–By Elizabeth Ahlman
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:1-14 ESV).
This is a perplexing text, not quite so straight forward as a similar parable in Luke. Jesus has been speaking a series of parables to the crowd, including the Pharisees. The time of His crucifixion is drawing closer, and the Pharisees are repeatedly said to be looking for a way to kill Him. So He’s hit them with a couple of doozies here. In the previous parable, He likens them to the tenants of the vineyard who murder all of the owner’s messengers. In this parable, He seems to be likening them to those who do not heed the wedding invitation, go off to their own concerns, and even kill the servants bearing the invitations. Again, what should have been theirs is given to others. Up until here, it’s pretty cut and dry. We are the new invitees, we get to go in. Those old fools are out.
The twist in this one, though, is the man who comes in with the new invitees — “both the good and the bad” — who doesn’t wear a wedding garment. He’s been gathered in just like all the others, but for some reason he’s not wearing a wedding garment and has no answer for why not. So the King has him bound hand and foot and cast out. Jesus ends the parable by saying, “many are called, but few are chosen.” If both the good and the bad are welcome on this new guest list, what’s the problem with this guy simply not having a wedding garment? He didn’t reject the invitation like the first who were invited. He does not appear to have murdered anyone. But there’s something about him not having the wedding garment that is a problem. So out he goes. He was chosen, and yet out he goes. Is he someone who was invited, came, but in secret rejects or scorns the gifts, like a Baptized person who has renounced their Baptism? Is he one of the initial guests who just snuck in to see what it was all about? Is he just along for the ride, but really has no respect for the King, his other guests, or the occasion? And his fate is a frightening one: bound hand and foot, thrown to where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Hell.
We could sit here all day and ruminate on this. Maybe there are answers. But the point of a parable is never to understand it in every detail. The point of a parable is that those on the outside will hear without understanding, but those of us already on the inside, will see, hear and understand the most important thing about every parable: How God is at work in Christ Jesus for us. We may not fully understand how to import the man who is invited, but not chosen. We cannot fully understand why there are some to this day who are called, but not chosen. We cannot fully understand the ways of God. And we are not meant to.
But what can be known and understood is this, dear Baptized reader: YOU are not this man. While many are called, but few are chosen, YOU can rest assured that you are chosen. In your Baptism, you were clothed with the wedding garment and seated at the table. You belong with those who enjoy the King’s Feast, and you partake of it every Sunday when you come to the Lord’s Table to take and eat His body broken for you, and to take and drink His blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This is the heart of the parables: that for those of us who are called and chosen, there is Gospel in the parables, the Gospel of God in Christ FOR YOU. You are called, you are chosen, you sit at the Table in the splendor of the wedding garment given to you in your Baptism. For you there is rejoicing, there is light and there is life.
Let us Pray: Lord God Heavenly Father, we thank and praise you that you have chosen us in Christ to be the guests at your wedding feast; remind us always that we are clothed in the wedding garment given to us in our Baptisms so that we may ever rest assured in Your grace and mercy to us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.