Monday, September 3, 2012

The Teachings of Jesus (VI), Week 36: Jesus' authority challenged - the Parable of the Wedding (22:1-14)

"And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those who were invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.' But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them." (Matt 22:1-6)

The opening of this parable clearly ties it to the last two. Recall that the Jews had been trying to 'trick' Jesus into claiming prophethood, yet when He did they found that the crowd was against them. Now Jesus tells his third of three parables about the Pharisees and the rebellion of the Jewish people.

In His parable of the Two Sons (two weeks ago on this blog), Jesus said that sinners were entering heaven instead of the Pharisees because the Pharisees talk a good game but do not actually love and obey God. Then He tells the parable of the tenants, in which the Pharisees and Jewish rulers are taken to task for their mistreatment of prophets and Jesus, and it is said that they therefore will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Now, Jesus continues the theme. Again He tells them that God has loved them and invited them into His family, only to have His servants (the prophets) mistreated and killed, and His invitation to join at the kingdom of heaven ignored. Here, obviously God is the king, His Son is Jesus, and the wedding feast (a common New Testament example) is the marriage of Jesus to the Church of believers. But those whom God invited to participate in the coming of His Kingdom rejected Him and mistreated His servants.

>"The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city." (Matt 22:7)
Jesus reminds the Pharisees that when the Jews have rejected and mistreated prophets in the past, God has used other nations (e.g., Assyrian, Persia, Babylon) as His weapons to destroy the Jewish nation for their violation of the covenant that they made with Him. One also wonders whether this passage is a bit prophetic; for in a few weeks we shall read the Olivet Discourse, and we shall see that God is soon to use Rome to smash Jerusalem again, and destroy the Temple completely.

"Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests." (Matt 22:8-10)

Again Jesus reiterates that because the Jews broke faith with God's covenant time and time again, He has decided to instead invite different people to the wedding: a whole variety of seemingly-random people. No longer is God choosing people based upon a covenant with a particular tribe, nor is He basing it upon any required pre-requisite. Literally the invitation is open to anyone who is willing.

This, really, is the primary feeling that we get through all of Jesus' preaching. The Law and the Mosaic Covenant failed, despite God's enduring patience over millennia and countless "second chances", to produce a people worthy of God's kingdom. So instead, God provides an open invitation based upon willingness to follow, rather than adherence to religious commandments.

"But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen." (Matt 22:11-14)

When the king returns to the wedding hall, he sees the assorted rabble who were dressed in the wedding robes which he provided. But one man stands by himself, with his own robes. The implication is that he refused to wear the robes of the wedding but instead considered his own robes to be "good enough".

Now we have already seen the non-believing Jews get "uninvited" to the wedding. So God sends out His messengers and brings in anyone who wishes to come--Jew or Gentile. But here we have a person who came to this call but refused to put on the wedding robe. Who is this representing?

I think that the context clearly indicates that this is a Gentile man who responded to the invitation but considered his own works good enough to get into heaven; that is, he refuses to wear the robes of mercy provided by God and tries to get into the wedding feast on the basis of his own good works.

God has this man bound and thrown into the outer darkness. Both Luther and Calvin associate this with the final judgment and hell. Some people there will be weeping (sad that they rejected the invitation) and others will be gnashing their teeth in fury (angry at God and unwilling to go to heaven even if He gave them yet another chance).