NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 11-12: When the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in the right clothes for a wedding. The king said, “Friend, how were you allowed to come in here? You are not wearing the right clothes.” But the man said nothing.
Since the king sent his servants out to the street corners to invite anyone and everyone to come to this wedding, it seems odd that someone would be sighted that did not belong there. We can only surmise, that after they accepted the invitation they were told to put on special attire. Either this man was not invited, or, he didn’t think it necessary to dress up since he wanted to be accepted for who he was and not what the king wanted him to be. In any case, the king was not pleased because this man failed inspection and should have been stopped at the door.
There is a similar story in Jewish writings that goes like this: “A king summoned his servants to a banquet without appointing a time. The wise ones adorned themselves and sat at the door of the palace because they asked: ‘Isn’t there something we can do for the royal palace?’ These fools went about their business, saying: ‘How can there be a banquet without any preparation? Suddenly the king called everyone into his presence: the wise entered adorned, while the fools entered soiled. The king rejoiced at seeing the wise but was angry with the fools. ‘Those who adorned themselves for the banquet,’ ordered he, ‘let them sit, eat and drink. But those who did not adorn themselves for the banquet, let them stand and watch.’”1
Another Rabbi recounts God giving a similar order: “Therefore, says the Lord God, Behold, my servants will eat, but you will be hungry: behold, my servants will drink, but you will be thirsty: behold, my servants will rejoice, but you will be ashamed: behold, my servants will sing for joy of heart, but you will cry for sorrow of heart.”2 The Jews also have a story told by another Rabbi that goes: “Esau, the evil one, is destined to put on his cloak and to dwell with the righteous in the Garden of Eden in the age to come. But the Holy One, blessed be He, will drag him and throw him out of there. What is the Scriptural basis for this statement? ‘Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, I will bring you down, says the Lord.’3 And “stars” refer only to the righteous, as you say, ‘And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.4”5 Add this to what we have already learned, and this man, like Esau, may have been one of those who was invited earlier, but like Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of porridge instead of having a meal at the king’s table.
Augustine touched on this in his homily: “But someone will object, This is strange. What great matter is it that one man among this large crowd does not have a wedding garment? Why rivet attention on this one man? So what if he creeps in unperceived by the servants of the householder? How could it be said that because of just that one, ‘they invited in both good and bad together?’ Attend, therefore, beloved, and understand. This man represents a whole class of persons of whom there are many.”6 Here Augustine is not chiding Jesus for telling this story and pointing out that one person made it into the banquet without the proper clothing, but he is telling his congregation not to worry about such individuals, but seek to count themselves among those who were dressed in the proper attire.
Gregory the Great has an interesting take on what this wedding garment represents. He writes: “What do we think is meant by the wedding garment, dearly beloved? For if we say it is baptism or faith, is there anyone who has entered this marriage feast without them? A person is outside because he has not yet come to believe. What then must we understand by the wedding garment but love? That person enters the marriage feast, but without wearing a wedding garment, who is present in the holy church. He may have faith, but he does not have love. We are correct when we say that love is the wedding garment because this is what our Creator Himself possessed when He came to the marriage feast to join the church to Himself. Only God’s love brought it about that His only begotten Son united the hearts of His chosen to Himself. John says that ‘God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son for us.’7”8
Augustine asks the same question: “What is that wedding garment, then? This is the wedding garment: ‘The goal of this command is love,’ says the apostle, ‘which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.9 This is the wedding garment. Not love of any kind whatever—for very often they who are partakers together of an evil conscience seem to love one another. Those who commit robberies together, who love the destructive arts of witchcraft, and who go to the coliseum together and join together in the shout of the chariot race or the wild beast fight—these too in some sense very often may be said to love one another. But in such people, there is no love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and insincere faith. The wedding garment is love such as this: ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I have become like a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.’10 Suppose someone who speaks in tongues comes in and is asked, ‘How did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ Suppose he answers, ‘But I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and I have all faith so that I could remove mountains.’ But if he has no love, he has nothing. Such may be the clothing of those who in fact lack the wedding garment. ‘Though,’ he says, ‘I have all these and have not Christ,11 I am nothing.’ Is then ‘the gift of prophecy’ nothing? Is then ‘the knowledge of mysteries’ nothing? It is not that these are nothing. But ‘I, if I have them, and have not love, am nothing.’12”13
Verses 13-14: So the king told some servants, “Tie this man’s hands and feet. Throw him out into the darkness, where people are crying and grinding their teeth in grief.” Yes, many people are invited. But only a few are accepted.
While reading this, we are reminded of wisdom crying in the streets, “Listen! Wisdom is shouting in the streets. She is crying out in the marketplace. She is calling out where the noisy crowd gathers.”14 But though many are invited, they must conform to the dress code that the king has established for all guests to the wedding. Here we detect the same intent in the following invitation: “He sent me to announce that the time has come for the Lord to show His kindness when our God will also punish evil people. He has sent me to comfort those who are sad, those in Zion who mourn. I will take away the ashes on their head, and I will give them a crown. I will take away their sadness, and I will give them the oil of happiness. I will take away their sorrow, and I will give them celebration clothes.”15
But Jesus tells us that someone got in without acquiring the required wedding garment. This person sounds like the one described in Isaiah, “We are all dirty with sin. Even our good works are not pure. They are like bloodstained rags.”16 Joshua the high priest went though such an inspection, “Joshua was wearing a dirty robe as he stood in front of the angel. Then the angel said to the other angels standing near him, ‘Take those dirty clothes off Joshua.’ Then the angel spoke to Joshua. He said, ‘Now, I have taken away your guilt, and I am giving you a new change of clothes.’”17 As we can see, clothing is used here as a metaphor for a person’s character and spiritual status.
When confronted, the man without the proper attire had no alibi or argument to justify his presence. So the intruder was quickly dismissed and thrown outside where those who had initially turned down the invitation were begging and pleading to get in. No sooner had Jesus finished the parable, then the conviction that came over the Pharisees was so heavy they could no longer hang around, it was more than they could handle. So, not being willing to repent they left in a huff.
1 Babylonian Talmud, op. cit Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Shabbat, folio 153a
2 Rabbi Meir’s son-in-law said in Rabbi Meir’s name: Ibid.
3 Obadiah 1:4
4 Daniel 12:3
5 Rabbi Aha said in the name of Rabbi Huna: Jerusalem Talmud, op. cit. Third Division, Tractate: Nedarim Ch. 3:9, [I:1 G-J]
6 Augustine: Sermon 90.4
7 John 3:16
8 Gregory the Great: Forty Gospel Homilies 38.9
9 1 Timothy 1:5
10 1 Corinthians 13:1
11 Some experts on Augustine’s writings believer here he means “The love of Christ.”
12 I Corinthians 13:2
13 Augustine: Sermon 90.6
14 Proverbs 1:20-22
15 Isaiah 61:2-3
16 Ibid. 64:6
17 Zechariah 3:3-4