THE PARABLE OF THE WEDDING BANQUET
(A biblical reflection on the 28th ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 15 October 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 22:1-14
First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-10a; Psalms: Psalm 23:1-6; Second Reading: Philippians 4:12-14,19-20
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were in invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ But they made light of it and sent off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find. And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14 RSV)
To understand the parable in today’s Gospel, we have to remember that Jesus addressed it to people who had no modern conveniences like gas or electric stoves, refrigerators, and supermarkets. Preparing a huge banquet was a difficult and time consuming task because the host could not possibly plan everything so the food would be ready exactly when the guests arrived.
Because of the work involved, the host usually sent two invitations. The first informed the guests they were being invited to a banquet, but it did not include a specific time for the feast because the host could not be sure when the food would be done. This advance notice gave the guests time to wash up and change into appropriate clothing so they would be prepared for the second invitation when all the food was ready.
The Jewish rabbis often used the image of a wedding banquet to symbolize the reign of God. Some of them believed that God would invite only the Jews to this banquet and that the leaders of the Jewish people would occupy the places of honor because of their holiness.
In this parable, Jesus is the king’s son for whom the banquet is given, and the invited guests are the Jews. The servants are the prophets of the Old Testament and those gathered from the byroads and the alleys are the Gentiles. The meaning of the parable should now be clear.
Through the prophets, God told the Jewish people to prepare for the coming of the reign of God, but because their leaders refused to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, God extended the invitation to the Gentiles. With this parable, Jesus infuriated the Jewish chief priest and elders because the Jews despised the Gentiles and believed the Gentiles would not share in the reign of God.
In the parable, the king sends his servants to burn the city of the guests who did not come. This was probably not part of the original story but a detail Matthew added years later. In 70 A.D., the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, the center of Jewish worship. Because Matthew wrote the Gospel after this event took place, biblical scholars believe he added the detail about the burning of the city as an explanation that God allowed Jerusalem’s destruction because the Jewish authorities refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah.
(Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 100-101.)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for Your love and mercy, which know no bounds. Thank You for the sacrifice of Your beloved Son, Jesus, on the cross, which makes me clean and whole. Help me to come to You wherever I need to repent so that I can be cleansed and renewed. Amen.
Jakarta, 14 October 2017
A Christian Pilgrim