Who is the Unprepared Guest at the Wedding Banquet?  Matthew 22:11–14

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son (Matt 22:1). The people he invited to the banquet refused to come, so he replaced them with people living on the fringes of society. As the replacement guests settle into the banquet, the king comes to look over his guests. He discovers an unprepared man not wearing a wedding garment (22:11b-12). Who is the unprepared guest?

Unprepared Guest

The king calls the man “friend,” but this word (ἑταῖρος) refers to someone who is not a friend (φίλος). Some translations will use “comrade,” although that English word bad connotations. It refers to an acquaintance who is not a friend, but it is strange to call someone an acquaintance to their face. The word is rare in the New Testament and Matthew may have chosen the word to foreshadow who he wants us to see as the unprepared guest. In Matthew 20:13, the master of the vineyard refers to the workers who complain about their pay as “friend.” In that context, the all-day workers are the religious leaders in contrast to the recent workers, likely Jesus’s disciples and the lowly types following him.

More foreboding, this is the word Jesus uses when Judas approaches him in the Garden (Matt 26:50). Judas appeared to be in the inner circle, but he was not really part of the inner circle. When the kingdom of heaven arrives, there will be some who appeared to be part of Jesus’s family who were not genuine members, the were false insiders. So, Matthew used the word for the religious leaders who complain about his lowly followers and Judas, the disciple who betrayed him.

How was he supposed to get a wedding garment? Remember the replacement guests were the poor, people living on the fringes of society. They are not likely to own fancy clothes worthy of the king’s wedding banquet. There is no good explanation for how he should have obtained his wedding banquet. This does not stop commentaries and pastors from passing along the idea the king would hand out nice clothes to the guests as they entered the banquet hall, as if this was modern restaurant that requires men to wear a coat and tie. But there is no evidence this ever happened in the ancient world, nor does the king offer loaner clothes in the parable.

What does the wedding garment represent? For many interpreters, the wedding garment represents salvation because they have already allegorized the wedding banquet as eternal life or the replacement guests as the church. In a previous post I argued the replacement guests are not the later (gentile) church, but rather Jesus’s disciples and other followers. They were people from the fringes of society: Galilean fishermen, tax-collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners. They have entered the wedding banquet and have been eating with Jesus all along. It was the religious establishment, the Pharisees, scribes, and other Temple aristocracy who refused to follow Jesus. But are all Jesus’s followers really true disciples? The guest without proper wedding garments is a follower who is going to reject Jesus in the next few days when he is arrested and crucified. The most obvious example is Judas, but there were many who rejected Jesus as messiah when he was crucified.

The unprepared guest was unable to answer the king. The verb (φιμόω) literally means “he was muzzled.” The king therefore order the man be bound and cast into the outer darkness, in the place where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (22:13). This is a key phrase in Matthew and refers to the final, eschatological judgment. In Matthew 8:12 the “sons of the kingdom” will be thrown there. When the Son of Man comes his angels will gather all the law breakers out of his kingdom and throw then in the fiery furnace where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (13:42, 50). The wicked servant who does not expect the return of hos master will be cut in pieces put with the hypocrites in a place where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (24:51). Finally, the foolish servant who does not properly invest on behalf of his master is also thrown into the outer darkness where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (25:30).

Jesus concludes, “Many are Called, Few are Chosen” (Matt 22:14). This cryptic line is usually assigned to a later layer of tradition which sought to apply the parable to a new situation in the early church. For example, Dodd thought the line was added by Matthew to “guard against the reception of the Gentiles into the Church on too easy terms” (Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom, 122).

Like the image of a wedding feast for an eschatological kingdom, the idea of the “elect” is a powerful image in Second Temple Period Judaism.  Of critical importance is the election of Israel as God’s people and the covenant he made with them. Philo, for example, said “Yet out of the whole human race He chose as of special merit and judged worthy of pre–eminence over all, those who are in a true sense men, and called them to the service of Himself, the perennial fountain of things excellent” (Spec. Laws 1.303).

If my reading of the Wedding Banquet parable is correct, then perhaps the saying plays on the idea of Israel’s election in general, and Jesus’ followers in particular. The saying means something like: “not all of the elect Israel are chosen to enter the kingdom.” The first guests are “all Israel,” the second guests are the outsiders who have participated in table fellowship with Jesus and have entered the Kingdom of Heaven. As Snodgrass concludes, while some Jews have rejected Jesus as Messiah, “other Jews will respond” (Stories with Intent, 321).

2 thoughts on “Who is the Unprepared Guest at the Wedding Banquet?  Matthew 22:11–14

  1. It took me a while to gather my thoughts. I often felt many read too much into Christ’s teachings. From my upbringings, it seemed so much Holiness was implied to his words, that we were never really able to grasp a simple answer. In the example of Matt 22; 11-14, Those who were previously asked to be there, all gave their excuses of not being able to attend, ‘Knowing perfectly well the king had prepared everything for their benefit’. Now he has a wedding feast that is about to be spoiled for nothing. So he sent out and destroyed those who were not worthy. Then he sends his servants to find anyone to come and join him at his son’s wedding feast. So now, as he looks over those who did come and there was one who was not prepared without proper wedding garment and this man was speechless when asked of it and the king had him bound and thrown outside. So now I’ll ask you. No matter who you are, if you are asked to come to a wedding party, (second choice or not), knowing full well, the King himself has put forth the request that you attend, would you not dress the proper part to sit at the king’s highest table out of respect? Showing up at the banquets of banquets and coming with nothing more than common dress, is an insult to that request. So no, since this individual could not at least fulfil his part as being part of the king’s highest celebration, does not deserve the honor of being there. I would throw him out myself.
    If God the Heavenly Father asks you to come to His kingdom banquet, for those who were invited excused themselves, for they felt their personal life activities were more important, then they will be destroyed, for they proved themselves as not worthy. So God asks the lowly to come join Him at His feast. Even the lowly know what God expects from us. So if we show up, without fully clothing our souls with what we know God would expect us to do, then, we too have shown we too are not worthy and He will throw us out.

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