Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again 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.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then 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.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14 – NRSV)
Luke has a similar parable. Though in Luke it is not a wedding feast but simply “a great supper”. There are also other variations in Luke’s account.
This parable of the wedding feast is the third of three parables that Matthew has placed in the middle of a series of controversial moments between Jesus and the religious authorities. “Sons” feature in all three of these parables.
The theme of repentance – metanoia – for the sake of the kingdom is a central theme for Matthew. Those who persistently defy the call to repentance are the religious authorities. With this in mind, “we should understand kingdom as meaning ‘rule’ rather than ‘realm’; that is to say, the expression is dynamic: it points us to God as doing something, as actively ruling, rather than to an area or a group of people over whom he is sovereign. The kingdom is something that happens rather than something that exists” (Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew , Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992, 53).
Daniel J Harrington writes: “The distinctive motif of Matt 22:1–14 is invitation. …. For Matthew the parable of the wedding feast helped to explain the mixed reception of the gospel within Israel (as in chapter 13). God through his servants, through Jesus, and through Jesus’ disciples issued the invitation. Those to whom it was most appropriate—the Jewish leaders—not only refused it but some even did violence to the messengers. Therefore the invitation was offered to people out on the highways, and they accepted. This group may have represented the marginal people within Israel (‘tax collectors and sinners’) who accepted Jesus’ message. Or it may even explain the presence of Gentiles within the Jewish Christian community (see Rom 11:12, ‘their failure means riches for the Gentiles’). Whatever the symbolic significance of the wedding garment was, the parable ends with the warning that admission into God’s banquet is no guarantee of staying there” (Daniel J Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007, 307-308).
a king: The kingdom is compared to “a king who ….”. The king takes the initiative and issues an invitation. To be invited to this wedding banquet of the son is a very significant thing. How is the king’s invitation regarded? With contempt!
Again he sent other slaves: Maybe there is a mistake? Perhaps they lost the invitation? Possibly the servants did not find the right folk? The king cannot believe what is happening. He is deeply affronted, as you would expect.
seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them: This is perhaps of a piece with Jesus’ lament: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Matthew 23:37). It is also of a piece with the parable of the wicked husbandmen immediately prior – Matthew 21:33-46.
He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city: This may represent a later addition in the light of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70CE.
invite everyone you find: Anyone and everyone is invited. You do not get to this banquet because you have done something special, you get there simply because you are invited.
he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe: This represents a particularly troubling aspect of the parable. Daniel Harrington writes: “The absence of the wedding garment carries some symbolic significance; what it is, however, difficult to know. A prior problem is how someone unexpectedly invited to the banquet was to be wearing clothes suitable for the wedding banquet” (Daniel J Harrington, op cit, 306). Some scholars argue that the original parable ended with “the wedding hall filled with guests”, omitting the drama with the man who has no garment. Leon Morris writes to the contrary: “The fact is that, as we read this Gospel, this section certainly belongs to the parable of the wedding feast. The story Matthew relates has a further point to make. Patte notes that tensions like that between verses 10 and 11 occur elsewhere in this Gospel, and ‘such tensions signal that at such places in the text Matthew conveys major points (convictions) that are surprising for the readers because they involve a view unknown to them—a view that Matthew strives to convey to them. In brief, the concluding verses, 22:11–14, should be considered an integral part of Matthew’s parable; they express its main point’ (p. 301). Jesus says that the king came in to see the guests. We know little about customs at wedding banquets in first-century Judaism, but this seems eminently reasonable, all the more so since the king would not have known whom his slaves had brought in. So he came in to make his presence known and to see for himself who had come to the feast. He found a man not wearing a wedding garment. … A marriage is a time when most people would wear appropriate clothing (cf. Isa. 61:10; Ezek. 16:10). In this case, when a king took all sorts of poor people right from the streets into the banqueting hall, it is not impossible that he made available suitable clothing and that this man did not bother to make use of what the king provided (though evidence that this sort of thing was done in ancient times is lacking; Lenski, however, draws attention to Gen. 45:22; Judg. 14:12, 19; 2 Kings 5:22; 10:22; Esth. 6:8; 8:15; Rev. 19:8, 9; p. 857). Whether that was the way it was or not, the words imply that suitable clothing was available and this man had not made use of the opportunity.” (Leon Morris, op cit, 551-552.)
The garment of gratitude
In today’s Gospel – Matthew 22:1-14 – we have the third of three “parables” offered by Jesus amidst the tense and confronting circumstances of his time in Jerusalem. Like the other two, this “parable” may be read either as parable or allegory. As allegory, we can clearly see references to both Israel and the early Christian community: “Matthew has here united two parables, to embrace the whole history of salvation. The former underlines yet again the lesson of 21:33-46 that salvation is to pass from Jews to others (1-10); the latter parable warns that even for Christians mere membership of the Church is not enough” (Henry Wansbrough OSB, “St Matthew” in A New Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, London: Nelson, 1969, 733g).
Let’s consider it as a parable and focus on that awkward moment when the man without the garment is discovered and cast out.
This king has shown great generosity, telling his servants, “Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet”. The king’s largesse makes all the difference when we come to interpret that moment when the man is discovered without the proper attire: “A marriage is a time when most people would wear appropriate clothing (cf. Isa. 61:10; Ezek. 16:10). In this case, when a king took all sorts of poor people right from the streets into the banqueting hall, it is not impossible that he made available suitable clothing and that this man did not bother to make use of what the king provided” (Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew , Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992, 551-552.)
We might think of the garment offered to this stranger from the streets, as a “garment of gratitude”. Although he has accepted the invitation to come to the banquet, he has not accepted the mutuality involved – a mutuality that would be expressed by gratitude. He has not fully embraced the invitation therefore. He has in fact refused to be fully part of the celebration. His dismissal recognizes his lack of gratitude – his choice.
Accept the garment of gratitude that is part of your being born, your invitation to the banquet we call “life”! Put on the garment of gratitude each day. Give thanks to God at the beginning of the day. From time to time throughout each day, give God thanks. Give God thanks at the end of the day.
It might go something like this: “Thank you dear Lord for today! Thank you for my life, for my family and friends! Thank you for my mind and my imagination, for my body and my health – such as it may be! Thank you for the roof over my head, the shirt on my back, the trees in the park and the moon at night! Thank you! Thank you!” Gratitude begets joy. Gratitude is good preparation for the great celebration of thanksgiving – the Eucharist. Grateful people are likeable people.