The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet is the last in a series of parables which indict the chief priests and elders in their efforts of keeping the kingdom of heaven from the people. In Matthew 23 Jesus exclaims, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." This series of parables directly accuses the leaders of spiritual fraud.
Earlier in Chapter 22, the chief priests had been questioning Jesus' authority in front of the people in order to trick him. Jesus' responses are directed to these leaders and are still valid for us today. But rather than looking for other people who are spiritual frauds, we must first look into our own heart. We must first root out the fraud within.
In the first parable in the series, the Parable of the Two Sons, we find out how. In this brief parable, Jesus describes two sons, one a liar and the other a repentant sinner. The repentant is praised by Jesus. The liar is not. We must ask of ourselves, when do I lie to obtain praise? We must listen to the parable and not think I am a poor repentant sinner, but always seek to draw out the hypocrite. These parables that indict the Pharisees, teachers of the law, chief priests and leaders, should also indict us, so we can become the repentant sinner.
The second in the series, the Parable of the Tenants, tells the story of what the leaders of Israel did to the prophets and would do to Jesus. As we know, throughout Israel's history, the leaders beat, stoned and killed them. Likewise, we must look inside and find out how we subvert and kill the child of God within ourselves. Do we say to that child, "You are unlovable. You are a wretch. You are unworthy. You are an addict. You are poor. You are weak. You are rejected"? When we find ourselves doing that we must repent and allow the child of God forward. We must allow God to love us. We are most certainly his beloved. We can do this by being repentant sinners and by calling out to God for help.
In this parable series, we find one about being honest in regards to the sad the state of our heart. We find another about lifting up the child of God rather than beating them down. And the last in the series, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, we learn about making every effort to listen and to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
It is my opinion that this parable and the Parable of the Great Banquet from Luke 14 are the same parable. Matthew just includes different details than Luke, but they tell essentially the same story. Most agree that the king in this parable is God and his son is Jesus. The unspoken bride is the Church (the new Israel). The "invited" are the people of the Mosaic Covenant (Old Israel) who chose not to listen to the prophets, John the Baptist and the Apostles. In this parable, these servants call the invited, but they refuse to come. It is important that we should not limit the invited to only those of the Mosaic Covenant. We refuse to come when we feel called by the Holy Spirit, do not respond and reject the bidding of Christ. But we also must relate these refusals to the previously mentioned Parable of the Two Sons. The repentant son, initially refused, but in the end he changed his mind and went. God allows us to be repentant and to come to him, even if we refuse initially. In fact, many if not most of us, like the one son, will refuse initially and periodically throughout our entire lives.
After God apportions judgment in the parable (which reminds us of the Fall of Jerusalem of 70 AD) on those who were initially called and who would stubbornly not come, those of the Mosaic Covenant, he then sends out his servants to call "anyone you find" to the banquet. They gathered all the people "both good and bad." I think that it's interesting to note that Luke emphasizes that the king calls "the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame." We Christians of the New Covenant are the good, the bad, the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. In fact, each of us are all of those characteristics to differing degrees.
Now the house is filled with guests. The version from Matthew adds that there was a certain individual, whom the king calls, "Friend," who was not wearing the proper wedding clothes. This Friend and his clothes has been the cause of great difference of opinion over the ages. And what was so wrong with his clothes for him to be "tied hand and foot and thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth"?
By reading the Parable of the Cloth and Wineskins we learn that the new clothes are in principle the same as the new wine, which is essentially Christ himself: his love, his grace, his mercy, his righteousness, his joy, his friendship. These are the characteristics of the wedding garments. But what was the Friend's garment and why was it so bad? Likely, it was the opposite of the New Wine: hate, judgment and self-righteousness.
Take note, however, it is very easy to misread this parable. If we're not careful, we might see the wedding garments as our good works, our righteousness, our faith, our obedience, our holiness. Was the Friend was wearing his own selfish works, rather than the works of Christ? This is not to say that good works are not important. Good works justify us, as James points out in his letter, but they don't come from us. They cleanse us through the blood of Christ on the cross. Works are essentially self-sacrificing love.
I think of a fancy party, when I think of the clothes the Friend wore. Guests may wear diamonds and silk to show off how rich they are. A military officer might display his medals on his chest. A woman might show off her body. These are garments that display self-worth rather than the worthiness of the host. Christians show off the worthiness of the host, rather than our self-righteousness. Everything about our life must point to Christ Jesus.
Though the wedding garments may also be garments of righteousness as the fathers have attested throughout the ages, our righteousness does not come from our making. Like self-sacrificing love, righteousness comes from the blood of Christ. We must allow the Holy One to make us holy by his sacrifice. In Revelation 7:14 we learn that the multitudes in the kingdom of heaven wear robes that were cleansed in the Lamb's blood—our good works are forever the work of Christ on the cross.
Finally, I must add that this parable has a cliff-hanger. I certainly don't have the answer. But here it is: Why did the king call the self-righteous man a "Friend"? Was the king just using a polite gesture or had this person at one time been a friend of the king? I expect we have no way of knowing, except that it compels us even more to listen, learn and ask for forgiveness from the friend we have in Jesus.