted to count on God's foolishness and to misconstrue grace as divine indifferences to morality or behavior. So Matthew is tireless in warning that judging others is no business of the community, and equally ardent and insistent that history will end with God's judgment. Ever and again in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus spells out the terms of judgment, its criteria and standards, summoning to self-criticism, to self-examination, and to the timely yielding of obedience to God. [p. 258]
Allegorically, as in the two previous parables, the eschatological wedding feast is for a new group of people who are declared worthy. For Patte, the first group's unworthiness (v. 8) consists of not recognizing the honor the king has bestowed on them nor the goodness of what he offers them -- (e.g., prime rib, not Spam).
[RB] For any such occasion guests would be expected to wear clothes that were both longer than those worn by ordinary people on working days and also newly washed. Those who could afford it would wear white, but it was sufficient for ordinary people to wear as near to white as washing their poorer quality clothes could achieve. Poor people, who might own only one patched tunic and cloak each, would often borrow clothes for occasions such as weddings or religious festivals. ... There is no reason to suppose that, once invited, these people have no time to go home, to change their clothes, and to borrow clothes from their neighbors, if necessary. [pp. 485-6]
Footnote to above paragraph: "It is not necessary to take excessively literally the statements that the feast is ready, either in v. 4 or in v. 8. They mean that the lengthy preparations for the feast are sufficiently far advanced that the guests should now be on their way. Wedding festivities lasted a week, and not all guests would arrive at the beginning."
[RB] Wearing festal garments indicated one's participation in the joy of the feast. To appear in ordinary, soiled working clothes would show contempt for the occasion, a refusal to join in the king's rejoicing. Though this would be serious at any royal banquet, it certainly cannot be tolerated at the marriage of his son. Once again, this is no ordinary act of dishonor to a host but a matter of political significance. [p. 486]
[RB] The man who accepts the invitation but, by wearing his everyday, soiled clothes, shows only contempt for the purpose of the occasion, is no more worthy than those who rejected the invitation. They spurned the invitation to the feast; he disdains the feast while actually attending it. In effect, he has not really accepted the invitation, since the invitation is not just to be physically present at the feast but also to participate in the king's rejoicing over the marriage of his son. The point is not that the man without the wedding garment turns out to be one of the 'bad' who were invited along with the 'good.' Both good and bad are genuinely invited; neither being good nor being bad is a qualification for being a guest. All that is required is that willingness to honor the occasion, to rejoice with the king, to be a real guest at the wedding, which wearing a wedding garment expresses. [pp. 487-8]
Patte offers a similar understanding of the garment with a summary of his interpretation:
According to the first part of the parable, there are two reasons for accepting the invitation to come to the marriage feast. One might want to accept the invitation either because one is honored by it and wants to honor the king, or because one wants to partake in the good food of the feast offered by the generous and good host. When this is kept in mind, it appears that to wear a "wedding garment" is to honor the king in response to the honor of being invited. In other words, a guest without a wedding garment is a person who accepted the invitation to come to the marriage feast because it is the occasion to enjoy a good, indeed a great, meal. Those who go to the marriage feast for this reason recognize and acknowledge that there will be good food and that the king gives good things and is generous. In brief, they acknowledge the goodness of the king, and acknowledgment that finds expression in an action (going to the marriage feast).
... But the point of the parable and of 21:18-22:14 is that acknowledging the goodness of God is not sufficient. One also needs to acknowledge the authority of God, an acknowledgment that finds expression in an attitude (wearing a wedding garment) that is different from the attitude of simply acknowledging his goodness. Without such an acknowledgment of God's authority and the will to honor him as motivation for one's actions, no participation in the kingdom (now and in the future) is possible. [p. 304, emphases in original]
Is there a connection between one's attitude and one's clothing? Could this section be used to encourage people to wear their "Sunday best" to church each week in honor of the King of kings? Is that pushing the text too far? being too literal? Some years ago when a group of ministers talked with four teenagers who were in alcoholic rehab, all four commented about the judgment they felt from their congregations when they didn't come wearing the attire that was expected. All four had dropped out of church. More generally, and a theme throughout Matthew is that there is a connection between one's attitude (or faith) and one's actions. Hearing and doing is what's expected and it provides a solid foundation (Mt 7:24).
What is the attitude that one should have when accepting the invitation to worship (to a wedding banquet)? Besides clothing, what are other ways that a proper attitude could be displayed?
In contrast to an understanding I have had, Eugene Boring in a footnote (Matthew, The Interpreters Bible) writes: "There is no evidence for the custom that kings provided the wedding attire for guests, an idea apparently originated by Augustine by inference from this parable and representing an attempt to understand this text by importing Pauline theology into Matthew (cf. Ro 10:1-13; Phil 3:7-9)" [p. 418]
However, in 2 Kings 10:22, we read that King Jehu provided robes for all who came to worship the god Baal. There it is the host who provides the proper clothing. In a similar, many churches provide robes for choir members or acolytes or assisting ministers. It would be understandable to ask a choir member on a Sunday morning, "Why aren't you wearing a robe?"
I also think that there are sufficient biblical images of proper clothing that would allow us to preach an allegorical understanding of the wedding garment.
