Sunday’s parable was a challenge for me to preach. There is a lot of stuff going on in Matthew 22 with this tale of a wedding banquet! Yesterday I “zoomed in” on how God has an invitational heart, and that we ought to have one, too. We need to invite all sorts of people (both good and bad) to partake in God’s kingdom. But there are so many other parts to Jesus’ teaching. Believe it or not, this parable includes hidden details about when Matthew was written (right after the year 70AD–when the Jerusalem temple was destroyed), as well as a critique of how God’s people ignored previous prophets… There’s a lot to unpack here!
For this week’s reflection on the church blog, let’s consider how this parable ends. I didn’t preach much on it, but there’s another lesson to be gleaned from Jesus’ final words for this odd story. Here are verses 11-14:
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
13 “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.’
14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Sounds pretty strange, right? Why would a king (or God) get so worked up over wedding attire? Why would the king throw someone out, especially if he had invited so many outsiders to enter in? If God invited the poor and downtrodden to participate in the wedding feast, why would it be a dealbreaker to not have a wedding suit?
As with so many other parables, there’s obviously something deeper going on with Jesus’ words. It is clear that “wedding clothes” means something much more than physical clothing. So what could Jesus mean by this? In my studies, there are a couple of themes to help unlock this cryptic ending:
- Several biblical commentators argue that in Jesus’ time, a king would provide wedding attire for the guests. So the guest without the proper clothing would have been someone who refused this gift of the king. This adds a deeper meaning of whether we fully accept God in our own hearts… or if we think ourselves to be too good for God’s grace!
- St. Augustine, a leader in the early church, interpreted this message to mean that “wedding clothes” symbolized having charity. The wedding crasher was not interested in participating in the wedding party itself. He was being self-centered instead of joining in on the festivities.
- Martin Luther, famous Reformation theologian, argued that “wedding clothes” meant to be clothed in Christ himself. There are countless New Testament verses about being “clothed” in righteousness or to “put on” Christ as one would a garment.
- John Calvin, another famous Reformation theologian, put forth the idea that this wedding crasher didn’t leave his old life behind. He wanted to enjoy the king’s feast, but still held onto his old self (i.e. normal everyday clothes meant sin, while “wedding clothes” signified a new life in Jesus).
- Some other biblical commentators, drawing upon the inspiration of these theologians, interpret Jesus’ teaching to mean that we cannot hold onto our previous life of sinfulness. It is impossible to cling to life apart from God, yet still want to enjoy God’s salvation.
In my own personal interpretation and study, I think Jesus included this odd twist of an ending to mean that God doesn’t want you to just show up. Instead, God wants you to fully participate in his kingdom. The right kind of “wedding clothes” means that we allow Jesus Christ to fully impact our lives–we don’t hold anything back. And just as we accept God’s invitation, we join in on all the party has to offer, too. That means wearing what God gives us, so to speak, where we embrace every good a perfect gift God graces us with.