The King's Wedding Feast
Ordinary Time 28
11. The King's Wedding Feast
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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"