NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verses 5-7: “But when the servants invited the people to come, they refused to listen. They all got busy doing other things. One went to work in his field, and another went to his business. Some of the other people grabbed the servants, beat them, and killed them.”
The reaction of these specially invited guests may seem somewhat overt and exaggerated. but it was not. Because, as the parable was meant to point out, the invitation for the king’s subjects to come celebrate with him and his son who was getting married, met with a severe lack of enthusiasm and with people putting their self-interests first. They had what we might call an “Esau Attitude.” This is clearly defined in Genesis: “Esau showed that he did not care about his rights as the firstborn son.”1 One Jewish translator renders it: “Esau spurned the birthright,”2 while another translates: “Esau despised the birthright.”3 In other words, the only thing Esau cared about was his personal desires for the moment. By doing so, he willingly gave up something great that awaited him in the future for something small that could satisfy him here and now in the present.
Another interesting explanation is that of Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra who says: Esau despised his birthright because by this time his father Isaac had lost all the wealth bequeathed to him by Abraham. Therefore, Esau had no reason to covet his inheritance since there wasn’t any. Some scholars point to the fact although Jacob stole the birthright from Esau, he still had to go work for his uncle Laban. However, Rabbi Nachmanides strongly disagrees with this view. If that were so, he says, why did Jacob desire it so badly, and why did his mother Rebekah help him gain it?4
From a Christian perspective, we can see that a spiritual birthright was made possible by the sacrifice Christ on the cross and rose from the dead, giving everyone who the right to be invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb of God. That’s why it is so important not to become so preoccupied with the things we want now that we lose sight of what awaits us when our Lord returns.
However, as we can see, many have spurned and despised the promised blessings of things to come and do not care about them because they’d rather have the porridge of this world that satisfies only for a moment, and give away what can satisfy for eternity. This attitude was repeated in the wilderness when the children of Israel passed up their first opportunity to enter the Promised Land because of fear.5 Solomon encapsulates this by describing wisdom’s lament for such foolish people: “I tried to help, but you refused to listen. I offered my hand, but you turned away from me. You ignored my advice and refused to be corrected..”6
Very few pastors have escaped having such people in their congregations. The more they try to help, the more these people get suspicious of their real motives. Then when they back away so as not to offend them, these kind accuse them of really not caring. But there is another aspect for us to contemplate in this parable. If the Jews in Jesus’ day are those who refused the first invitation, then it is obviously the non-Jews are represented by those who came off the street corners to accept the invitation. Why did the Jews disregard the invite? Perhaps because they too had waited a long time for the Messiah to appear and weren’t sure of getting to the King’s heavenly palace by way of what Jesus was teaching, so they decided to stick with all the obligations and duties of the Law as their way of getting there. But there is bad news for them.
Verse 7: The king was very angry. He sent his troops to kill those who murdered his servants. And the troops burned their city.”
Many scholars believe that this was Jesus’ first warning about the coming destruction of Jerusalem to fulfill prophecy and to remind them of what happened under King Nebuchadnezzar. As Isaiah recalls: “Those people refused to obey the teachings of the LORD All-Powerful. They hated the message from the Holy One of Israel. So the Lord became angry with His people, and He raised His hand to punish them. Even the mountains shook with fear. Dead bodies were left in the streets like garbage. And He is not finished yet. He is still angry, and His arm is raised to continue punishing His people.”7
It also served as an omen for Jesus’ disciples and all of those who would become followers up to this day. The forces of evil and demons of Satan are not satisfied to sit by and watch as the world runs to Jesus for salvation, while they already know their destiny in the fiery pit. They want to vent their anger by getting as many as they can to become despisers of the Messiah as they are. Put in that context, then the punishment of the serpent, the false prophet, and beast’s city as outlined in John’s Revelation comes to mind.8
Verses 8-9: After that, the king said to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready. I invited those people, but they were not good enough to come to my feast. So go to the street corners and invite everyone you see. Tell them to come to my feast.”
We know from the parable Jesus told concerning the vineyard owner who went into town and offered employment to those standing around in the marketplace, that this was a common sight in those days. As such, the people now being invited to the wedding of the king’s son were those with little to call their own in this world. They were, in fact, the kind that the original invitees would despise and look down on.
The early church bishop of Laodicea had this to say on how grace was squandered on the unworthy in this parable. He writes: “This wedding pictures the marriage of the church to the Word. The donation of the gifts of the wealthy provide for the wedding preparation and is compared here with bulls and fattened calves prepared for lavish feasting. For Paul says that ‘in every way’ we have been ‘enriched’ in Christ, in our ‘speaking and knowledge.”9 The first and second are called servants. The first are those who run ahead in light of the coming of the Lord, fellow laborers and successors of the apostles. But a failure to watch carefully prevents those who are invited from attending. For they ‘who live their lives according to the flesh’10 do not follow the divine call which is according to Christ. In the case of the rest, with the calling of the nations, there is no longer a separation of a people nor a special honor accorded to Israel. But grace is even [given] to the rejected and outcasts, ‘to the wise and to the foolish,‘11 as Paul says, to the evil and to the good, as the parable teaches… if it is that they really obey the calling to do good, ‘having clothed themselves with the new humanity.’12 If this proves not to be true, though they were called, they were not chosen. Rather, their calling is even rejected.”13
Verse 10: So the servants went into the streets. They gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike, and brought them to where the wedding feast was ready. And the place was filled with guests.
Can you imagine the looks on the faces of those individuals previously invited to the king’s wedding reception for his son? Like some on street corners today, they might say to those passing out the invitations to such an elite wedding, “You’ve got to be kidding!” “I didn’t know that person even knew about me; I’m a nobody!” “There’s got to be some catch, you don’t get something like this for nothing!” That’s why it is no surprised that not even one of them turned down the invitation. But as John says about this invitation: “But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.”14
And as servants passing out invitations to the kingdom of God, we must be like-minded. The king did not tell his servants to force these people to come to the wedding banquet, he only said that they should find and invite as many as they could to come. So again, the key words in John 3:16 are emphasized: “that whosoever believes” will be the ones to benefit from this invitation. Jesus did not come to make us slaves of some religion, but sons and daughters of the living God.
1 Genesis 25:34
2 Robert Alter, Genesis, op. cit., loc. cit. p.130
3 Rabbi Abraham Saba, Tzror Hamor, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 360
4 Nachmanides (Ramban), Commentary on the Torah, op. cit., loc. cit. pp. 320-325
5 Psalm 106:24
6 Proverbs 1:24-26
7 Isaiah 5:24b-25
8 Revelation 20:3, 10
9 1 Corinthians 1:5
10 Romans 8:4
11 Ibid. 1:14
12 Ephesians 4:24
13 Apollinaris: Commentary fragment 111
14 John 1:12