Those who dishonor the Son shame and dishonor the Father who sent him. It was common for kings or important personages to throw wedding banquets for sons, to which they might invite the entire village (compare, for example, Char. Chaer. 3.2.10). But the banquet here makes special allusion to the promised banquet of the messianic era. In the narrative logic of the Gospel, Jesus is finally ready to unveil his identity in the final week (see Kingsbury 1986:81-84).
Other Jewish prophets had also applied the principle of special accountability to those closest to the Word (for example, Amos 3:2; 9:7). Whether the parable emphasizes judgment on all Israel (compare Sandmel 1978a:60; Mt 27:25), on Israel as a whole but not individual Jews (Hare 1979:39) or on the Judean leadership in particular (21:43-45) is debated, but the burning of the city in Matthew probably refers to the destruction of Jerusalem (Jeremias 1972:33; Hare 1979:39). In the context, Jesus' harsh words condemn Israel's leaders. Yet as often in his Gospel, Matthew apparently uses the community's opponents to warn members of his own community not to be like them. Not only Jesus' enemies but even some of his supposed friends (22:11-14) would betray him.
Refusing the King's Invitation Is a Grievous Insult (22:1-6)
Papyri testify to the practice of double invitations, both among upper classes and in regular village life (B. Scott 1989:169; Rohrbaugh 1991:139-41). The king long ago honored the guests with an invitation, and they appropriately responded with a promise to come; the second invitation in the parable is merely to inform them that the dinner is now ready (v. 4). Because the exact time of completion of preparations was difficult to determine in advance, a second invitation at the appropriate hour was standard procedure, and the lower a person's status, the more punctual the person was expected to be. Attendance at weddings was a social obligation in Palestinian Judaism (Bonsirven 1964:151); attendance at a patron's banquet was incumbent on social dependents throughout the Empire (compare Sirach 13:9-10). In such a society, not inviting the right person, or inviting the wrong person, could have disastrous, even fatal, consequences (b. Gittin 55b-56a). Thus, for example, one who invited the townsfolk but not the king to a town banquet merited much severer punishment than one who invited neither (t. Baba Qamma 7:2). Ignoring a king's proclamation or invitation warranted severe punishment (as in Ruth Rab. Proem 7).
By refusing to come, the guests deliberately insult the dignity of the king who has counted on their attendance and graciously prepared food for them. For all the invited guests to refuse to come would greatly shame the host; the unanimous refusal (and in Lk 14:18-20, absurd excuses given) barely disguises what must be a concerted plan to deliberately insult the host (B. Scott 1989:171).
This Act of Treason Warrants Serious Judgment (22:7)
For the king to graciously extend the honor of an invitation to a banquet and be rebuffed as if his benefaction were meaningless was a traumatic breach of the social order, an act of rebellion. The king can salvage some honor only by getting others to attend the banquet and by punishing these who have insulted his kindness; even in less dramatic circumstances, Jewish stories could envisage a king avenging his honor by executing those who have scorned his invitation to eat (Gen. Rab. 9:10).
Slaughtering messengers (v. 6) constituted an explicitly revolutionary act (compare Jos. War 2.450-56; Ant. 9.264-66). The parable's audience would naturally applaud the king's rage as just-except those who were aware that the lesson was aimed at them (21:45). The violence is realistic: after such an insult to a king's honor, nothing less than such vengeance as verse 7 depicts would satisfy his honor. Of course the parable is at the same time unrealistic to suppose that the king would engage in a military expedition while his banquet food was getting cold (Young 1989:171)! The expedition is noted here so the parable can climax with its primary point at the end-a point that also bursts the bounds of realism to show the horrible fate of the disobedient.
The Kingdom Belongs to the Humble, Not the Proud (22:8-10)
The arrogant often ignore God; God seeks the lowly of this world who will humbly acknowledge his reign. Vengeance restores some of the king's honor, but to recoup it more fully the king must invite other guests who will accept his invitation, even if they are of much lower status than the first invitees (compare p. Hagiga 2:2, 5; Vermes 1993:113). The matter is urgent: otherwise the freshly prepared food will spoil. Commentators generally believe that those gathered from outside the destroyed city represent the Gentiles (Meier 1980:248; Theissen 1991:272). This view would fit Matthew's emphasis on the Jewish-Christian mission to the Gentiles.
The welcoming of both good and bad (v. 10) echoes Jesus' own mission to sinners (9:11-13), but it may also remind us that grace not only forgives but also transforms. All are welcome, but no one dare remain the way he or she entered, in view of the final separation of "the wicked from the righteous" (13:49). Such echoes of earlier passages in the Gospel prepare the reader for the parable that follows (22:11-14): salvation is not simply a matter of those who begin the race, for we must finish it (compare 13:20-23).
Those Inside the Church May Also Dishonor God (22:11-14)
Once the newly chosen guests have begun to dine, the host enters after the banquet has begun, as was customary (Jeremias 1972:187). Some hold that hosts may have provided wedding garments to guests at the door (A. Bruce 1979:272; Gundry 1982:439). But wedding clothes may simply refer to clean garments as opposed to soiled ones (Jeremias 1972:187-88); to come to a wedding in a soiled garment insulted the host, and this host was in no further mood to be insulted. Patrons invited their social dependents to banquets, expecting due honor in return; this man, like the first guests the king invited, has responded to grace with an insult.
Just as most of the Jewish leaders were unprepared at Jesus' first coming (compare 23:13-33), some professing disciples of Jesus will be unprepared at his second (24:45-51). (Judas proves merely a case in point-compare friend in 22:12; 26:50; see also 20:13.) Professing Christians who insult God's grace by presuming on it, failing to honor his Son, will be banished to outer darkness (compare 8:12; 25:30) and weeping with gnashing of teeth (13:42; 24:51; 25:30; compare Meier 1980:248-49). Many are "called" or invited with the message of repentance (22:14; 21:32), but only those who respond worthily will share the inheritance of the chosen covenant people (also Jeremias 1971:131); compare 7:13-23.
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