Thursday, March 04, 2010

Last night was the second of our Lent Studies.  We were looking at the Parable of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew 22:1-10.  It is not the easiest of parables.  One writer, Klyne Snodgrass, in his magisterial work on parables, says he has finds it the hardest parable to interpret.  Having said that, the overall meaning of the first part  seems clear enough.  The Kingdom of God was offered originally to Israel who has rejected it so it will now be offered to others.  It is in the second part that it gets especially tricky.

The King comes into the room where the guests who have been gathered in by his slaves are congregated.  We have already been told that they consisted of people who were both bad and good.  The King asks one of them why he not wearing the correct clothes - a wedding robe.  The man is speechless and the King has him tied up and thrown into outer darkness.

Jesus is telling this parable to the chief priests and Pharisees.  They would probably have got the point of the first part, but what would they have made of the second part?  What does the wedding robe stand for?  Christians have interpreted it in various ways.  A common interpretation is that it refers to Christ's righteousness, which we all must be clothed with if we are to come into God's presence.  Unfortunately, whatever the truth or otherwise of this idea, it does seem to be reading later Christian theology back into the story.  As I said last night, whatever we think the parable means to us today, it had to mean something to them then.

Others such as Tom Wright take the wedding robe to mean the good works we now do as Christians and that while we are freely called by God we must respond with acts worthy of that call.  Again, this is doubtless true, but would that had been something that the chief priests and Pharisees would have been in a position to work out?

The best I can come up with which I offer as a suggestion is this:

Guests at a wedding, whoever they might be would be expected to dress appropriately both as a sign of respect and to show they were entering into the spirit of the occasion.  The banquet for the King's Son was a time of rejoicing and celebration.  The un-robed guest, although he finds himself called to the banquet, refuses to take part in it.

This parable is in fact the third of three parables Jesus tells the chief priests and Pharisees, all making similar points.  Jesus uses the first in Matthew 21:28-32 to tell them that tax-collectors and prostitutes were going into the kingdom of God ahead of them.  Jesus ate many meals with people during his ministry, meals at which tax-collectors and prostitutes respond with faith and enthusiasm.  In Luke 7 we are told that on one occasion a Pharisee holds a dinner for Jesus, but is then shocked when Jesus allows a prostitute to his anoint his feet.  Jesus says this to him:

'Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. (Luke 7:44-46)'

Although he had invited Jesus to dinner, the Pharisees treatment of Jesus shows a refusal to respond to Jesus in the way he should, whereas the prostitute responds with love and generosity.

The man who doesn't wear a wedding garment does not respond to the generosity of the King in the way he should.  It is not so much that the garment represents something, such as Christ's righteousness or good works.  It is rather the man's attitude demonstrated by his refusal to dress properly that is significant.  It is not the wedding robe that represents something so much as the lack of it.  Jesus is saying the chief priests and Pharisees, and those like them, will miss out on the salvation God offers because they have not responded with faith and enthusiasm to God's call.

God calls all both bad and good, but it is how we respond that shows whether we are amongst those who are his chosen ones.  As the parable ends:

'For many are called, but few are chosen.'

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