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The King's Wedding Feast

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Proper 23

Pentecost 21

Ordinary Time 28

11. The King's Wedding Feast

Matthew 22:1-14

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, mistreated 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."



Context of the Lectionary

The First Lesson. (Exodus 32:1-14) The passage recounts

the experience of the people of Israel in the wilderness when

Moses had gone up the mountain of Sinai. They assumed that he

was not returning. They appealed to Aaron for a god to lead

them. He got from the people all the gold of their jewelry and

from that produced the golden calf. The people proceeded with an

orgy of worship. Moses came down and discovered what was

happening. In his anger he shattered the tablets which contained

the ten commandments. Moses then had to forestall the wrath of

God who was inclined to blot out the people for their idolatry.

Only Moses' pleading and willingness also to be blotted out

turned aside the judgment upon the people.

The Second Lesson. (Philippians 4:1-9) Paul in his

concluding message to the Philippians gives some specific

instructions for members of the church. He also admonishes the

church to continued faithfulness. He urges them to think on the

things that will edify and strengthen them in such faithfulness.

He assures them that it will bring genuine personal peace.

Gospel. (Matthew 22:1-14) The kingdom of heaven is

compared to a wedding feast. Many are invited but refuse the

invitation. Finally all kinds of guests are gathered to

celebrate the great event.

Psalm. (Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23) The psalm begins with the

call to praise the Lord, affirming his goodness and appealing to

the Lord for deliverance and prosperity. It then goes on to

acknowledge the sins of ancestors and recounts the episode of the

golden calf as given in the first lesson.

Context of the Scriptures

The parable is part of the opposition which Jesus



after the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and leading up to his

crucifixion. It is part of several parables which explain the

opposition and the meaning of it. The opposition was primarily

centered in the officials of both the religious and the political

community of the time.

Matthew in writing the parable probably took some liberties

by embellishing it in light of some developments which make the

consequences of the opposition even more graphic, such as the

fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 A.D. (See verse 7 about

the burning of the city.)

The parable may be compared to a somewhat similar passage in

Luke 14:16-24.


22:2 The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a

wedding banquet for his son.

22:3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the

wedding, but they would not come.

22:4 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."

22:5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm,

another to his business,

22:6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and

killed them.

22:7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those

murderers, and burned their city.

22:8 Then he said to his slaves, "The wedding is ready, but those

invited were not worthy.

22:9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you

find to the wedding banquet."

22:10 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.


14:16 Someone gave a gread dinner and invited many.

14:17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to

those who had been invited, "Come; for everything is ready now."

14:18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first

said to

him, "I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see

it; please accept my regrets."

14:19 Another said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am

going to try them out; please accept my regrets."

14:20 Another said, "I have just been married, and therefore I

cannot come."

14:21 So the slave returned and reported this to his master.

Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave,

"Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring

in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame."

14:22 And the slave said, "Sir, what you ordered has been done,

and there is still room."

14:23 Then the master said to the slave, "Go out into the roads

and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be


14:24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste

my dinner."

In the Matthean form we really have two parables (The

Wedding Feast in 22:1-10 and The Wedding Robe in 22:11-14),

whereas in Luke we have only one. If, as is generally assumed,

parables in their original form had a single message, then the

form recorded in Matthew has added features which allow for more

than one message. One message deals with the rejection of the

invitation to be part of the kingdom of heaven. The other is the

rejection of those who are in the institutional expression of the

kingdom of heaven, but are not worthy of it because of their

impurities. Luke, on the other hand, is much simpler. It deals

only with the excuses that persons make and the alternative

offering of the kingdom when those most expected to respond do

not accept the invitation. He


does elaborate more fully on the excuses which persons make.

Luke apparently was not aware of the parable of the wedding robe.

No parallels to Matthew's parable of the wedding robe exist

elsewhere in the Gospels.

A feast figures as an expression elsewhere in the New

Testament. John uses Jesus' participation in the wedding at Cana

as a frontice piece for his gospel (John 2:1-11). Jesus was

known and criticized for his feasting with sinners and tax

collectors. Matthew 25:1-24 has the parable of the wise and

unwise virgins who are included or excluded from the wedding due

to their foresight or lack of preparation for it. A wedding

feast is also one of the figures used in Revelation 14:7-9.


