In Chapter 21 Jesus has entered Jerusalem and we are now in Holy Week. He has cleansed the temple only to return the next day to be challenged by the Chief Priest and the elders who wanted to know his source of authority. Jesus responds with three parables of judgment and we are in the third one today.
This parable is bizarre at all levels, if not scary. It goes from celebration to decimation in seven verses with its tortured and twisted plots; and there are not one but two of them. But remember that parables are allegories and not realism and hence you have to appreciate the absurdities to appreciate the parable.
In a food-scarce world it seems odd that one would turn down any invitation let alone one from a king. No one turns down a royal invite and makes ‘light of the invitation’ (verse 5). But an invite to tie a knot just got tied in knots ! The invited guests kill the messenger and rubbish the message inviting the full wrath of the king to burn down ‘their city’ even though it is ‘his city’.
And then there is part two! Those not meant to be invited are invited but one of them is not wearing a wedding garment so he is thrown into the outer darkness. Poor chap he came in for a free meal and now won’t even get a ‘get out of jail card.’ So we need to suss this one out to understand it.
This parable is similar to Luke 14:16-24 and one that is found in the Gospel of Thomas ( an apocryphal text) however it is Matthew who added the second part of the story and this is found nowhere else in the Gospels. You must put on a Matthean mindset when reading his parables of Jesus. His own community were kicked out by their Jewish brothers who lived down the road and made to feel like outsiders. That’s why when the king burns the city it is referred to as ‘their city’ a reference to Jerusalem which was burnt by the Romans in 70 AD.
The invitation to the wedding was rejected by the Jews who made ‘light’ of the bridegroom. Remember that one of the titles for the Messiah was the bridegroom. Having rejected the call to celebrate the messianic banquet, the Jews led by their chief priest and elders now face the full wrath of the king. The burnt down city of Jerusalem was still fresh in the minds of the Jewish Christians.