The Wedding Party Story.

Matthew 22.1-14.

This parable has a lot in common with Jesus’s Dinner Party Story in Luke. So much so, many Christians consider them the same story, and teach on them at the same time. They might primarily present it as the Wedding Party Story, and quote some bits of Luke to add some depth; or as the Dinner Party Story, and quote bits of Matthew. Or they’ll say, “Well in Matthew it’s a wedding and in Luke it’s a dinner party… but it’s all the same thing, right? A wedding is just a dinner party to celebrate a wedding. So the differences don’t matter.”

But they do. Because in the Wedding Party Story it’s not just any wedding. The person throwing the party isn’t the groom, as was the custom in first-century middle eastern weddings; in this case it was his father. Who’s the king. And not just a king like our democracies have, who’s really just a rich noble with an extra-fancy title who gets to be on the money and has a few ceremonial government duties. This guy actually rules his country, like a dictator. Like Salman ibn Abdulaziz al-Saud of Arabia. Imagine he threw a wedding party for his son Muhammad… and people behaved this way towards him. Heads would roll. As they do in this story.

Matthew 22.1-14 KWL
1 In reply Jesus again spoke to them parabolically, saying,
2 “Heaven’s kingdom is like a person, a king,
who makes a wedding feast for his son.
3 He sends his slaves to call the called to the wedding feast,
and they’re not willing to come.
4 The king sends other slaves again,
telling them, ‘Tell the called, “Look, my banquet was prepared!
My oxen, and well-fed sacrificial meats, and everything is ready!
Come to the wedding feast now!” ’
5 But the dismissive invitees go away.
One goes to his field, one to his business.
6 The rest seize the king’s slaves, abuse, and kill them.
7 The king is angry. Sending his army,
he destroys those murderers and fires their cities.
8 Then the king tells his slaves, ‘The wedding feast is ready.
The called weren’t worthy.
9 So go to the crossroads and call as many as you find to the wedding feast.
10 Going out, those slaves gather everyone they find on the roads, both evil and good,
and the wedding feast fills with people reclining at table.
11 The king, entering and seeing those reclining at table,
sees a person there not wearing wedding clothing.
12 The king tells him, ‘Fellow, how’d you get in here not wearing wedding clothing?’
The person was struck silent.
13 Then the king told his servants, ‘Bind him feet and hands.
Throw him into the darkness outside.
Weeping and teeth-grinding will be there.’
14 For many are called, and few chosen.”

Christians get confused by this story. In part because Christians who don’t live under monarchies, and especially those who don’t live in the ancient near east, really don’t understand the cultural context. Nor do they understand much of the capricious-sounding behavior of the king, ’cause they presume the king in this story is God. And the son is Jesus, and the wedding banquet is the end of time, and the dismissive invitees and the guy without the wedding clothes are sinners who deserve what they’re getting… and so forth.

Especially do they not understand Jesus’s moral of his story: “For many are called, but few [are] chosen.” Mt 22.14 KJV Wait, how does God call you, yet not choose you? Shouldn’t those be the same thing? Determinists are entirely sure they are, and other scriptures kinda make it sound like they’re one and the same:

Romans 8.29 LEB
29 Because those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers; 30 and those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified; and those whom He justified, He also glorified.

They assume all these things are a package deal. If you’re elect, you’re

  • foreknown
  • called
  • justified
  • glorified

and you can’t be one without all the others. Called means chosen.

So what’s going on here? Glad you asked. Let’s get to it.

The king, the kingdom, and God.

Heaven’s kingdom (or God’s kingdom; same thing) is like this king. Jesus says so upfront. He doesn’t say the king represents God; we read that into the story because the king has a son, so we presume these are two persons of the trinity. We read of a wedding feast, and read all the Revelation imagery of the Lamb’s bride Rv 21-22 into it. Basically we add a lot to the text which isn’t actually in it. But the king represents the kingdom. Not God. “Heaven’s kingdom is like a person,” Jesus starts. Got that?

Further, Jesus is the king of God’s kingdom. So don’t go figuring, as many Christians will, “If the king isn’t God, I guess the king would be Jesus, right?” What son of Jesus’s would he be throwing a wedding feast for? Stop trying to find a one-to-one matchup between the fictional characters of the parable, and real-life people. Jesus is talking about an idea here. Let’s let him get to his idea.

This king has a son, who will probably be his successor, the next king. His marriage was a big deal, ’cause such unions were expected to produce children, ensuring the next king would have his own successor. So this marriage feast is about the king’s dynasty; it’s a celebration of the king’s power. It’s a big deal if you attend.

It’s equally a big deal if you don’t attend. It means you defy the king and don’t recognize his power. Maybe you have another king. Maybe you wanna be king. These invited guests who ignored the king, or who murdered the king’s slaves: They were making a political statement, much like this line from Jesus’s New King Story:

Luke 19.14 KJV
But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.

That new king’s response?

Luke 19.27 KJV
But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

Don’t confuse that guy with Jesus either. Jesus was describing the sort of kings his audience was familiar with, not the sort of king he is. The kings of the earth are paranoid and murdery, same as Herod 1, who tried to kill baby Jesus. Our Lord isn’t like that, so don’t confound him with the bad behavior of the kings in his stories.

Like an easily-provoked dictator who freaks out at any hint of disrespect, this king was enraged at these invitees. Yeah, the open rebellion and the death of his slaves was an outrage, but he didn’t just kill the invitees; he fired their cities. He burned everyone in their hometowns to death over the insult. Does God kill the innocent along with the guilty? Abraham knew he absolutely doesn’t, Ge 18.23-25 and you’d think we Christians would know this too. Yet too many Christians nonetheless insist the king in this story represents God, and that he’s pretty darned wrathful… instead of love. Revealing, of course, they don’t know God as well as they claim. Nor Jesus, who reveals God as he truly is.

