“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who wasn’t wearing a wedding suit. ‘My friend,’ he said to him, ‘how did you get in here without a wedding suit?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Tie him up, hands and feet, and throw him into the darkness outside, where people weep and grind their teeth.’” Matthew 22:12 This particular verse in Matthew causes consternation for some readers of the gospel. Many people would like to know what is happening in this parable about a wedding feast that would make the king in the story so angry at a man who simply was not wearing the right kind of clothes. Is this king supposed to be Jesus or God? This seems to us to be out of character with the Jesus we anticipate meeting in the gospels. In this particular parable, the king, (whom we assume to be God), has invited guests to His son’s (whom we assume to be Jesus) wedding feast. Most of the invited guests were (we assume) too busy to come and so the king invites all people to come and share in the wedding feast. All this is what we assume to be happening with Jesus ministry. Jesus is inviting the prostitutes, the tax-collectors, and the “regular-folk” to come join His movement and be welcomed at the wedding feast (which we assume to be heaven). The Pharisees and Sadducees are the invited guests who felt themselves too important and proud to come. This is the Jesus we
expect to meet in the gospels, the One who invites everyone to come without exceptions. That is why it is such a shocker when we find one person being treated so harshly just because he didn’t have the right clothes on! This sounds to us like if Donald Trump were to say that he wants to care for poor people and then, inviting homeless people into the White House, He becomes outraged when a tramp gets dirt on his suit and throws the man out! What if the man at the wedding feast did not have any other clothes? What if he didn’t know the proper protocol? How is this kind? How is this compassionate or even nice?
When we hit a dead end in the scriptures, it is usually time to question our assumptions, particularly in this case, the assumption that Jesus is talking about heaven. That is not at all what this parable is about. The wedding feast is not heaven in this parable. The wedding feast is the parties that Jesus and His followers have been throwing as they have gone throughout the country announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. The invited guests who refused to come are the Pharisees and the official representatives of the nation of Israel. The invited guests were not “too busy” to come to the wedding feast; they were deliberately snubbing the king and his son. The culture of ancient Israel was an honor/shame culture. Whereas in our culture, a particular action is either right or wrong, in ancient Israel, and in much of the middle-east today, an action was/is either shameful or honorable. The invited guests did not make the wrong decision by having the wrong priorities; rather, the invited guests deliberately brought shame on the king and his son by dishonoring them with their absence from the wedding feast. This is why the king is enraged. This is treason. This is also what has been happening in Jesus’ ministry up to this point. There has been a power-struggle and public attempts to shame Jesus into submitting His ministry to “the proper authorities”. The public questionings were not merely people seeking more information or evidence, they were public trials and challenges to Jesus’ authority. When Jesus answered the questions well, the shame was then placed on the challenger, instead of on Jesus. This is one reason why the confrontations were getting more and more heated. The invited guests tried to shame the king, but the king found honor through those who were originally excluded from the feast. But what about the man not dressed in wedding clothes? Why would someone show up to a wedding without the proper attire? One reason could be that they could not afford the proper attire, but another reason could be that they didn’t actually want to honor the marriage. This latter reason is the one I take to be the reason for the man’s lack of wedding clothes in Jesus’ parable. There are many reasons that someone might show up at a wedding without the desire to honor a marriage. Free food and entertainment are part of the appeal. But a more sinister reason might be the desire to subvert the marriage or, in this case, to bring shame on the groom. There were some in Jesus’ movement who had, as Paul describes those subverting the gospel in his letter to the Galatians, “sneaked in to spy on our freedom in Christ” (Galatians 2:4). Some of Jesus’ followers were not actually followers but spies. The people loved Jesus, just as they loved John and believed him to be a prophet of God. It may not look good to be opposed to the people’s man. There were some who snuck into the movement who still were attempting to subvert it. They liked to ask questions that began with “Good teacher…” and “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and teach us the way of God in truth…tell us then…” Yet, their intention was malicious. If these official representatives of Israel could shame Jesus in front of His followers, they might be able to defuse the people’s support of Him. But Jesus is calling them out and again placing the shame on them. Like the man who is confronted for not wearing the appropriate wedding clothes, the Pharisees and Sadducees are both left speechless. “No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.” Matthew 22:46. God is not mocked.