The Feast: Reflections on Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 14:16-24
Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24
September 1, 2013
The parable of the Feast is found in the Gospel of Thomas in a simpler form than it appears in either Matthew or Luke. In the Gospel of Thomas version a man prepared a dinner and sent his servant to invite the guests. Each of several guests informs the servant that something has come up (a business meeting, buying a house, marriage, buying a farm) and they ask to be excused. The servant reports this to the master, who then instructs him to go out into the streets and bring back those he happens to meet so that they may dine. The closing line is "Businessmen and merchants will not enter the Places of My Father."
This brief version contains the structure that shows up in all three versions. A man prepares a feast to which guests have been invited earlier. When the servant goes out to announce that the feast is about to begin, the invited guests offer various excuses. The one giving the feast then substitutes for the invited guests people chosen at random.
The version in the Gospel of Thomas is similar to Luke's. Both describe a banquet, not a wedding feast as in Matthew. Thomas' closing comment about businessmen and merchants reveals his theology of rejecting worldly activity. (Donahue, 93)
Matthew and Luke probably received this parable from the sayings collection Q, which may have originated with an itinerant group of Jesus' followers who sought to live by his teachings and spread his message after his death. The urgency of the invitation and the theme of exclusion are thematic in Q. The parable in its earliest form may have pointed to the rejection of Jesus' message by his contemporaries and their substitution by the itinerant group that collected his sayings in the Q collection. The parable in this early form has a double focus. It conveys the vindication of Jesus' offer of forgiveness to tax collectors and sinners after the invited guests (the Jewish leaders) refused. It warns that the decisive moment has come, the feast is near, and a failure to respond will lead to exclusion from the banquet. (Donahue, 94)
Matthew makes this parable into an allegory. The host becomes a king and the feast becomes a feast for his son. The theme of the good and the bad (22:10) recalls Matthew's understanding of the church as a mixed body (13:24-27, 47-50). The parable of the wedding garment, which Matthew adds to the Feast parable (22:11-14), brings in Matthew's habitual themes of discipleship against the constant backdrop of coming judgment.
Just before this parable of the Wedding Feast/Wedding Garment in Matthew we have heard two others parables: the parable of the Two Sons (Mt. 21:28-32) and the parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mt. 21:33-39). This sets up a triad of parables that all deal with rejection or refusal. The setting to which Matthew addressed his gospel was a church that was engaged in missionary activity that was meeting with rejection. The first parable of the triad (the Two Sons) mentions the rejection of John the Baptist's ministry. The second (The Wicked Tenants) alludes to the rejection of Jesus' historical ministry. This third parable (Wedding Banquet/Wedding Garment) refers to the rejection of the preaching of Christian missionaries on behalf of the Risen Christ. The coming of God's reign is often imaged as a wedding feast (Is. 62:1-5; Rev. 19:1-6) or a banquet (Is. 25:6-8; 1 Enoch 62:14). (Donahue, 94-5)
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.