2011-08-12 - Parable of the Wedding Feast
Part 1 ~ Based on a Sermon Originally Preached 2006-03-29
I'd like to share something that I enjoy studying parables. Other religious teachers used parables but Jesus was the master parable maker. Two Old Testament examples showing this form of teaching was used before Jesus can be found in Jotham's story of the trees picking a king found in Judges 9:7-15 and Nathan's parable to David about the rich man and the sheep in 2 Samuel 12:1-6. Jesus used this form of teaching many times. Depending on how you count them, there are somewhere between thirty and sixty parables in the four gospels.
A parable is sometimes defined as "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning". That definition is okay but perhaps a better one would be "a story of familiar things representing unfamiliar things". In understanding the unfamiliar things we have to be careful not to make too much of the details as sometimes they may just be there to make the story more real. However, at other times, they may have a deep allegorical point. To confuse things more parables may have layers and a detail at one level of understanding may have meaning but not at a second level.
The understanding of parables must be balanced. To understand them you must first look at the context and answer these basic questions. What was going on at the time? To whom was Jesus speaking? Why was he talking to them? Sometimes the gospels answer all these questions and other times the parable is presented on its own without clues on context.
Jesus may have told the crowds or his opponents a parable for one purpose but told the same parable to his disciples for another purpose. As an example, the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:4-10 is told to the scribes & Pharisees to answer criticisms of his work but is viewed as part of the disciples' instruction in Matthew 18:1,12-14. This implies that parables have layers. To me it seems that they often have three layers.
With that information in mind let's read and examine Matthew 22:1-14 The Parable of the Wedding Feast.
Before analyzing the parable, a quick recap of the story, looking at some cultural background issues, is in order. In the first seven verses, we see the invitation is rejected. It was customary to send two invitations: one "early warning" so people would keep calendars clear and second with the final plans. The people had all been told that there was to be a big wedding party and a fantastic buffet with all the fixings but no one would commit to attend. Clearly, these people were not Baptists because we Baptists will show up at anything if there's food. Looking at verse three, we see this was the second invitation to the king's selected guests. In verse four, we see the patient king sending messengers a second time with the second invitation. Some people ignored the messengers and went about their regular work while others became abusive and murderous. The furious king sent his army to kill them all and burn the city. In verses eight to ten, we see that the guest list is expanded. The king sends messengers to anyone and everyone the good, the bad, and the ugly. This time, many people accept the free meal deal. They all come and fill the hall. Food was great; music was great. This was the happening place to be. It all seemed good until you get to verse eleven. Then there's this man without his wedding garments on. At that time, clothes were often provided to guests by the host but the man did not wear what was given to him. I imagine he must have thought well this robe that I bought was good enough for my last party and for that other man's wedding so by golly I'm just gonna wear it. He just liked his own clothes better and wore them. The king was not happy when he spotted this fellow from across the room. He goes over to him and has him thrown out of the festivities into outer darkness, the darkness of night. They would have been feasting at night in well-lit courtroom but this man was cast out.
In exploring why Jesus told the parable to whom he did when he did, we know that Jesus is telling it to the Pharisees, as their opposition to him reaches its climax. Looking at Matthew 21:46 just before this parable and verse fifteen just after, we can see some of that conflict. The conflict had been intense and public. Repeatedly, Jesus had made these "wise leaders" look like fools as they tried to make him look bad. Now, he speaks to them in righteous wrath when all hope of his acceptance by the Jewish leadership is gone.
Within this frame of reference, we understand that God is the king who selected the Israelites as the first-choice guests to the wedding feast. The first invitation was sent through the prophets. Now the day of the wedding is drawing close. Jesus and disciples come saying the kingdom is at hand. They are the second set of messengers. Jews, particularly the leaders, ignore it and even get downright nasty so the call is extended to others. The call shifts from the religious to the sinners. It went from the righteous elite to the commoners - fishermen, prostitutes, publicans, and all sinners. They are freely given robes of righteousness but some still try to come to Jesus with their own robes. One example of someone coming with his own clothes is the rich young ruler who came wrapped in Commandment obedience and went away sorrowfully in Matthew 19:16-22. In this parable, Jesus made it plain that God would destroy the little kingdom of the religious leaders.
Until next time ...
All scripture references from KJV unless otherwise noted