HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, —Matthew 22:1-2
Distinct from Luke’s Parable
The parable of the Great Supper recorded by St. Luke so closely resembles the parable of this lesson, that not a few students (Calvin among the number) have regarded the two as real one. But it is better to keep them quite distinct and to believe that our Lord, on two separate occasions, enforced His teaching by a common figure. The Luke parable was spoken at a meal; this one was spoken in the Temple. That one was uttered in the house of a Pharisee (Luke 24:7), and this one when the doors of all the Pharisees were locked against Jesus, for the hostility of the Pharisees was at its height. In that one the host is a private man; here the host is a king, and the occasion a wedding. Observe, too, how in this parable the thoughts of a marriage and of a feast are combined. For these two were the chosen emblems of the Old Testament in shadowing forth the blessings of the New. Just as our great poets, in picturing human life, have viewed it as a journey or a warfare, so the Jewish prophets, in picturing the richer life of the New Covenant, described it as a feast or as a marriage. Here Jesus blends the two. With consummate skill, and yet with perfect simplicity, He makes one whole out of these scattered thoughts. And then He adds such inimitable touches, and gives such a deepened import to the scene, that while we thank God for all the prophets, we confess that never man spake like this man.
They Had Been Invited before They Were Called
Now observe first that those who were called had been bidden long ago (Matthew 22:3). It is quite in accord with the fashion of the East to repeat an invitation verbally. Haman, for instance, in the story of Esther, is invited to a banquet on the morrow (Esther 5:8), and when the hour had actually come to the chamberlain was sent to usher him to the feast (Esther 6:14). So Thomson, in The Land and the Book, notes how the friend at whose house he dinned last evening sent a servant to call him when dinner was ready, and he goes on to say that where western manners have not modified the Oriental, the custom still prevails among the rich. Men were first bidden, therefore, and they were called; it was the common custom at a great man’s banquet. And Jesus teaches that God had acted so, in His Gospel-invitation to the Jew. The Jews had been bidden ever since they were a nation. They had been bidden by every prophet and every sacrifice. They had been told that in the fullness of the time there was to be a banquet spread for them. Then came the calling of the twelve (Matthew 10:1-42) and of the seventy (Luke 10:1-42). And the second calling of the other servants who were sent out after the Ascension. And in the treatment of Christianity by Jewry, we have the comment of history on verses five and six. Some made light of it–as the Jews mocked and said, “These men are full of new wine” (Act 2:13). Others took the servants, as the Jews took Peter and John (Act 4:3), and as they cast Paul and Silas into prison at Philippi (Act 16:23). And they entreated them spitefully, as the Jews stoned Paul at Lystra (Act 14:19), and smote him on the mouth at the High Priest’s orders (Act 23:2). And they slew them, as the Jews slew Stephen (Act 7:60), and James and the brother of John (Act 12:2). No wonder that the King was angry with these murderers. No wonder that Jerusalem was destroyed (Matthew 22:7).
The Wedding Was Furnished with Unexpected Guests
Next note how the wedding was furnished with unexpected guests. If you had asked any of the crowd upon the highway (and note that the highways spoken of were city streets) whether they were going to the feast that night, I dare say they would have thought that you were mocking them. They knew that the marriage of the king’s son was near; they would have welcomed the opportunity of sharing in it, but they were poor; the king was too great to heed them; the light and the song and the joy were not for them. Then suddenly and unexpectedly the servants met them with the kingly summons; and the last men in the land who dreamed of it, found themselves seated in the royal hall. The others were not worthy (Matthew 22:8). What! were these worthy? Were not some of the bad and only some of them good (Matthew 22:10)? Ah, it was not their goodness which made them worthy; I think it was just their willingness to go. The only test of worthiness with God is a man’s desire to accept His invitation. A man may be dowered with every gift and talent, and still be unworthy if he will not come. On the other hand, however bad a man be, if he truly desires to sit with the King in light, God will accept that willingness as worthiness, and the man will be blessed for hungering and thirsting.
The Exact Scrutiny of God
Lastly, remark the exact scrutiny of God. It is very likely that, as each guest came in, a servant handed him a wedding garment. The garment would be a sleeveless cloak, to be thrown lightly over the other dress. We have traces of some such custom in the Bible (2 Kings 10:22), and modern travellers who have gone as ambassadors to the King of Persia (for example), have told how they had to conform to similar usage. Now, what this garment signified, we need not ask. I believe that if our Lord had had one thing only in His mind, He would have told us more plainly what that one thing was. The wedding garment is anything indispensable; anything whatever without which we cannot be Christ’s, and which the unrenewed heart is unwilling to accept. But the point to note is that when the king came in, he saw immediately the one offender. No crowding of strange men upon the couches and no enthusiasm of joyful welcome blinded him to the one rebel for an instant. “Friend,” he said gently, “how camest thou in hither?” Was it thine own daring brought thee here? Or was it by some favour of the servants? And when the man had never a word to say–and silence is often confession, says Cicero–he was cast out of the brightness of the hall into the darkness (with its tears) of night. Let none of us, then, think to escape God. He sees us, knows us, follows us, one by one. Let us be sure that in simple faith and obedience we desire to do the whole will of the King, and when the King comes in, we shall be glad.