In today’s Gospel, we hear another parable (or two) about the kingdom of heaven. Like the story of the wicked tenants right before it, the parable of the wedding banquet addresses and criticizes Jewish leaders and provides insights into how to enter and remain in the kingdom of heaven.
I can do all things in him who strengthens me. (Phil 4:13)
How does the Gospel influence how you live?
How do you react when the Gospel is proclaimed to “bad and good alike”?
Do parables help you to understand the kingdom of heaven?
The Lectionary has shorter and longer Gospel options because of the unclear ending of the parable. In the shorter reading, Mt 22:1-10, there is a standard structure of an allegory for the kingdom of heaven. The king (God, the Father in heaven) hosts a banquet for his son (Jesus). Servants (prophets) invite many guests (Israelites/Jewish leaders) to the banquet (kingdom of heaven). Yet the guests leave, and some of them mistreat and kill the servants, a metaphor for those who reject prophets.
After the disrupted banquet, “the king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” This is often interpreted as an allusion to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem about 40 years after Jesus’ death. Matthew frames the historical destruction as divine retribution.
Following destruction, the king tells the servants that the invited guests were unworthy, and new guests (presumably everyone who hears the Gospel) should be invited from the streets. The new guests, who are “bad and good alike,” fill the wedding hall. If the parable originally ended at this point, it would suggest that all people, both good and bad, are invited to hear the message of the Gospel. In Luke’s version of this parable (Lk 14:16-24), the story ends here, suggesting the next verses may have been originally separate.
In Matthew’s longer ending, the king encounters one of the guests who was not properly dressed in a wedding robe. The king criticizes his outfit and has him thrown into darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth (hell).
Reading the longer version in Matthew as one continuous parable is difficult because the king’s reaction to the underdressed guest seems odd and unreasonable. If the new guest was brought in from the street, he was not expecting to attend a wedding and would not be properly dressed for one. While the missing wedding garment seems to be part of the allegorical framework, the text is cryptic about what the man lacks that leads to his punishment. His “wedding clothes” could refer to his openness to receive the Gospel or his willingness to live a new life in Christ. Because the man is speechless when asked about his garments, this could show his unpreparedness or unwillingness to adapt himself and his life to enter the kingdom of heaven.
If the verses are read separately, as a similar parable using the same allegory, rather than a continuation, that helps to explain the king’s reaction to the guest. In that case, the man would have been among the originally invited guests and should have been properly dressed. That does not clarify what the wedding clothes represent, but it explains the king’s punishment at the end.
Although somewhat puzzling, the parable illustrates God’s openness to all people, not only select groups. Yet though God invites all, the parable shows that guests must be ready and willing to do what is required to enjoy the feast. Accepting the invitation is a first step, but those who are “chosen” are the ones who not only accept the Gospel but live out its message.