Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14
Epistle: Philippians 4:4-13
Lesson: Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm: Psalm 23
CLB Commentary – Dr. David Veum
The Context: In Matthew 21:23ff the Pharisees questioned the authority of Jesus. They refused to answer his question about the source of John the Baptist’s ministry. He responded with a refusal to directly answer their question, but with an indirect response through three parables. These parables were open rebukes of the Pharisees’ failure to embrace the Son.
The first makes a simple point: The Pharisees outwardly have promised to do God’s will, but they have not. They have rejected the Messiah, the Son. The αμαρτολοι, in contrast, have repented and embraced the Son. It is obvious who has done the Father’s will.
The second is extremely pointed. The Pharisees, through their fathers, have killed God’s messengers, the prophets. They now are about to kill the Son, the One Whom they ought to revere far above the prophets. The threat/promise is clear: God will take their place, i.e., of being his “chosen” ones (a word that does not come up until the next parable), and give it to others, i.e., the Gentiles. God is about to make the stone they have rejected, the capstone. At this parable the Pharisees wanted to seize Jesus immediately, but they feared the people.
The third parable begins with Και αποκριθεις ο Ιησους. While this parable was likely spoken at another time—it does not have the simple: Τι δε υμιν δοκει transition to the 1st parable or the Αλλην παραβολην ακουσατε of the second. Rather, it more generically suggests that he spoke in parables to them again. The opening phrase clearly connects this parable with the first two in Matthew’s construction of the gospel.
The parable, then, has many parallels with the preceding, especially the attitude of the main characters towards the Son. They killed him in the first; they despised the king by skipping or hating the Son’s wedding in the second. The key difference is this: the first shows their attitude towards the Son—they were willing to kill him to get the vineyard for themselves; the second shows their attitude towards the king—they despised his invitation to his Son’s wedding and one person had the gall to come to the wedding without a wedding garment.
The Details: A king made a wedding feast for his son. He sent his servants to call those who had previously received an invitation to the wedding. Likely this reflects the Oriental practice of inviting to the wedding without the exact day being known. It is perhaps like our engagement announcement if we were to add the wedding invitation to the future unknown date.
When the day arrived, he sent his servants to invite them. They were not willing to come. So he sent other servants. This time they are told exactly what to say to those who previously had been invited: “Behold, I have prepared the supper. The meal has been prepared. Come unto the marriage feast.” Some were indifferent. They simply had no inclination to come and went away, one to a field, another to his business. Others reacted with hatred for the servants who were inviting them to the feast. They seized the servants (κρατεω: the same word used in vs 46 expressing the desire of the offended Pharisees towards Jesus) and abused and killed them.
To this the king reacted in anger. Sending his soldiers, he killed the murderers and burned their city.
Now a third time the king is concerned with filling his banquet hall. Again the king speaks: “The wedding feast is prepared. The ones having been invited proved themselves unworthy. Therefore, going into every entrance to the city, invite as many as you find to the marriage feast.” The servants did just this. The marriage feast was filled with both outwardly good people and people known to be immoral.
When they were all seated (reclining in that culture: ανακειμενων), the king came in to see all of the guests. There he saw someone who was not wearing a wedding garment. The king speaks for the third time in the parable: “Sir,¹ how did you enter in here not having a wedding garment?” The man was speechless.
At this the king announces his third judgment in the parable (1. He sent his troops. 2. He pronounced the ones having been called as unworthy.) “Binding him hand and foot, cast him outside into outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The final statement applies the parable as a warning to the Pharisees and to all who reject, ignore, or despise the invitation to the wedding feast or even the feast itself. “For many are called but few are chosen.” The similar sound of the words in Greek is missed in the translation. “For many are kletoi, but few are ekletoi. The expression is likely a Semitism, i.e., an expression that means, “For all are called, but not all are chosen.”
Some see a puzzle in a king being able to have a banquet feast prepared and send his armies at the same time, but it’s not a puzzle. The listeners would simply agree that the king had a right and a duty to respond that way to anyone who so despised his son’s wedding. But there are a couple of other puzzles.
The first is in the meaning of the wedding garment. Is it one provided by the king, or is it one that the guest provided for himself? The commentators are divided. Luther says it is “faith.” Lenski sees it as the Pauline robe of righteousness. Others see it as our response to grace. It is a warning to not only accept the invitation to the banquet, but also to begin to live like one so invited by grace.
An argument for both views could be made from Scripture. In Revelation 19:6-8 the sound of a great multitude and the sound of many waters and the sound of strong thunder are calling out their allelujah to the Lord God Almighty who reigns (as king: βασελευω). “Let us be filled with joy and be glad and give glory to him because the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride has prepared herself and it has been given (εδοθη from διδωμι, which virtually always means to give by grace) to her in order that she might be clothed with shining clean linen. For the linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” Here the garments are given (passive tense) and they represent righteous acts.
The rule of faith dictates that the garments are a gift from the king, but that the gift includes living like one who has been invited by grace to the banquet. God does not justify us without also beginning the work of sanctifying us.
From within the parable itself we discover that the source of the wedding garment is neither disclosed nor is it crucial to the understanding of the story. What the parable conveys is the attitude of the man towards the king and the marriage feast for his son. Whether he came in his grubby clothes or he refused to put on a garment provided, he despised the king, as did the first groups invited.
From the rule of faith and from the parable, then, the parable speaks to both believer and unbeliever. We can never enter the wedding feast of the Lamb in eternity unless we humbly receive the robe of righteousness provided for us through the cross. On the other hand, as believers we can become smug about having made the right choice and having accepted the invitation to the great banquet. We can unwittingly begin to despise the king himself by not seeking to have the same attitude as the king towards filling the marriage feast even if though it means inviting every possible person, even those who are outwardly immoral. As soon as we think that the “wedding garment” is something we have a right to and someone else doesn’t, we have imbibed the attitude of the Pharisees thinking of ourselves as the “chosen” and making ourselves unworthy of the banquet. We are taking off the robe.
The other puzzle in is the summary statement of Jesus. Again, the rule of faith and our Lutheran understanding of election interpret that “called” does not mean “called effectively.” It is used in the sense of “invited.” “God our Savior who would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Also, the word “chosen” does not mean God’s arbitrary choosing in eternity. It means that all who respond to the gracious invitation and receive the wedding garment by grace are the chosen ones of God. They can be sure of their election.
GOAL: I want my listeners to humbly ask God to give them the attitude of his heart towards those who have not heard the invitation to come to Christ for his free gift of righteousness.
MALADY: We show our attitude towards God the king both by rejecting his free gift of righteousness and by actively or passively denying it to others.
MEANS: God’s gracious invitation and the robe of Christ’s righteousness are freely given even to those who repent of despising them or thinking themselves worthy of them.
THEME: R.S.V.P. Today!
THESIS: God invites you to the marriage feast of His Son.
1. He has prepared the feast.
2. He provides the outfit.
3. Everyone is on his guest list.
4. Despising the invitation brings judgment.
1 Εταιρε is a respectful address but not a term of endearment. It is used in 20:13 to address the spokesman of those who had born the heat of the day in the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.