Matthew 22.1-14
The Weird and Wacky Parable of the Wedding Banquet

I don’t know about you, but I find this parable disturbing, to say the least.  One commentary I reviewed this week called it a doozy, another called it a challenge for preaching. No kidding!  And when I read stuff like this in the bible that unsettles me, I need to look into it more deeply to figure out why it bothers me, and what I’m not understanding.   We need to get perspective on this bizarre little story. Here’s one commentators take on it: 

 An initial invitation to come to a feast in honor of the king’s son is met with rejection (verse 3). That’s odd (nobody turns down a royal summons), but not deeply troubling. A second invitation sweetens the deal with descriptions of the elaborate preparations (verse 4) — it’s going to be delicious! Who wouldn’t come to this party? But those invited are apparently unimpressed, and return to business as usual (verse 5). Again, this is unusual behavior — but it’s the kind of strangeness we have learned to expect in a parable.

But then things go completely off the rails. We watch in horror as the servants sent by the king to announce the party are seized, abused, and murdered (verse 6). We didn’t see that coming! How did the stakes suddenly get so high? And the weirdness and violence are just getting started. In retaliation, the king goes to war against his own people. Enraged by their actions he unleashes an army. Before we know it, the murderers themselves are murdered, and a city (presumably the king’s own city!) is a pile of smoldering ash (verse 7).

But it gets weirder still. With our heads still spinning, we learn that the dinner is still on (verse 8)! Now the invitations go out again, this time to commoners on the “main streets” of the (destroyed?) city (verse 9). Apparently, while soldiers pillaged and slashed — all the while as great flames devoured the buildings outside the palace walls — little Sterno burners toiled away silently under the sumptuous dishes in the great hall, keeping the meal hot for the eventual guests!  In other words, this is not a realistic story.[1]

And we need to keep that in mind, it’s not to be taken literally.  It’s another of Jesus’ hyperbolic, exaggerated stories that help make the point.  Remember the times that Matthew was writing in, and who he is writing for, a community of folk mainly of Jewish background, trying valiantly to be followers of Christ and being persecuted for doing so.  This story is an allegory of salvation history for a community in conflict with other Jews, and “is a tool for thinking about the meaning of that conflict.” [2] At this point in his gospel, Matthew is focussing on the kingdom of God and who has what authority. 

Recall two weeks ago we read from chapter 21 about the chief priests and elders asking Jesus by what authority he was doing all those things—riding into town on a donkey creating a one-man parade, overturning the tables of the temple marketplace, teaching and healing in the temple.  And then Jesus told the story of the two sons who were asked by their dad to work in the vineyard, the first one said no, but later went and worked anyway, the other said ‘Sure dad, I’ll do that’ but then didn’t go.   If we hadn’t diverted from the lectionary to celebrate Harvest-Thanksgiving last Sunday we would have read about another kingdom parable also full of hyperbole-- the landowner who planted a vineyard, and then leased it out.  When time came to collect payment for the rent, the tenants killed the slaves on two separate occasions and even killed the owner’s son.  When Jesus asked the priests and elders what the landowner should do to the tenants, they said the tenants should be put to a miserable death and the land given to other tenants who would respect the rental agreement.  And now today we have a third and even more exaggerated story to really expand on the issues.  We are not to look at these parables and interpret them literally.   They’re stories told to make a point.  Ok, so, what are the points in today’s story, you might be thinking?  And that’s a fair question! What is it trying to say, and maybe not saying? 

Well, most commentators I perused this week seem to think it’s an allegory, which means it’s full of symbolic representations.  It’s not too difficult for us to figure out the cast of characters. We have the king, who’s giving a wedding banquet for his son.   God as King is a classic association.  And we know Jesus spoke of himself as the son of God, and used a wedding banquet to describe his time on earth with the disciples and himself as the groom.  And the allegory of a banquet is also used to describe what it will be like at the end of times for those who are with God.   The slaves or messengers we can presume to be the prophets and others who are God’s workers.   The guests we can easily presume are the people, the cast at large so to speak, and we may go so far as to think of the invited guests as the Jewish people and the ones called in from the streets as the Gentiles, the non-Jews in the community.   And as typical of people everywhere and of every time period, some people can behave badly and some very badly indeed.   