So if the king’s not God, but he is the kingdom, what’s the parallel here? Is it that God’s kingdom is angry and vengeful and only seeks power? Well… certainly the civic idolaters in Christendom do. But no, the point Jesus is trying to make is in his moral at the end. The rest of the stuff in his story is not gonna have an exact correlation between the activities of God’s kingdom, nor certainly God’s people.

But I will say those people who were invited to the wedding feast, who defied the king and his servants, do have some similarities to antichrists who want nothing to do with Jesus, his teachings, his kingdom, his followers, his God, anything. They still abuse and kill Jesus’s servants in nations where Christianity is a minority. They will receive judgment for it eventually. Meanwhile Jesus still offers ’em chances, much like the king sending his slaves to call ’em to the wedding feast yet again. Food’s ready! You’re still invited.

Open to all… but you gotta be prepared.

Most Christians don’t know how to deal with the underdressed guest at the end, who gets thrown out of the party and into darkness, weeping, and teeth-grinding. Those last three adjectives are commonly used by Christians to describe hell. So this is apparently someone who got into heaven, and shouldn’t have. But he’s been found out, so out he goes.

If you wanna take this parable literally… well, here’s the part where Christians put a pause on literalness and deliberately overlook the implications. Because somebody snuck past God. Somebody got around the heavenly security guards, got into the wedding feast, and was there getting his unbeliever stank all over the banqueting table. Y’know they ate with their hands back then; so here he is getting his dirty unwashed pagan fingers two knuckles deep into the hummus. Probably double-dipping too. So does this mean people could potentially get into heaven who need to get found out and tossed out? What if—yikes—you’re one of those people?

First, relax. Second let’s back up a few verses. In verse 8 the king points out his chosen guests weren’t worthy; in verse 9 he orders his slaves to go get anybody and bring ’em to the feast. Verse 10, they do so, and “gather everyone they find on the roads, both evil and good.” Jesus deliberately said πονηρούς τε καὶ ἀγαθούς/ponirús te ke agathús, “evil—and also good” to point out the slaves definitely brought evil people to this feast. Not necessarily deliberately, but to make the point they weren’t being particular. At all. Everybody was welcome. No prejudice, no discrimination, not even commonsense: Everybody.

Because everybody is welcome in God’s kingdom. Because we don’t get in on goodness. We don’t merit our way in, earn our way in, rack up enough points to get in; we don’t have to be born into the right tribe, caste, class, or country; we don’t have to first get ritually circumcised. Jesus died to save the world, so the world can come in. That’s the point of this, and the Dinner Party Story, opening up their respective celebrations to everybody who will come.

But.

’Cause yeah, there’s a but. One which Christians tend to skip, because we’re so fixated on the awesome message of grace, and how we’re saved by it. And Jesus does teach we’re saved by grace; absolutely everybody is invited to these banquets, remember?

But Jesus does expect that once we’re in—once we’ve become the recipients and beneficiaries of God’s grace, once we’ve been included in his inheritance and are granted God’s kingdom—we live holy lives befitting our new status. We don’t take God’s grace for granted and remain the same dirty sinners we were before. We get fruity. We obey our Lord’s instructions and put on his lifestyle… kinda like putting on your good clothes to attend a wedding.

Years ago some Christian interpreter found out an ancient middle eastern king gave clothes to his people so they could dress more appropriately for a celebration. Hence a number of commentaries claim this was what the king meant by “Fellow, how’d you get in here not wearing wedding clothing?”—as if all middle eastern kings did this. But we’ve no evidence any king but the one did this; it’s a fluke, not a common custom. More likely the guest knew, as everyone knew, you wear your best to a royal function—and he didn’t. He had better, cleaner clothing. As was proven by the fact he “was struck silent”: He didn’t speak up and say, “But master, I’m dirt poor and have no other clothes”—he did, and didn’t wear them. He had no excuse. So out he goes.

When we stand before Jesus at judgment, the Lambs and Kids Story makes it sound like he’s not gonna bother to ask us to explain ourselves, much as we might really want to at that time. (I’m particularly amused by the pathetic excuses Keith Green offered in his song “The Sheep and the Goats”—“Oh Lord, that wasn’t our ministry Lord; we just didn’t feel led, y’know?”) He’s already decided which group we’re in. And if we really accepted his offer of salvation, really trusted him to save us, really acknowledged him as Lord, we’re gonna have tried. Christians who don’t even try, and don’t see why they even should try, aren’t legitimately Christian.

They’re the people who are gonna want to complain to Jesus after he returns—they wanna know why they didn’t get raptured along the rest of the Christians. (Assuming they even acknowledge he’s really Jesus. ’Cause if they didn’t get raptured, they’re gonna presume it couldn’t really be the rapture.) They’re gonna make such a stink, he’ll kinda have to have them cuffed, feet and hands, and thrown outside—where it’s dark, and where they’ll rage at him because they think he owes them something. Based on what? Their own prideful egos. Nothing more.

Matthew regularly points out, in both the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’s parables, Jesus expects a lot of his followers. He’s saved us so that we needn’t worry about sin and death, and can solely concentrate on following him, without worrying we might slip up and lose our salvation. We’re not gonna lose it; apostasy means you deliberately quit, not unintentionally do something which cancels out God’s grace. But if we never even begin to follow Jesus, never develop any sort of relationship with him, never heed the Spirit… you’re not yet Christian. You never even got started putting together your wedding-appropriate clothes. It’s gonna make you stand out at the wedding like a man in a dog costume at a dog show.

So repent!