Read the passage here.
We have now been working through the gospel of Matthew for a little over a year (we began last October). We always take a break from whatever we’re studying for the Advent/Christmas season. So, in truth, we have been studying Matthew for almost exactly a year. There’s an awful lot going on and it’s easy to lose track so I wanted to touch base, once again, on a few of the key things that we’re seeing (this is not a full review – just touching base).
- A key element of the gospel is Matthew affirmation or assertion that Jesus is indeed the anticipated Messiah of God.
- However, what we’ve also seen is that Jesus is a different kind of Messiah than people were expecting (or hoping for)
- And this, because the kingdom that Jesus was bringing is a different kind of kingdom
- What this means is that righteousness looks very different than people expected. The values of the Kingdom are different than the values that people had been told to believe. The righteousness of the Kingdom that Jesus speaks about is, for most people, a new thing.
This last point becomes very important when we consider the verses that Chris spoke about last week and the previous verses that he spoke about several months before. And they are very important to keep in mind as we think about our passage today. That is, in chapter 21, we see the triumphal entry, Jesus riding into Jerusalem – but riding on a donkey. The people hail him as king, but do they really know what that means? Immediately after, Jesus enters and clears out the temple of all who would use it for their own purposes. His action is a repudiation of the entire system that has been built up since the temple’s inception. And then, as Chris talked about last week, we get a number of verses which show us (with apologies if I summarize poorly), how the supposed people of God don’t recognize when the Son has come. They suppose themselves to be God’s chosen, but they refuse to choose God when He is in their midst.
All of this can be seen as judgement and disavowal of Israel as it has been known. Obviously I don’t mean that the entire nation, every single person, has been rejected. What I mean is that Israel now is not what God had meant them to be (as a people chosen; a people blessed to be a blessing). And we see this particularly represented in the religious leaders – in Matthew, the Pharisees and Scribes in particular.
Therefore, we are seeing a significant increase in the conflict between Jesus and the religious establishment. Jesus, in not a few words, is pronouncing judgement on all of them. And this, as we also saw last week, is ultimately going to lead to Jesus’ death.
As a bit of an aside – this is worth really thinking about. It’s the religious establishment, it’s Israel itself, that crucifies Jesus. It’s the very people who should have been rejoicing, who should have been declaring the praises of God, that brings Jesus to His death.
All of this is a very long introduction to, and the specific context through which we read, our passage today – Matthew 22:1-14.
So if we pay attention to the context, the meaning of this parable is not difficult to determine. Jesus seems to be making yet another rebuke of Israel that is not Israel – specifically (in the context) to the religious leaders. With that in mind, there are a couple of things that we want to pay attention to.
Firstly, it’s important to note that in the cultural context, the refusal to attend a wedding is actually considered disrespectful, if not an insult, to the host (see vv. 1-6). We have a sense of that in that those of us who have planned a wedding know how much work, time, and money goes into the preparations. And there are all kinds of things that a guest can do (or not do) that’s considered disrespectful. Wearing white; not bringing a gift; bringing unexpected guests; or whatever. Generally speaking, though, we consider these social faux pas; and though we might be upset, we don’t usually take this as a personal, directed insult.
In this context, the refusal to attend the wedding of the King’s son would be considered exactly that. (Note that it’s not, for example, a conflict of schedule or something – what Jesus describes is an actual refusal). Further to this, the invitation is extended by the King. Now without getting into the cultural distinctions, the king is a person to whom the invited guests owe a degree of loyalty. This isn’t an invitation extended between equals. It’s an invitation extended by someone to whom the guests are socially required to respond in an appropriate, respectful way. So the refusal of the guests to attend the wedding must be understood in the context of this very specific relationship. In essence, their refusal to accept the invitation says something about what they think of the King. (Obviously, this is highlighted by v. 6 where some invitees seize and kill the servants who brought the invitation).
Now placed in the context of Jesus’ on-going confrontations with the religious leaders, we should understand the severity of what Jesus is saying. Jesus is not merely describing a situation in which they have merely failed to live up to their responsibilities as religious leaders; Jesus is not suggesting that Israel has gone astray or fallen short of their calling and their covenant. What Jesus is describing seems to be that they have deliberately and egregiously dishonoured and disrespected God.
What Jesus is describing is not failure or apathy but rebellion.
Now in response to this, we see that the king sends out his forces to “destroy the murderers and burn their city.” (vv. 7-10). So what we see is that the refusal and rebellion of the king’s people leads to judgment. And the judgment against the kings people leads to the invitation being offered, instead, to others.
