Matthew 22:1-14 - The parable of the wedding banquet
We come this morning in our series on the parables of the kingdom to the parable of the wedding banquet. Ooh! we might think, a wedding reception, that will be a nice and happy parable. The kingdom of God is going to be like a great big celebratory feast. And at one level we must not miss that. In the book of Revelation we are told “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (rev. 19:9). It is a happy occasion. Good company, good food and everyone happy. But by the time we get to the end of this parable I think we might feel as if the rug has been pulled from under feet, because this is actually a very sad parable. As Tom Wright says, “it doesn’t say what we want it to. We want to hear a nice story about God throwing the party open to everyone. We want to be ... ‘inclusive’, to let everyone in. We don’t want to know about judgement on the wicked, or about demanding standards of holiness, or about weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
But in this story, people (those originally invited) turn down God’s invitation and are judged for it and then when others come in, one of them is ejected for not wearing the right clothes. It all seems very harsh. But the truth is that there is a toughness to God’s love, and it is tough because God actually cares about us, just as good parent scares about how their children behave and what sort of adults they will grow into. As we look a little closer at this parable, we can see that there are three parts to it. First vv.1-7 there are those who were originally invited, then in vv 8-10 there are those who replaced the original guests, and finally in vv 11-14 there is the person who wore the wrong clothes
1. vv. 1-7 Those who were originally invited;
The parable takes its first surprising turn when those who were originally invited to the banquet refuse to come, and what is worse, some of them beat up the messengers who come with the joyful news that all is now ready for the feast. Many commentators believe that Jesus is speaking here to the religious leaders. Of all people they were the ones who claimed to be looking forward to the coming of the Messiah and yet when he came they would not respond to his invitation to follow him. But here is a warning not just for the Jewish religious leaders of the time, but to any of us who think of ourselves as ‘good religious people’ that we must not let our religion blind us the reality of Jesus and his call to follow him. Sadly it is all too easy to be a good ‘church’ person but to refuse to deal personally with Jesus and to repent, trust in him and follow him. That is the first point Jesus is making - do not let your religiosity stop you coming to me.
2. vv. 8-10 - those from the highways
Jesus then turns in verses 8-10 to those who he knows will respond to his message. The king in the parable sends out his servants to the ‘street corners’ (v. 8) or as the KJV of Luke’s version memorable puts it ‘to the highways and byways’ (Lk 14:23). There are those who will respond to the invitation of the King and they are a right mixed bag - v.10- ‘all the people they could find, both good and bad’. The religious leaders may have rejected Jesus but many ordinary people did respond to his invitation - crooked tax collectors, prostitutes, terrorists, ordinary working people like fishermen, Roman centurions. Here is a stark reminder that the message of the gospel - the good news of about Jesus - is for all kinds of people and when we share it lovingly we should expect that many will respond positively. And so we then hear in v. 10 that ‘the wedding hall was filled with guests’. Wouldn’t it have been great if the parable had ended there. I think most of us would be pretty happy with that as an ending.
3. vv 11-14 - no wedding clothes
But the parable doesn’t end there. There is a sting in the tale. One of the guests isn’t suitably dressed and as a result v. 13 says ‘he is bound hand and foot and thrown out’. If this parable really was just about a wedding then that would be a completely over the top reaction. But this is a parable of the kingdom. The fact is that when Jesus calls us, we need to respond by changing. That is what the word ‘repent’ means. It literally means to ‘change direction’ to change the way your life is going. From doing just what you want, to living a life seeking to please Jesus. Again as Tom Wright says, “We want to hear that everyone is all right exactly as they are; that God loves us as we are and doesn’t want us to change.... but (Jesus) didn’t say, ‘You’re all right as you are’. His love reached them where they were, but his love refused to let them stay as they were. Love wants the best for the beloved.”
Wright goes on, “Actually, nobody really believes that God wants everyone to stay exactly as they are. God loves serial killers and child-molesters; God loves ruthless and arrogant businessmen; God loves manipulative mothers who damage their children’s emotions for life. But the point of God’s love is that he wants them to change. He hates what they’re doing and the effect is has on everyone else - and on themselves, too. Ultimately, if he’s a good God, he cannot allow that sort of the behaviour.
And people who don’t change and aren’t willing to change cannot stay at the wedding banquet. The ‘wedding clothes’ are the changed lives. If we don’t change for Jesus, we haven’t grasped what the kingdom is all about - love, justice, truth, mercy, forgiveness and holiness. That is the point of the exclusion. All are welcome but all must respond with a changed life. Repentance and faith are the only proper response to the gospel, and into the life of the kingdom of God.
But we might still wonder why are the punishments so extreme. In v.7 the King destroys ‘those murderers’ and the guest in the wrong clothes is bound ‘hand and foot’ and thrown out. Isn’t that all a bit over the top. We need to understand that Jesus is using colourful exaggeration to make a serious point. Responding to Jesus’ invitation matters, changing our lives matters. It matters a great deal, indeed the danger is that by failing to respond when we have heard the invitation, by failing to change our ways when we have responded, means we have effectively excluded ourselves from the kingdom. We need to take seriously the warnings in this parable and examine ourselves carefully