In Matthew’s gospel, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet is the third of three parables which answer a challenge to his authority (Matt 21:23-27). The brief Parable of the Two Sons (Matt 21:28–32) contrasts two types of responses to Jesus’ invitation to participate in the kingdom. The one who have responded to Jesus’ invitation are the tax–collectors and sinners. These outsiders are entering the kingdom before the chief priests and elders of the people. The Parable of the Tenants (Matt 21:33-45) described the religious leaders as not only failing to respond properly to the call of the owner of the vineyard. This third parable in the series describes the kingdom of heaven as a wedding banquet to which the subjects of a king are invited. As in the first two parables, there are two groups described; those who enter the wedding feast and those who do not.
Some features of a wedding are missing in this parable. For example, there is no bride and the not important. Some writers who comment on this parable assume the bridegroom is Jesus (a reasonable assumption given Jesus’s own words in Matt 9:15), but also that the bride as the Church. This is unwarranted allegorizing since the bride is not mentioned at all. To try to fit an unmentioned bride into the parable causes problems, this usually leads to the replacement guests as the later New Covenant gentile church replacing the Old Covenant Jewish people. This is not what Jesus intended by the parable of the Wedding Banquet. The point is not the marriage of the bride and groom, but the king’s invitation to enter the wedding feast
A King Made a Wedding Banquet for His Son (22:1-10). Wedding banquet background, important event honoring the heir. A banquet of this type would be expected to be a village–wide event, a wedding feast hosted by a king would the main event in the capital city of a kingdom. Blickenstaff reports a papyri invitation which invites the whole village to attend the celebration (κῶμος) of a wedding (‘While the Bridegroom is With Them,’ 57). A calf would feed 35-75 people; Matthew 22:4 says at least two bulls have been slaughtered along with at least two fatted calves. At a minimum, this banquet would feed two hundred people. To miss a wedding banquet hosted by the king could be a politically dangerous choice, easily interpreted as both disrespectful and treasonous.
Why does the king send two invitations? The first invitation determines how much food to prepare, the second calls the people to come to the banquet and begin to eat the food that has now been prepared (like a “save the date” card in a modern wedding). When the food was nearly ready servants would be sent to gather the guests into the banquet. In the ancient world the food served at a banquet of this sort would have to be eaten that night or it would be wasted.
Anyone who refused the second invitation would have been especially rude. Since the food was prepared based on the first invitation, the original listener would have been struck by the absolute lack of social manners demonstrated by the invited guests. This observation frees the parable from the temptation to allegorize the two sets of servants as various prophets, etc.
When the banquet was about to begin, the original guests refused to come (22:5-7) The first-invited guests were unwilling to come. This is the working the parable of the Two Sons, the second son is not willing to obey the father, but eventually does obey (21:19). In the Parable of the Two Sons, the chief priests and Pharisees say they are willing, but refuse the father.
The invited guests pay no attention to the invitation, and some go off to their field or business. The word used for the careless attitude of the invited guests (ἀμελέω) appears four times in the New Testament. More importantly, the word appears two contexts in Jeremiah which employ the marriage metaphor. In LXX Jer 4:17 the word is a translation of the Hebrew מרה, to be “recalcitrant or rebellious” (HALOT).
The king responds dramatically: he destroyed their city while the dinner was on the table! The response of the king is exaggerated. He becomes angry and orders soldiers to burn the city with fire. Most commentaries on the Parable of the Wedding Banquet assume verses 6-7 refer to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. But parables often exaggerate, there is no need for the destruction of a city to prophesy the fall of Jerusalem (or anything else).
The original guests were not worthy (22:8). Like the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (21:33-41), the original guests are the religious leaders, and the replacement guests are Jesus’s followers. This parable says the original guests have already been replaced by new guests.
Since the food is prepared, the king replaces the original guests with other people, both bad and good (22:8-10). The king is now faced with a dilemma. He has prepared an enormous banquet, but those who were invited were not worthy to enter. He therefore sends out a second set of servants to gather whomever they should find to fill the wedding feast.
The replacement guests are not the sort of people who would have been invited at all. They are “outsiders” in the kingdom of the parable. The noun διέξοδος has the sense of the edges of society but is used in the LXX for the borders of the Land (for example, Num 34:4). These are not outsiders in the sense that they are drawn from outside of the King’s domain, but outsiders in the sense that they live on the fringe of society.
This second set of invitations is routinely taken as an allegory of Christian mission, but Klyne Snodgrass calls this “merciless allegorizing” (Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 315). I agree. If this parable is consistent with the previous two parables, then the replacement guests must be those who have responded to Jesus’ invitation, they have already been eating and drinking with Jesus. They are the tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners who live on the fringe of Jewish society. They are the very people who have been “filling the banquet” hosted by Jesus since the beginning of his ministry.
At this point, the parable seems quite clear, the original guests (the religious establishment) have been replaced by new guests (Jesus’s disciples). But are all of Jesus’s followers going to remain in the banquet? This parable has a second part to address this issue.
Bibliography: Marianne Blickenstaff, ‘While the Bridegroom is with them’: Marriage, Family, Gender and Violence in the Gospel of Matthew (LNTS, T&T Clark, 2005). Phillip J. Long, Jesus the Bridegroom: The Origin of the Eschatological Feast as a Wedding Banquet in the Synoptic Gospels. Pickwick, 2012.