Matt 22 2-14: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
We have no concept of a wedding feast from ancient time, what we do is a poor shadow of the grand celebrations of which the people listening to this story knew. The food and wine of a celebration that lasted for days. Ah, but I digress.
The king (God) has been working long and hard in preparation for the day when his Son will take a bride (the Church), and the day has come. The Father has sent out the the invitations, but no one shows. Imagine turning down an invitation to the wedding of William and Kate, even we Americans understand what a great honor it would be to be given an invite to this royal wedding…then to tell them no, without so much as a reason why. This isn’t just an invite that you received and forgot about, you sent in the RSVP, right up to the day day of the wedding the Queen was expecting you to show, and you simply don’t. And not only you – no one shows up! Imagine how they would feel.
God is patient, slow to anger. He sends his servants (the prophets) out to find out why no one has come, and to urge them to reconsider before it is too late. When the servant comes to your door, who are you? Do you laugh at the servant before closing your door? Do you just slam the door on them and go back to your normal life? Or do you grab hold of them, beat them, then finally shoot them as they turn to leave?
Okay, I said that God was slow to anger, not that he didn’t get angry. Seventy years after they put Jesus to death God’s anger rises and he sends the troops in to level Jerusalem, from the temple to the walls of the city, not a stone is left unturned.
God then turns his attention to a new group and sends his servants (the Apostles) out to the rest of the world to find people willing to come to this grand feast. They gather in as many people as would fit into the hall, and the king is pleased. Finally he is able to throw a wedding feast truly worthy of his son and the bride. Almost. Someone has come to the party not dressed properly, so before the feast can continue this person must be dealt with. He is bound head and foot and tossed out into the darkness where those who dwell in darkness will gladly go after him. Harsh? Not if you understand what is happening here, so let’s take a look into the ancient wedding ceremony (and find out something about our celebration as well).
To us it seems strange that, after sending his servants out into the towns and streets in the area, that the king would be enraged over one person showing up not dressed for the occasion. After all, this was really the very last moment, the feast was already underway, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if one person wasn’t dressed properly. In our modern culture we go to great lengths to assure that the bridal party (bridesmaids, groomsmen, maybe even the parents) have outfits that match the color theme of the wedding. Taking everyone to the fitting, making sure they buy they right gowns and tuxedos, everything is just as the bride wants.
But this was not the case in Jesus’ time, remember we are dealing with a society where the clothing was loose fitting cloaks and tunics, a form fitting attire would have been extremely expensive, and uncomfortable in the desert heat. So, clothing was very generic, usually differing only in materials and colors. The king would have been responsible for providing the attire for everyone invited to the wedding. All that was necessary was to come to the wedding wearing what was provided. So, what we have is a guest who refused to put on the clothing that was provided him by the king. God has gone through great difficulty to provide an amazing wedding feast for his Son and the church, the invites were sent out, the clothing (the Gospels) was provided to all of the guests, all they had to do was to don the gown (Holy Spirit) and show up. Yet, how many of us are willing to do so? How many are willing to put on the cloak of believership and follow the path to the feast?
One closing remark. Today when a couple gets married they have the wedding (usually in a church, chapel, or some place meaningful), afterwards everyone goes to the reception at a hall somewhere. There they enjoy the company of relatives and friends, barely seeing each other except for the meal and a dance or two. Then they’re off to spend the night together, followed by a honeymoon somewhere special. Things were vastly different in the time of Jesus, and I think a brief look at their customs would go a long way to understanding this parable, along with the wedding at Cana. So, here is a brief description of a first century Jewish wedding, see how much matches today.
First, when a man decided he wanted to marry a certain woman his father would approach the woman’s father to ask permission and to set the terms of the marriage. If both agreed then the agreement was sealed with a glass of wine. At this point the man and woman entered the room (from separate areas, they were not together at the time), the man asked the woman to marry him, if she accepted then a ring was placed on her finger signifying that she was engaged, this was done in front of two witnesses. Now a formal contract outlining the terms of the marriage (time, place, size of the party, amount of the dowry) was drawn up and signed by all parties and was kept by the bride to assure compliance.
At this point the two parted, not to see each other again until the wedding (bad luck) which was usually a year from then (I remember when I was engaged, a year was still considered a usual engagement period). This was not just to assure her fidelity, but also for him to prepare their home. During this year he would be responsible for building her a home, it could be a separate building on his father’s property, or just an addition to the father’s home. If he failed in his duties she could terminate the engagement. It was during this time that the invitations and wedding clothing was sent out by the groom’s father.
When the groom had completed everything agreed upon he and his groomsmen (at night, and with torches) would start walking towards the bride’s home. When the bridesmaids saw the torches headed in their direction they would run to the bride and let her know that he was coming (yes, they were responsible for keeping watch the entire year, with enough oil to keep their lamps going). At this point she would drop whatever she was doing and don her wedding attire and make her final preparations. This was the big moment.
Both wedding parties would then walk to the groom’s home, with the two parties responsible for keeping the couple apart. The ceremony would then be held in the groom’s home (not in the synagogue). After being pronounce married the two would then go to their home to consummate the marriage, while everyone else waited. After the consummation the groom would go to the party and announce the good news. After the usual congratulations the groom would beat a hasty retreat back to his, now, wife, while everyone else partied. The bride and groom would then spend an entire week in seclusion, no one was permitted to interrupt them during this period. When the week was up the husband and wife went to the party (yes, after a week it was still going on) at which time they would join the festivities. Everything would come to a conclusion at sunset on the day they returned.
So, how much sounds familiar? What surprised you? What new thoughts does this give you on the wedding feast at Cana? Can you understand how the wine could run out, and what it meant to keep the festivities going? What impression does this give you when you read how Christ compared heaven to a wedding feast?