Precis of the Pericope

Jesus' initial message was an invitation to enter the

kingdom of heaven. He experienced repeated rejection of the

invitation, particularly among the leaders of the spiritual

community who should have been most receptive to it. Instead

they were the ones who most opposed his ministry. The parable

suggests that the invitation to enter the kingdom of heaven is

similar to a king who holds a wedding feast. It was customary at

the time to send a preliminary announcement of the approaching

wedding to allow time to prepare for it. The parable suggests

that God's earlier messengers, the prophets and probably also

John the Baptist, were not received. Instead they were harassed

and sometimes murdered. People continued "business as usual"

despite the invitation to the great opportunity offered them.

When the spiritual leaders reject the message and eliminate the

messengers, the invitation is extended to others. Jesus probably

referred to the sinners and tax collectors who responded readily.

Matthew, writing some 40 years later, would have also understood

it to apply to the Gentiles who were now part of the Christian


The second parable, Matthew 22:11-14, deals with a different

problem that no doubt existed within the church. While the


kingdom was open to the good and bad alike, persons who came into

the church needed to lead lives worthy of the grace offered in

the invitation. Membership in the church was not sufficient

guarantee of salvation. A life had to conform to the demands of

the kingdom once a person responded and claimed to be part of the


Key Words in the Parable

1. "King." (v. 2) If the message is about the kingdom of

heaven, then God is the King. It is reminiscent of the time in

the Old Testament when Israel had no king but Yahweh, before the

anointing of Saul as king under Samuel. Thus the wedding feast

is no ordinary occasion. It would be a great honor to be invited

to such a feast.

2. "Slaves." (v. 3) God uses servants to announce the

invitation to accept his lordship and to enjoy the privileges and

pleasures of honored guests. The prophets and preachers of

former times would be those who had issued the invitation on

behalf of God. Jesus took upon himself the role of the slave or

servant (see Philippians 2:6, 7). In retrospect Matthew would

also identify Jesus as among the slaves or servants who were

slaughtered for carrying the message of invitation which was


3. "Invite Everyone ... to the Banquet." (v. 9) Jesus

turned to the sinners and tax collectors with the invitation. He

increasingly found receptivity among those persons while the

spiritual leadership rejected his claims and his message. Again,

Matthew, writing much later, would also recognize that Gentiles

were responding in greater numbers than the Jews. Birthright did

not guarantee being worthy of inclusion in the kingdom. The

invitation has become universal, breaking the bounds of any

natio nal or ethnic particularism.

4. "Wearing a Wedding Robe." (v. 11) According to reports,

the custom of the time was that persons waited around the


king's palace, hoping to be invited into a feast. That would be

especially true when a wedding feast was expected. Most persons

would come in their finery, prepared for a wedding. Some, while

waiting, apparently soiled their garments and did not have time

to get them to the fuller to have them cleansed. By the time the

gospel was composed, the church would have existed long enough

that some would have slipped back into practices that were not

proper for the kingdom. The parable warns that response to the

invitation requires a proper life to accord with the

participation in the kingdom. While the invitation is given

without regard to whether one deserves it Ä "they found, both

good and bad" (v. 10) Ä the joys of life in the kingdom are

canceled if one does not prove worthy of being in the presence of

the king.

5. "Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth." (v. 13) This expression

is symbolic of the distress of those who have missed the meaning

of real life in the kingdom. To be out of the presence of the

king who is the source of life leaves persons in darkness. They

then experience deep sorrow and regret at having missed the point

of what life is all about.


The parable of the wedding feast has some problems

associated with it. A danger which many face is to try to press

every detail of the parable for meaning. It is best to keep in

mind that a parable has a single point generally.

Question 1 Ä Is life in the kingdom of heaven one of joy?

Too often persons view religion as negative and repressive. They

know about the ten commandments with "Thou shalt not." They have

probably been more impressed with the woes and threats of the

gospel accounts than they are with the blessings. Jesus uses the

image of the wedding feast to suggest the joy of life in the

kingdom. It is contrasted with life outside the kingdom.


