This week’s Gospel Reflection is from Fr Kieran O’Mahony OSA, Biblical Reflections. For full commentary on the Readings cf., his website: http://www.tarsus.ie
The King who gave a Wedding Banquet for his Son
Mt. 21:45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realised that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Mt 22:1 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. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 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.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 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. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then 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.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
INITIAL OBSERVATIONS In this parable, the main story seems to contradict the final paragraph! It is interesting to note that the same parable is found in Luke 14:15-24, but this time without the appendix, leaving us with the image of the kingdom of God open to all comers. Matthew’s version makes the parable “edgy” and uncomfortable to read. Several expressions are to be found only or almost only in Matthew: outer darkness (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30); gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28); friend (there are two words for friend in the NT, philos and hetairos—Matthew alone uses the latter and always in an unfriendly way (Matt 20:13; 22:12; 26:50 [= Judas]). All of this means that the final paragraph was added by Matthew to the text to speak to some situation in the community for which he was writing. This editorial footprint is confirmed by the strange insertion of the story of a war in the middle of the parable. The very difficult v. 7 produces a dissonant combination of nuptial and bellicose imagery. (On a practical level, interrupting the gathering of guests by a mini war would surely have created problems for those preparing the food!) In reality, this insertion is a further “allegorisation” of the text, bringing in an apparent reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. Naturally, as this took place some forty years after the ministry of Jesus, it cannot have been part of the original parable. So, all in all, a lot of “interference” by Matthew to get the old parable to speak again to his community. He may be anxious that the story of the rejection of the original guests (the Jews) and their replacement by the new guests (the Gentiles) might lead to undue complacency and so he introduces the guest “not dressed” for the occasion. Hence the scary warning at the end: many are called but few are chosen.
OLD TESTAMENT BACKGROUND (i) God is often called a king in the Old Testament. It matters here that God is named not simply as a host but as a ruler because it is precisely as ruler that God will dispense justice at the end. (ii) A feast recurs regularly as an image of God’s future, end-time “hospitality.” (iii) Wedding language is common in the Old Testament to refer to the God of the covenant, with God as the bridegroom and Israel as the bride.
KIND OF WRITING We have again a parable, but a highly allegorised, even historicised text. It may just possibly have had a context in the ministry, as Jesus did address the rulers and did use wedding imagery. It is likely that an early version lacked the reference to history and the theological reading of Jesus’ own final destiny.
NEW TESTAMENT FOREGROUND (i) Other parables we have heard recently deal with similar topics—e.g. that of the weeds in the wheat. Again, at issue is a “church” question—what to do with those “in” but not “of ”. This was not an issue during the ministry of Jesus, but in the settled context of Matthew’s Gospel is very much an issue. Just as in that parable, the message is do nothing leave it to the lord. Behind that, as we saw with the parable of the weeds and the wheat, lies the hope that people may change, so that our judgement of others is premature. At the same time, these parables do recognise a problem in the community. (ii) The imagery of the feast occurs frequently in the parables and that in turn mirrors Jesus’ own practice of open table-fellowship, a symbol of the Kingdom of God.
Lord, we know that you love us and invite us to the wedding feast of the Lamb. Help us to respond to your love that we may be followers of your Son not only in name, but also in fact.