THE PARABLE OF THE WEDDING GARMENT
Matthew 22:11-14
Mark Walker

Setting

The parable of "The Great Supper" is told in Matthew 22:1-10; Luke 14:16-24; and the Gospel of Thomas 64. To this, Matthew adds a second parable (the parable of "The Wedding Garment"). All three versions (of the parable of the Great Supper) involve a man / a king (in Matthew) preparing a dinner / marriage feast (in Matthew), which none of his invited guests attend. So, the man / king sends his servant / servants (in Matthew) to invite people from the streets. Luke also adds a second invitation, perhaps to show that the host's intent was to have all of the seats filled at his house. Jeremias goes so far as to suggest that Luke may have seen the first invitation going out to the sinners of Israel and the second invitation to the Gentiles. The preceding parable in Matthew makes it evident that Matthew understands the previously uninvited to refer to the Gentiles (Jeremias 64). Matthew may use a king, a marriage feast, and servants (a king would have multiple servants) to tie the parable of the Great Supper with the parable of the Wedding Garment (Scott 167).


Exegetical Analysis

At the end of verse 10 (in Matthew), all seems well. The king has invited substitute guests to the marriage feast, and the wedding hall is filled. But then, everything changes. When the king enters he finds a man who is not dressed properly, and has the man bound and cast out where people "will weep and gnash their teeth" (verse 13). This does not seem fair. How could the king do this? Didn’t the king tell his servants to go out into the streets and invite in everyone, both good and bad? If the king invited people off the streets, how could he expect them to come prepared?

At formal banquets it was customary that the host not partake in the meal with the guests. Instead, the host would come in and greet the guests at some point during the meal. Thus, "the king came in to look at the guests" (verse 11). Some scholars have suggested that the wedding garment was supposed to be provided by the king; however, there is no proof of this idea (Hagner 631). Jeremias says that the wedding garment was not a special garment, but simply a newly washed garment. If the garment were dirty it would be an insult to the host. When the king came into the marriage feast he asked the man in effect, "By what right did you come into my feast in dirty clothes?" Had the man sneaked in? Was he trying to insult the host? (Jeremias 187-188). We are not told why the man was inappropriately dressed.

"For many are called, but few are chosen" (verse 14). It is common in Matthew "that not all are receptive to Jesus and his message and not all bring forth the righteousness of the kingdom" (Hagner 632). We have to be careful how we treat this verse. It does not indicate a specific number of people, it simply reveals that not everyone is chosen. We also see that people who may have been chosen can loose their privilege through their unresponsiveness to the invitation. The chosen were not true to their calling (Hagner 632). A similar idea is revealed in 2 Esdras (= 4 Ezra) 8:3, 41: "Many have been created, but only a few shall be saved;" and "For just as the farmer sows many seeds in the ground and plants a multitude of seedlings, and yet not all that have been sown will come up in due season, and not all that were planted will take root; so also those who have been sown in the world will not all be saved."

While Matthew connected the idea (many called; few chosen) with the parable of the Wedding Garment, the verse was probably not originally connected to the parable. Jeremias attempts to show that v. 14 does not agree with the story, since the wedding hall is filled and only one guest is rejected (106).


Statement of Teaching

How the man got into the feast and whether it was the king’s responsibility to provide the garment are debatable issues. What is important is that the man was not properly dressed at the marriage feast. Therefore, when questioned by the king the man had no excuse. Over the years this parable has received various interpretations. It has often been interpreted allegorically suggesting that the wedding garment is righteousness. The man accepted the invitation, but he did not conform to the standard. In this sense, its purpose is not to frighten, but to encourage Christians to live a Christian life (Hare 252). Others suggest that righteousness is close to the proper meaning, but it does not fit with the metaphor of outer garments. Or, perhaps "the wedding garment refers to one’s outward and self-evident conduct which reveals an inward holiness of character or evidence of a changed nature" (Hobbs 304). A surface allegiance to the king might fool other guests, but the king will not be fooled (Hobbs 305).

Jeremias suggests another possibility based on a rabbinic parallel. According to this parallel, there was "a king who issued invitations to a banquet, without specifying the hour. The wise attired themselves, while the foolish went on with their work. Suddenly the summons came, and those who were not dressed in clean clothes were not admitted to the banquet" (Jeremias 188). In this case the man was a fool; the summons for the feast came earlier than he expected and he was unprepared.

The rabbinic parallel suggests that the wedding garment refers to repentance. Jeremias believes that the metaphor for the wedding Garment comes from Isaiah 61:10: "He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation . . . ." "God clothes the redeemed with the wedding-garment of salvation . . . the garment of Life and Glory, is a symbol of the righteousness awarded by God, and to be clothed with this garment is a symbol of membership of the redeemed community" (Jeremias 189). God offers to us forgiveness and righteousness that comes through salvation.


Application

As in the parable of the Tares (Matt. 13:24-30), the good and bad exist side-by-side, but a time will come when they must be separated. Everyone is invited, but not all can come. God has laid forth before us what we must do. "One may not stand before God unprepared for judgment and expect to presume upon his grace" (Blomberg 238). Although God’s grace is free, we are not free from moral responsibility (Romans 3:8; 6:1). "In order to remove any ground for such a misunderstanding, the parable of the Wedding Garment was inserted into the parable of the Great Supper, introducing the principle of merit, and emphasizing the necessity for repentance as the condition of acquittal at the Last Judgment" (Jeremias 66). As Jesus warned many times through His parables, no one knows when the call will come, and so everyone must be ready at all times (Luke 12:40).