Again, if we’ve been paying attention to what’s going on in Matthew, this is nothing new or surprising. The people of Israel – represented by the religious leaders – have rejected the invitation of Jesus to enter/participate in the kingdom. Therefore, that invitation is being extended outside the boundaries of Israel. Those whom Israel thought were the rejected, the refuse, become precisely those who are brought into the kingdom.
None of this is new, and all of it corresponds with what we’ve been seeing so far. However, the parable doesn’t end there. This brings us to the second thing I want to pay attention to in vv. 11-14. What we hear is that one of those who is brought into the wedding is not actually prepared for the wedding. This is the guy who shows up to a wedding in a T-shirt and jeans, who doesn’t bring a gift, or who gets sloppy drunk. Though he was invited to the wedding and accepted the invitation, when he arrives, he is not prepared. And he likewise faces judgment from the king.
And I don’t want to pass over this because I think what is important to note is that the King’s response is actually anger and judgment. In the context of a parable, it’s easy to pass over this as hyperbole. And more so because we want to hold on to the truth that God is a God of grace, love, and mercy. However, I do think that it’s probably mistaken to ignore the fact that what Jesus is describing is a King who is angry. And what we’re seeing here is a King who pronounces judgment.
Now the important thing to note is that this is not a new message from Jesus. He tells us something very similar throughout the gospel. In several places, we see the message that we cannot assume that jus because we are admitted to the wedding, that we belong there. We cannot assume that because we are on “the right side of the fence,” that we are living according to God’s desires. We see:
7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’Matthew 7:15-23
In Matthew 13, the parable of the sower:
Matt. 13:37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.Matthew 13:37-43
And later in the gospel, in Matthew 25, we read the parable of the virgins:
Matt 25:1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.Matthew 25:1-13
In all of these passages, there’s a sense that, even for those who are called, some will not be prepared. Though many are invited, not all are chosen.
Now all of this should make us pause and think. On this side of history, it’s easy to look back at the chief priests and the Pharisees, to look at the religious establishment and think: “how foolish they were. How did they not recognize the son of God, the messiah, in their midst? How were they so stubborn, so proud, so lacking in wisdom?” Wherever we are, we always have a tendency to think that we have got it figured out. Christians look back at the Israelites thinking, “They didn’t understand, but at last, we know the truth.” Protestants, after the Reformation, look back at Catholics and the Orthodox, thinking the same thing. And every denomination looks at every other denomination thinking the same thing.
None of us thinks that we have refused the invitation. All of us assume that we have joined the wedding feast. And we assume that if we’re at the feast, it must mean we’re all right. And I’m not suggesting that anyone is wrong, per se. I do believe that it is only by grace that we enter into the kingdom of God. It is entirely by what God has done in Christ, and not by anything that we have done or can do that we are declared worthy.
But what we see in this parable is that being at the feast isn’t enough. It doesn’t tell the whole story. The question we should be asking ourselves, as we consider the life and teachings of Jesus, is what does righteousness look like? What does trusting in Jesus look like? What does following Jesus look like?
Jesus has given us a pretty clear picture that righteousness is not what the Pharisees assumed. It doesn’t seem to have to do with being part of the right group, following the right rules, it doesn’t even seem to have to do with theological precision. The righteousness of the kingdom seems to be something different; something more.
If we have been paying attention, Jesus has given us a fairly good understanding of what true righteousness, a righteousness of the kingdom, looks like. At least he has tried to.
It’s worth noting that the next several passages have to do with the Pharisees challenging Jesus on theology, as we’ve already seen. And then we get Jesus warning against hypocrisy. And then we get this really (almost) shocking pronouncement by Jesus, usually known as the seven woes. “Woe to the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees…” “23:33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”
If these teachers of the Law, the experts in Israelite religion, those on the highest rung of the religious social ladder don’t know what righteousness is, then who does?
Well what we’ve been seeing in the gospel of Matthew is that the simple answer (though maybe not helpful for those of us who prefer do’s and don’ts, can’s and can’ts, must nots and should nots) is to look at Jesus. Look at Jesus who healed the sick, cared for the poor, the orphans, and the widows. Look at Jesus who welcomed the sinners, the foreigners, and those who are the least among us. Look at Jesus and consider the sermon on the Mount. Look at Jesus who rejected the powers and principalities of the world, who walked willingly to the cross that we might find life.
In the parable of the wedding banquet we see that those whom God had invited rejected his invitation. So God in his mercy and grace extended His invitation to all of us. But getting in the door isn’t enough. In Matthew 5:20, Jesus tells us “20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The righteousness we are called to is the righteousness that surpasses. The righteousness we are called to is the righteousness of Christ.