The King’s invitation to his people is spurned, and he tries more than once, the second time even sending messengers with enticing invitations of wonderful food.  God calls all of us to come to him, to be with him, to be with Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  God’s call is never for evil, God’s call is to abundance and goodness and life.

So the question is, of course, what is our response to God’s call? We’ve been given free will; it is totally our choice whether we respond to God or not.  We have so many other things in life that require our attention, it can be easy to ignore it or miss noticing it for what it is.    Hearing God’s call isn’t always obvious.  Sometimes it’s a fleeting thought that turns into a niggle.  Which of course can be ignored as just our imaginations, and we question where that thought is even coming from.    That’s why spending time in prayer is so important—it’s hard to hear God in all the noise in our lives, so many competing responsibilities and activities.  And if God’s call is to try something that really challenging us in some way, it’s harder to say yes to that, admittedly.  So if you get that “niggle”, don’t ignore it, spend time considering it, take it to the Lord in prayer, like that old hymn tells us.  If it’s of God, God will keep trying.  God will use others ways and means and people to clarify the message—helping us to discern the difference between God’s call and our imaginations!   We too can spurn it and the messengers, and we may even treat the messengers poorly, like the invitees in our story did.  God never calls us to do anything that is contrary to Jesus’ teachings—God only calls us to good, to love, to be there for others.  God never calls us to anything bad!

Now, our being called by God is an invitation to living God’s way, the way Christ taught, to live a life in the abundance of God’s love and care. That’s what the banquet analogy denotes.  But what does that mean for us as people of faith, responding to God’s call? Another commentator I heard this week put it this way:   “The call puts a responsibility and accountability in your heart.  You’re called to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God and there’s going to be certain ways of being and doing.”[3]   Like the fellow that accepted the invitation but didn’t bother to wear the proper wedding robe, he was dealt with rather severely.  There are expectations of behaviour when you accept God’s call; you accept living God’s way, living Christ’s way.  And it goes deeper of course than wearing the right clothes.  To truly be a Christian is to model your life after Christ, and Christ’s teachings. It goes deeper than just following the dress code!  

I’ll be honest, I thought that last part of the parable a little harsh—a guy right off the street accepts the invitation to the wedding banquet and gets very seriously dealt with for not wearing the appropriate clothing for the event.  I had to question that, and apparently other more intellectual bible scholars have done so before me!  My Oxford Bible noted that these verses about the man without the wedding robe were most probably from another parable that just simply got tacked onto the wedding banquet parable at some point in the final editing of the gospel probably because both parables are about weddings.  I can see that happening actually.  And this little extra story is only in Matthew’s gospel, not in Luke’s.    

This parable explains to us that God calls everyone regardless of who they are to join God at the banquet table, “both good and bad”.  God is indiscriminate in God’s choice, all are called to come to God, because all of us are God’s children, regardless of how we may judge them or their lifestyles.  Jesus called everyone, even those pesky sinners!  Matthew chapter 5, verse 45:  “(God) makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong.” (Mt 5.45 CEV)   But clearly, as this little extra addendum to our story tells us, we will all be judged on our choices and decisions.  And remember the parable of the weeds growing in the wheat field?  When the servants asked the Master what to do with the weeds, he said to let them both grow, for to pull the weeds would damage the growing wheat.  And when the crop was harvested, the weeds would be separated and burned. 

So yes, we will all be judged when judgement day comes, and that decision is God’s.  There is some comfort in that for me, while God knows I’m far from perfect and I too will be judged, knowing that God judges those who unequivocally choose evil lifestyles, deliberately are harmful to others and intentionally do seriously bad things, I know that they too will face judgement day.  Will they be “thrown into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth?”  I don’t really know what that means, and it sounds like more hyperbole to explain that judgment day will come.  But what I do know is that God never gives up on us—any of us—that forgiveness is available to all who repent and turn to God. “Because God so loved the world  ... that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3.16 NIV)

[1] Lance Pape’s Commentary from :

[2] Ibid

[3] Karoline Lewis in Working Preacher.