Remember, first of all, that this chapter of Matthew falls within the Passion Week, the last week of the earthly life of Christ. (Ever consider how it is to describe a time-limited event for the Eternal Son of God? It’s not really the “last week of the life of Christ, because He’s eternal, but it’s the last earthly week, except for when He come back at the end of time….)
That this chapter falls into the Passion Week brings us important context for our understanding. There are no more tours of Galilee or the Decapolis. Matthew records no more miracles performed after this point. These are the closing teachings of Jesus. We read here the parable of the wedding feast, which we’ll look at more in a moment. We also see Jesus address paying taxes with the statement that even the hyper-liberal Jesus Seminar decided had to be Him, “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) We also see Jesus rebuke the Sadducees for not believing in the reality of the resurrection of the dead, and a revisit of the question, “Which is the greatest commandment?”
The chapter wraps up with Jesus asking a question, which the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the lawyers are unable to answer. And at this point, they stop trying to trap Him. Of course, they shift focus to killing Him, but that’s another discussion.
Let us put the parable of the wedding feast in focus today. First, Jesus tells similar parables at other times, like Luke 14:15-24. This parable aligns the Kingdom of Heaven with an image the people would have been familiar with: a royal wedding feast. (He does this again in Revelation 19:6-9). Based on various sources (like the New American Commentary Matthew volume by Craig Blomberg), Jesus’ hearers would have associated the king with God Almighty. This was typical in the rabbinic traditions as well as fitting with a Christ-centered examination of the parable.
The son, then, is Jesus. The identification of these two parties in the parable is fairly easy. What we are left with is understanding who the rest of the characters are. There are the slaves who are sent out and rejected, the slaves who are sent out and attacked, the slaves who go out to gather guests from the highways and hedges, and then there are the guests. There are the invited guests who refuse to come, the invited guests who respond violently, and the surprise guests who do come. Oh, and that one guy who gets thrown out. Each of these groups stands for something, and possibly multiple somethings. Who is he? (Other than an add-in to keep anyone from being certain they have Jesus completely figured out?)
First, the slaves in their various groupings. Who are they? A good argument can be made that the slaves of the King stand for the prophets of old. I think that fits easily, for we see in other places that the prophets served God by calling others to Him. It is also true that Israel, as a nation, was to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 60 gives us a hint of that). To that extent, they are part of that group of slaves. The ones who tried to live according to the Word of God were part of the invitation to the nations, including their own people.
Then there are the guests. First you have the invited guests who just don’t care enough to respond. There are plenty of people like that, and at times you or I may even slide into that group if we are not mindful. Then you have the invited guests who respond violently to the invitation—these are destroyed in the wrath of the king and show those who will face the wrath of Almighty God. Finally, you have those who come in. The hall is filled with the good and the bad (and probably the ugly). One guest, though, has come in on his terms rather than in accordance with the king’s invitation. He gets the boot.
The first practical step is to get this through our heads: we are neither the King nor the Son. We do not, therefore, set the attendance rules for the wedding banquet. God sets that. We do not choose who gets in or who is kept out—if God has set a limit to those who believe in Jesus, then that sticks. No matter what.
The second practical step is to accept the invitation. Our pride is our greatest foe here: we weren’t the “worthy” ones initially invited. So what? If I was the backup guest for table at the Nobel Prize banquet, I’d take it in a heartbeat. Would you not take front-row, center seats at the Grand Ole Opry if they were the gift of grace from someone? (If not, seek help immediately). That we are invited now by the slaves of God to come to the feast means we should take the invitation rather than cast aspersions on His grace. Who are these slaves? Read the opening lines of Paul, Peter, or James…they are the “slave of Christ.”
Finally, take the practical step of bringing others with you to the banquet. There is an abundance of grace there, and the hall is not yet full. Take someone with you to Jesus.
In the process, though, be sure to come as the King commands rather than to try and take it all your way. You cannot stay even if you do sneak in. And I like what Gregory the Great (6th Century) suggests the garment is: love. Love for the King of Kings and love for our fellow man.
Above, I mentioned the “Jesus Seminar.” This was a group that met and attempted to determine what Jesus really said…using their own logic for eliminating some sayings of Christ. If I remember my reading about it (it was the 90s, so it’s been a while), the one phrase that was unambiguously Jesus was Matthew 21:21, “Redner to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God, that which is God’s.” Why this? Because no Jew would have wanted to pay Caesar, and neither would the church later in its political power. So, a command to pay taxes and tithes seemed to them the one thing Jesus definitely said.
Now, first of all, I think Jesus pretty much said everything the Gospels have Him saying. The “pretty much” comes from Greek’s lack of quotation marks, meaning that some places could be summarized speech rather than direct quotes.
Leaving that aside, let’s consider the idea of that one saying. Jesus says Caesar can have what’s his after calling for a coin and asking “whose likeness” is on the coin.
Now, in whose likeness are people?
Caesar can have the pocket change. Leave your pennies at Lincoln’s feet. But humanity? We belong to God.