A granddaughter e-mailed me recently with a couple of questions about difficulties she encountered in Matthew 22:1-14. It’s that story about the king who gave a wedding banquet for his son, but some invited guests refused to attend when the king’s servants were sent for them (verse 3).
The king sent servants a second time to repeat the invitation with urgency. The feast was ready. But the invited guests paid no attention. They had other things to do. In fact some of them abused and even killed the servants the king had sent (verses 4-6).
Determined that the banquet would not fail, the king then sent servants in all directions to invite anyone they found, even lounging at street corners, to come right away and enjoy the feast. The strategy worked. The banquet hall was full (verses 8-10).
Then the story takes a strange turn. The feast is underway. The king is moving among the guests and finds one man not properly dressed with “wedding clothes.” You don’t go to an eastern wedding banquet in the equivalent of overalls or scrubs. He asks the man how he got in. The man is speechless. So he has him bound and thrown out of the brightly lit hall into the darkness outside (verses 11-13).
My granddaughter had two questions: Why did the poor man get thrown out just because of “his shabby appearance?” And what is the meaning of the sentence the story closes with: “For many are invited, but few are chosen (verse 14)?
My answer began by pointing out first that we have to read the whole passage as one story and keep it together in our heads. It’s about a king who was throwing a big banquet to celebrate his son’s marriage. What’s that all about? Matthew says this story is to tell us something about the kingdom of heaven — how the rule of God will be vindicated and displayed at the end of the age. It will be like a big banquet in honor of Jesus, the king’s son.
You can imagine what a lavish event an eastern king would put on. And what eager responses he would expect from those honored by a special invitation. But the responses weren’t what he expected. And one man who even did turn up had to be thrown out.
About that man, here’s a hint. It’s believed by some that at such an event a wedding garb was provided at the door to be sure everyone was properly dressed. If this is so, then it appears that the man in his own way had scorned the king’s provision. It’s as though he said, “I’ll come to the feast all right, but on my terms.” This would be a very disrespectful and arrogant response. We can’t forget that there was a certain segment of Jesus’ audiences that responded to him in arrogance.
The feast was at night, the banquet hall would be brightly lit, and the improperly clad man was seized by the king’s guards, bound, and thrown out into outer darkness among others who were there too. Jesus was giving this story in the presence of listeners who felt similar responses to his gospel – indifference, disinterest, hostility – or even arrogance.
The final verse has to be understood in the light of the whole story: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” That is, many are called to celebrate in the coming kingdom just as many were invited to an earthly regal feast in Jesus’ story. But the many are going to be passed over because of their own foolish or arrogant refusals. They are thus called but not chosen.