Often in the Pauline corpus one's life after conversion is often pictured as "putting on" the new life in clothing terms (Ro 13:12-14; Ga 3:27; Ep 4:24; 6:11; Col 3:9-10; 1Th 5:8; see also Lu 15:22; Re 3:4; 6:11; 19:8).
Isaiah 61:10 also uses clothing image:
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. [NRSV]
The proper garment, besides indicating a willingness to fully join into the king's celebration, could also represent (1) "putting on" the Christian life, e.g., bearing the proper fruit which is a theme in many other Matthean references; and/or (2) receiving the "garments of salvation" from God.
This text confronts us with the paradox of God's free invitation to the banquet with no strings attached and God's requirement of "putting on" something appropriate to that calling. As with all paradoxes, both are true, and concentrating only on one is unhealthy. The trick is learning to manage the two extremes -- knowing when to appropriately apply each one.
I recently led a study on Matthew 21-22 with our conference pastors. One asked what verse 14 meant. Partly wondering who is doing the choosing. Are there some people God doesn't choose? How is being chosen different from being called? Those are good and disturbing questions.
First of all: When I look at all the references to chosen [verb: eklegomai, noun: eklektos] it is never the people who choose God. It is always God who chooses the chosen or "the elect". How does that confront the popular theology of making a choice for God, or deciding to follow Jesus?
Secondly: It would appear that phrase is antithetical parallelism: many in contrast to few, and called in contrast to chosen.
At first I thought that these reflect back to contrasts in the parable(s), but after further thinking, I'm not sure. There is a contrast in the first part between those who were originally invited, but who do not come and those who are gathered in from the streets. We would think that the many would refer to the first ones invited, but their numbers seem smaller than the crowd from the streets who fill the wedding hall. Would this large crowd be the few?
Similarly, who are the many and the few concerning the wedding garment? There is a contrast between the one without a wedding garment and presumably the rest of the huge crowd who were wearing proper attire. Would the one be the many?1
Because it doesn't fit the parables very well, it is probably right to conclude that Matthew added this verse as his own summary of the situation in his church. These parables are not so much about a judgment against "outsiders," about whom the believers might become judgmental; but prophetic statements meant to lead to self-examination about smugness and laziness at being on the inside. We might say that God doesn't want us to just wallow in divine grace. God expects more from us.
My guess is that all of us are in congregations where there is a very wide range of participation in the life of the community, and in the disciplines of faith, and in bearing proper fruit. Throughout Matthew there have been references to those whom we might call nominal believers.
Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.' [Mt 7:21-23]
As I noted earlier about choosing, in the above verse it is not about us knowing the Lord, but about the Lord knowing us.
Also the quote from Patte stated earlier, it is not enough just to know God, to accept the goodness of God, to come to the banquet for all the good food -- or, in more theological terms, to understand and appreciation justification by grace; the key is to also acknowledge the authority of God over one's life. This is underscored in the text that follows (our text for next week) about giving to God the things that are God's (22:21b). What things are God's? Those stamped with God's image. Can we seek benefits and good things from God without giving ourselves to God -- placing our lives under his authority? In both cases, whether one is part of the "called" or part of the "chosen/elect," it is God who does it; but it is our response that makes a difference. Is our "house" on rock or sand? Will it stand up to the storms?
Robert Smith (Matthew, Augsburg Commentary) says it this way:
Sharp warning to the new community! It is not sufficient to hold membership, to sit at table as invited guest, to have said yes instead of no. What is being promoted here is doing the Father's will, bearing fruit, being properly garbed. [p. 259]
Boring (Matthew, New Interpreter's Bible) concludes his comments with:
The theological point of 22:11-14 is that those who find themselves unexpectedly included may not presume on grace, but are warned of the dire consequences of accepting the invitation and doing nothing except showing up. By concluding in this manner, Matthew makes it clear that such pictures in which unfaithful Israel is condemned are not an encouragement to smugness on the part of his Christian readers. The "elect" are not the church as a replacement for Israel, but those finally accepted in the last judgment. The whole section, in fact, is directed to the Matthean reader. It is instruction and warning to insiders, not a description of the fate of outsiders, confessional language rather than objectifying report. At this point, Matthew does join his voice with his fellow Jewish convert, who laments the present rejection of Israel: "So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall" (1 Cor 10:12; cf. Romans 9-11). [p. 419]
I end with Long's [Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion] closing remarks on this text:
... to come into the church in response to the gracious, altogether unmerited invitation of Christ and then not conform one's life to that mercy is to demonstrate spiritual narcissism so profound that one cannot tell the difference between the wedding feast of the Lamb of God and happy hour in a bus station bar. [p. 248]
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1Added note by MGVHoffman (2005.09.29):
Brian's observations about the many (polloi) / few (oligoi) suggests the possibility of an interesting word play that is feasible in the Greek and might be even more plausible in an underlying Aramaic version of the saying. The words for many/few can also be taken in a qualitative sense instead of just a quantitative one. In this context, the expression might, therefore, be better rendered as: "The great/mighty are called, but the weak/little are chosen." Such a rendering would certainly fit better with the parable and would also be consistent with a general theme of Jesus' parables. BACK