Question 2 Ä Who are the slaves sent by the King today? How

can you discern who bears an authentic message of invitation? Do

we still reject the messengers? David Koresh of Waco notoriety

claimed to be a messiah, a chosen messenger of God. He attracted

a number of dedicated followers. The federal government denied

his claim. Earlier the Jonestown episode had a similar gathering

that followed the leader from California to Guiana. Both of

these situations ended in major tragedies. How do you validate

who is an authentic messenger? Does the assassination of persons

such as Martin Luther King, Jr., or Oscar Romero in El Salvador

show that we still slaughter the bearers of God's invitation to

the wedding feast? Some thought they were also false messengers

who had to be eliminated.

Question 3 Ä To what extent does the parable justify an

understanding of the anger and wrath of God? The destruction of

Jerusalem was probably understood by Matthew and the early church

as a consequence of the anger of God for the rejection and

crucifixion of Jesus. Does God bring catastrophe on both the

good and evil in a city such as Jerusalem as a manifestation of

his anger? Someone suggested that the so-called "500 year flood"

of the Mississippi might be related to the presence of increasing

numbers of gambling boats on the river. Would God impose the

suffering on such a wide area to make people aware of the

consequence of such an evil?

How do you deal with the wrath of God in consigning the

unrighteous to outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth?

Jesus seems to have presented both a loving, gracious, and

forgiving God and an angry, wrathful God. How do you harmonize

the two understandings of God's nature?

Question 4 Ä Is Christianity exclusive or inclusive? The

conclusion of the double parable is "For many are called, but few

are chosen" (v. 14). The invitation seems to be wide open and

inclusive. Both the good and the bad are brought into the feast

(v. 10). The one who is improperly attired is cast out to

darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth (v. 13). The kingdom

has its demands.


In that sense it is exclusive. But the invitation is universal.

The choice is left open to the person who may respond positively

or negatively. While persons cannot earn entrance into the

kingdom, they can prove themselves unworthy by their rejection of

its demands once they have entered into it.

Question 5 Ä What is the relationship between the kingdom

and the church? In contemporary society the church primarily

enjoys acceptance and status. Not many Christians in democratic

societies are suffering persecution. Rarely are preachers who

proclaim the kingdom message slaughtered. Is it because the

church has leavened the society, or is it because the church no

longer presents the radical invitation to kingdom living? Has

the church as it lives today made too easy an accommodation with

the world around it? To be in the church do people not have to

make real choices between the values of the kingdom and the

values found in their work on the farm, in the factory, in

business, in marrying and divorcing? Does the church no longer

represent the coming of the kingdom, the wedding feast of God?

Question 6 Ä Is it true that many are called but few are

chosen? (v. 14) Is Christianity only for the minority? Lawrence

Kohlberg proposes that persons go through various stages of moral

development: they begin with deference to superior power, obeying

rules to avoid punishment; they move to self-gratification,

proceed to mutual relationships, then to maintaining the social

order, on to a social contract legalism, and finally orient to

universal principles where they act according to what everyone

everywhere should do at all times. Kohlberg suggests that most

people operate at two levels, a lower and the next higher level.

Robert Coles, a child psychiatrist, disagrees with

Kohlberg's proposal that movement from a lower level to the next

higher is dependent upon stages of development that are age

related. Coles does accept the general idea of the order of

levels of moral action. Did Jesus recognize that few reach the

highest stage of moral and spiritual development? All are

confronted in life with the call for the highest level of moral

and spiritual response, but in


reality only few accept the responsibility to act according to

universal principles, that is to live in the kingdom of heaven.

Permanent Preaching Values of the Parable

1. The character of the King tells us something about the

nature of the kingdom. It is in dealing with the character of

the king as described in the parable that one should be careful

about pressing the details of the story too far.

A. The character of the king. The character of the king is

more correctly portrayed in his readiness to offer the invitation

to all, regardless of how worthy they are initially. The rage of

the king is more a human characteristic than one of God.

Nevertheless, God operates within a moral order which he created

and life has consequences as suggested in the second part of the

two parables.

