Jesus’ parable from Matthew 22:1-14 illustrates how people of faith should be prepared to accept God’s invitation with unstoppable dedication. Jesus’ metaphor of a king sending slaves to invite people to a wedding banquet is code for God’s historic connection to the Jews, and the celebration for the king’s son is a reference to Jesus’ status as God’s son.
The wedding invitation has been made first to the Jews, God’s originally chosen people, but the parable suggests that they have rejected God. Over the centuries, many Christian writers and commentators have accusingly pointed to the ways in which Jews have been persecuted, as if their plight is proof of God’s displeasure. However, such judgments are easily twisted into anti-Semitism. The biblical writer Paul warned his non-Jewish audience that the Jews are the first-born of God and cannot be dismissed.
What about the non-Jews in Jesus’ parable? The king’s invitation had been made by his slaves, but then we learn that those who were originally invited to the wedding offered weak excuses for not attending. The outraged king then sent his slaves to invite everyone in the area (including non-Jews), believing that there will be a more positive response than the first tier of invited guests.
As the new round of invitees arrived, the king came to inspect the situation. Apparently, the custom of the day was for guests to wear a distinctive wedding garment, which one unfortunate man did not have for some unknown reason. Perhaps the garment was out to the cleaners, or had simply been forgotten. Whatever the reason, the furious king told his angelic enforcement squad to bind the offending guest’s hands and feet, and throw the hapless guest into outer darkness. Really? That’s a sad end to that guest’s brief celebration. One wonders if that poor guy taken from the banquet had a chance to taste any wedding cake before his demise. You can imagine some modern-day despot doing the same thing, killing a guest who offends the royal ego. The problem in all this is that the king in the parable is equated with God, and it implies that God will butcher uninvited guests or, worse still, will harshly judge those who arrive without proper preparation.
What’s the moral of Jesus’ banquet parable? One of the more popular, traditional interpretations of the parable is that the Jews risk alienation if they refuse the protocols of God’s kingdom. Jesus may have implied that rejecting him was the same as rejecting the king’s wedding banquet (a fatal choice which will lead to destruction). Similarly, the invitation of other guests to the wedding banquet may represent the Gospel message becoming universal, shifting toward what Jesus hopes will be a more diverse and receptive audience.
Another significant aspect of the wedding parable is that all guests were supposed to wear the proper uniform, which might be a metaphor for readiness (e.g., proper thinking and behavior). The parable ends with Jesus’ intriguing statement: “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Simply because a person has been invited to a banquet doesn’t mean that they arrive worthy. Guests are obligated to take their invitation seriously and not dismiss their duty.
The parable’s greatest message is that many people are invited into God’s kingdom, and that when a person takes their invitation and responsibilities seriously, they will arrive prepared and eternally blessed. Rather than make excuses for not heeding God’s call, we are also encouraged to do our part by accepting God’s invitation and showing-up ready to go. This will ensure that we’re among the chosen, those accepted as God’s faithful followers. Are you ready and willing for God’s marvelous spiritual banquet? There’s no finer festival than the one to which God is inviting you. –Reverend Larry Hoxey