In this week of the Loose Ends sermon series Greg looks at the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. He shares some general principles for understanding parables and addresses common misconceptions. Here we see that God is not like a violent, unjust king, but rather a God who lovingly invites all to a banquet he graciously prepares.
Idioms are phrases of speech unique to a particular setting or culture. Phrases like “under the gun” or “beat around the bush” have meanings beyond their literal translations that can cause confusion for those outside of the context where the idiom emerged. Similarly, parables are like idioms. To understand correctly, you must know that parables are like one long analogy with some aspects of the parable meant to be representative of the Kingdom of God and some aspects meant to be contrasted with the Kingdom of God.
A general principle for understanding parables:
- Expected bad behavior = NOT like the Kingdom of God
- Unexpected good behavior = LIKE the Kingdom of God
Jesus’ primary audience was 1st century Jewish peasants living in and around the region of Galilee. Jesus used his audiences experience as part of his teaching. Any 1st century Jewish peasant would have lived under the rule of landowners, kings, or dignitaries that were often nasty, unjust, and violent. As such, Jesus uses these kings and rulers as part of his teaching, because they were aspects of life his audience was well familiar with. It is also important to note that Jesus often exaggerates their bad behavior, similar to the way a political cartoon exaggerates a politician’s looks and features. The parables are meant to be funny and entertaining so that they are easier to remember and interact with. Some scholars also argue that the parables were therapeutic to their original audience, because they allowed an oppressed people a chance to blow off steam.
The single most common mistake that contemporary readers make when trying to interrupt parables is to confuse the king or ruler in the parable with God. This is where it is important to remember the cultural context and the general principle outlined above. What is expected is NOT intended as a reflection on God and what is unexpected IS intended to reflect the character of God.
Greg then turned to Matthew 22:1-14 and the parable of the Wedding Banquet.
Context: In the 1st century rulers would send out slaves to invite their allies. Once the banquet was prepared they would send their slaves out a second time to let the invitees know that the banquet was ready. No ruler or king would ever ask an additional time, or beg someone to come.
Expected (or Exaggerated) Bad Behavior: The ruler would be unjust and violent. When the ruler in the story is denied (which would have been unheard of in the 1st century context) he has all those he invited killed. This is an exaggerated aspect in the story meant to help it stick in the hearers’ memories.
Unexpected Good Behavior: The ruler imploring his guest to come (no king would ever ask more than once) and then inviting everyone both “good and bad.”
Greg then turned to a few questions that the parable leaves us with. First, what does “weeping and gnashing of teeth” mean? This verse troubles many who have interpreted it to mean hell. In the time of Jesus, outer darkness was thought of a place people went to wait for final judgment. Weeping and gnashing of teeth are descriptions used in both the Old Testament and intertestamental literature. However, nowhere in the Bible does it say that weeping and gnashing of teeth means the person is being tortured or being caused to suffer. In fact, gnashing of teeth in the Old Testament refers to anger and defiance. So, it is more likely that these people are upset that they lost, not repented or sorry for where they are. For more information on this topic check out the sermon “Hell in a Nutshell” or others that Greg has done exploring what the Bible says about Hell.
Second question, what is going on with the guest without the wedding robe? Jewish culture put a huge emphasis on celebrations and festivals and making sure that you were dressed appropriately for them. The guest in the story would have had a wedding robe (which just meant his “Sunday best”). The fact that he didn’t have it on and didn’t have an explanation means that he purposely did not wear it. This would have meant that he was intentional making a statement to the king of what he thought of him and his banquet. The point here is that where we end up reflects our heart’s orientation.
Finally, what does “many are called but few are chosen” mean? This verse is the punchline of the parable. However, it is often misinterpreted and can cause fear for readers who think it means that God is predestining some to heaven and others to hell. It is important to remember that in the story the king does not pick who will end up at the banquet. Rather, guests come of their own accord. Similarly, God chooses everyone who chooses him. All people are call, but love has to be chosen.
Parables always have a practical application. So, what is our take away? It is not enough to accept Jesus’ invitation to the Kingdom. We must also live out our relationship with him. This does not mean we should live in fear or try to earn salvation. Rather, it means that we are married to Jesus and like any married person we should make sure our lives reflect that we are married! We should not expect to sit at the table unless we are dressed for it. As John 17:3 says our relationship with Jesus is our salvation! So, we can ask the Holy Spirit to help show us what old garments we might be holding onto that we need to exchange for the wedding robes that He is trying to give us. The longer we persist in a behavior the better we get at it, so right now is the best time to turn to what God has for us.
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