B. Who is eligible for citizenship in the kingdom? Here the

grace of God is manifested in the openness of the invitation. It

is not a privileged few determined by some arbitrary standard of

wealth, power, ethnicity, or other human measures which decides

who may come to the feast. All are welcome if they are willing

to submit to God's gracious rule.

C. Requirements of citizenship? Once in the kingdom,

certain demands are placed upon its members. They live in

obedience to the King whom they have accepted as Lord over their

lives. Some have suggested, for example, that the Sermon on the

Mount, especially the beatitudes, gives the qualifications of

citizens in the kingdom.

D. The benefits of citizenship. Enjoying the presence of

the King and the largess of his grace is a primary benefit. One

lives the festive life in the kingdom.

2. Who has been invited? The parable suggests who may be

offered entrance into the kingdom and how the invitation is



A. The Gracious Invitation. It is freely offered to all so

that they may enter by grace.

B. The Mediated Message. The task of the messenger is to

make the invitation to be attractive.

C. Membership is Self-Selected. While the offer is freely

given and all are invited, persons must respond and be ready to

participate in accordance with the nature of the wedding feast.

3. The Danger of Doing Good. The good may be an obstacle to

the best. Persons should establish life priorities. The kingdom

defines those priorities for true living.

A. The obstacle of work and family.

B. The obstacle of seeking results above all.

C. The obstacle of wrong means for good ends.

4. The Divine Diversity. God seeks to bring into union all

manner of persons. The church should unite all people in a

colorful array of diversity.

A. The church shatters economic barriers.

B. The church shatters racial barriers.

C. The church shatters gender barriers.

D. The church shatters cultural barriers.


The customs for a wedding feast in Jesus' day are different

from our own. The preacher will need to translate the parable in

a fashion that makes sense to people today. In a time when

religious tolerance is generally promoted in western society the

preacher will need to distinguish between tolerance of other

persons and the recognition that the kingdom has demands that not

everyone is willing to accept.

Two invitations were sent by the king. To the first

invitation people declined because they were too preoccupied with

the daily affairs of life. They were too busy with their

routines to give


heed to their spiritual lives. They were so concerned with

making a living that they failed to make a life.

The people who were given the second invitation were not

simply indifferent. They were in active rebellion against the

king. They did not like the message so they killed the


The question to be posed is whether we miss the opportunity

to enjoy the blessings of the kingdom because of indifference and

neglect or are we engaged in active rebellion against the claims

of the King on our life.

Illustrative Material

1. Religion a burden? An elderly Dutch couple toured

American churches with a group. Toward the end of the trip as

they sat resting while the other members looked at an impressive

government building, the couple mused about their observations of

churches of the same denomination in two different areas. They

wondered why the members of the churches in one area seemed to be

carried by their religion while the members of the same

denomination in another area seemed to be carrying their religion

as a burden.

2. Is joy excluded? A snowbound minister of a New England

church decided that the only way he could get to the church on

Sunday morning was to skate along a frozen river. He did so.

After the morning service the elders asked him to wait while they

had a consultation. Eventually they asked him to join them. The

head of the session said they had some concern about his skating

to church. He then told the pastor that they really had only one

question, "Did you or did you not enjoy it?"

3. Doing wrong to do good. George DuPre of Calgary, Canada,

reported that he had been a British agent in France during World

War II. He was captured by the German Gestapo and underwent

cruel torture. He refused to disclose the names of his

colleagues in the French underground resistance movement. But

the story proved to be a hoax. He confessed that it was not true



explained that he invented the story and others so that the Boy

Scouts and other groups would listen to him with respect. He

thought that by so doing he would be more able to influence them

for good.


A woman who worked for an institution embezzled large sums

of money. She never benefitted personally from the funds she

took. She gave all the money to charitable organizations with

whose purposes she had sympathy, but she did not have the

resources to support them from her salary. Eventually she was

discovered and had to pay the price for misuse of other's money.

4. Doing good for the wrong reason.

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain.

Temptation shall not come in this kind again.

The last temptation is the greatest treason:

To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

T. S. Eliot, "Murder In The Cathedral"


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