The Feast: Reflections on Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 14:16-24
Luke adds a second invitation to those from the highways and hedges (v. 23). Inclusiveness is an important theme for Luke. Luke was writing to a Gentile audience and may have had them in mind in stating that the servants, having scoured the thoroughfares of the town (v. 21) went to the roads and lanes, presumably outside the town. (Stein 91) The host bears a striking resemblance to Jesus whose critics said of him "This man receives sinners and eats with them" (15:2). (Stein, 91)
In the Old Testament and later Jewish literature, the final intervention of God in history to deliver his people from oppression took the form of a war against her enemies followed by a banquet of celebration, the Messianic Banquet (Is. 25:6-8; Rev. 3:20-21, 19:9). The parable, in the Gospel of Thomas, Matthew, and Luke, views the meal as a symbol for the kingdom of God. The Old Testament reference is to Isaiah (25:6-9), which describes a feast of celebration of victory over the Lord's enemies. (Scott, 173) Deuteronomy outlines three circumstances under which someone can be excused from participating in war with Israel's enemies: building a house, planting a vineyard, and getting engaged to be married (Dt. 20 5-7). They bear a remarkable similarity to the excuses here in this parable. In our parable we find that the invitation to the banquet, while it does not involve military violence, is so urgent, that even excuses one might use for staying home from defending one's community, are not acceptable. (Donahue, 141-42)
A marriage feast is a major occasion in village life. The excuses are without foundation, since the date would have been known for a long time, and their excuses are events that could have been preplanned not to conflict with the wedding feast. The refusals look like a group effort to shame the host. As readers we are to wonder at the reason for this insult. (Donahue, 141-142)
Rather than accede to their effort to shame him, the host sends out servants to invite in those whom society has shamed and labeled as unclean and sinful—the poor, the ill, the disabled, and the defenseless. The final scene in Luke's version of the feast parable, depicts a Messianic banquet, but not the traditional one: a grand banquet celebrating the Messiah's victory over the nation's enemies at which anyone who is anyone is in attendance, symbolizing their inclusion in the kingdom. Rather, this is a Messianic banquet whose original guests tried to shame the host by being no-shows. Their not showing up is a sign of lack of confidence in his Messiahship, in his ability to conquer their enemies. The banquet hall is filled with those scorned by the religious elite of the nation as impure and sinful and unclean. They, as it turns out, are those who have gained entry to the kingdom of God, not by violence, not by ritual purity, but by accepting an invitation that comes, not as an annoying obligation, but as a welcomed blessing.
John R. Donahue, S.J., The Gospel in Parable: Metaphor, Narrative and Theology in the Synoptic Gospels (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988).
Alyce M. McKenzie, The Parables for Today (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007).
Bernard Brandon Scott, Hear Then The Parable (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989).
Robert H. Stein, An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus (Wesminster John Knox Press, 1981).
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.