The Feast: Reflections on Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 14:16-24
We flinch when we read the treatment of the man in the verses 11-14. It seems so unfair that this poor man be punished for not having the proper garment. I am reminded of the time I arrived from out of town for an ordination service and had not brought the appropriate liturgical robe for the procession. My clergy colleagues did not bind and gag me and stuff me in the closet for this infraction! What is going on with this cruel king?
It was the custom in Ancient Near Eastern weddings, that the guests would wear a garment that symbolized their respect for the host and the occasion. Often the host would provide a rack of such garments at the entryway for guests who had not brought theirs. Not to be wearing a wedding garment, when one could have chosen one on the way in, is a sign of disrespect for both host and occasion. The symbolism of putting on clothing reminds us of Paul's image of "putting on" as a symbol for adopting the life of discipleship to Christ. (Gal. 3:27; Col. 3:12; Eph. 4:24) The wedding garment stands for the Christian life, and the qualities that lead one to hear the invitation, to accept it and show up to honor the host. (Donahue, 95)
The man without the wedding garment is like the son in the prior parable who said he would come, but did not. He is a hearer but not a doer. He does not produce fruits worthy of repentance. He does not follow that higher righteousness Matthew expects of his Christian community, whether former Jews or Gentiles. In Jesus' ministry, it seems as if this parable of the feast summoned listeners to a critical choice to accept the authority of his teachings and to live by them. Matthew has adjusted this parable of the wedding banquet/wedding garment to address his church in its conflict with the synagogue down the street. He wants his listeners to understand that anyone who does not honor the host and the banquet, whether outside or inside his community, will not ultimately enter the kingdom of heaven.
Luke's version of this parable is set in the context of a meal as Jesus was eating a meal on the Sabbath in the house of a leader of the Pharisees (14:1). We are told that "they were watching him closely" (14:1b). Jesus then sees a man with dropsy and asks the lawyers and Pharisees if he should heal him on the Sabbath. They remain silent. He heals him and sends him on his way. Then Jesus teaches them to not seek the places of honor when they are invited to a wedding banquet (14:8). He follows this with instructions to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to their homes, rather than their friends and relatives who could easily repay them (14:12-14).
The first fourteen verses of chapter 14 set up the context for Luke's version of the parable of the Feast.
The focus in Luke is on the inclusion of the outcasts in the banquet, a Lucan theological emphasis. The focus in Matthew's version of the parable is on the exclusion of those who rejected the invitation to the banquet. Luke contains no mention of the violent treatment of the messengers or of the punishment of the guests who refused.
Luke adds a description of the substitute guests as "the poor and maimed and blind and lame" (v. 21). Here he mentions the same four classes of guests that the believer is told to invite to his banquet in Luke 14:13. (See also Lk. 4:18, 7:22.) In adding this fourfold description of the substitute guests, Luke emphasizes the gracious offer of the gospel to the disadvantaged that is thematic to his gospel. Luke adds a second invitation to the banquet that is not present in Matthew or the Gospel of Thomas.
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.