Lectio Divina: Matthew 22:1-14
1) Opening prayer
God our Father,
may we love You in all things and above all things
and reach the joy You have prepared for us
beyond all our imagining.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 22:1-14
Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and the elders of the people in parables saying, "The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those invited: "Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast."' Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then the king said to his servants, 'The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.' The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, 'My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?' But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, 'Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.' Many are invited, but few are chosen."
• Today’s Gospel presents the parable of the banquet which we also find in the Gospel of Matthew and of Luke, but with significant differences which stem from each evangelist’s point of view. The background which leads both evangelists to repeat this parable is the same. In the communities of the first Christians, both those of Matthew and those of Luke, the problem of living together between the converted Jews and the converted pagans continued in full force. The Jews had ancient norms which prevented them from eating together with pagans. Even entering into the Christian communities, many Jews kept the ancient custom of not sitting at the same table with pagans. Thus, Peter had conflicts in the communities of Jerusalem because he had entered the house of Cornelius, a pagan, and had eaten with him (Acts 11:3). This same problem existed, though in a different way, in Matthew’s and Luke’s communities. In Luke’s community, in spite of the differences in race, class and gender, they had a great ideal of sharing and of communion (Acts 2:42; 4:32; 5:12). For this reason, in Luke’s Gospel (Lk 14:15-24), the parable insists on the invitation addressed to all. The master of the feast, angry and upset because the first guests, who were invited, did not arrive, sends his servants to call the poor, the crippled, the blind, and invites them to participate in the banquet. But there is still place. Then, the master of the feast orders that all be invited, until his house is full. In Matthew’s Gospel, the first part of the parable, (Mt 22:1-10) has the same objective as that of Luke’s Gospel. It says that the master of the feast orders the servants to let the “good and the bad” enter (Mt 22:10). But it the end, he adds another parable (Mt 22:11-14) concerning the wedding garment, which focuses on something specific to the Jews, the need of purity in order to be able to present oneself before God.
• Matthew 22:1-2: The invitation addressed to all. Some manuscripts say that the parable was told for the chief priests and for the elders of the People. This hypothesis can serve as a key for the reading, because it helps one to understand some strange points which appear in the story. The parable begins like this: “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who gave a feast for his son’s wedding.” This initial statement recalls the most profound hope: the desire of the people to be with God always. Several times the Gospel refers to this hope, suggesting that Jesus, the Son of the King, is the bridegroom who comes to prepare the wedding (Mk 2:19; Rev 21:2, 19:9).
• Matthew 22:3-6: The invited guests do not want to come. The king invites in a more insistent way, but the guests do not want to come. “But they were not interested: one went off to his farm, another to his business; and the rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.” In Luke, what prevents them from accepting the invitation are the duties of daily life. The first one says, "I have bought a piece of land and must go to see it;" the second one, "I have bought five yoke of oxen and am on my way to try them out;” the third one, "I have just got married and so am unable to come!" (cf. Lk 14:18-20). According to the norms and customs of the time, those people had the right and even the duty not to accept the invitation they had received (cf. Deut 20:5-7).
• Matthew 22:7: An incomprehensible war! The reaction of the king in the face of the refusal is surprising. “Then the king was furious and he dispatched his troops, destroyed those murderers and burnt their town.” How is such a violent reaction to be interpreted? The parable was told for the chief priests and for the elders of the people (Mt 22:1), for those responsible for the nations. Jesus had often spoken to them about the need for conversion. He even shed tears over the city of Jerusalem and said, “If you too had only recognized on that day the way to peace! But in fact it is hidden from your eyes. Yes, a time is coming when your enemies will raise fortifications all around you, when they will encircle you and hem you in on every side; they will dash you and the children inside your walls to the ground; they will leave not one stone standing on another within you, because you did not recognize the moment of your visitation.” (Lk 19:41-44). The violent reaction of the king in the parable probably refers to the fact of Jesus’ foresight. Forty years later, Jerusalem was destroyed (Lk 19:41-44; 21: 6).
• Matthew 22:8-10: The banquet is not canceled. For the third time, the king invites the people. He tells his servants, “The wedding banquet is ready, but those invited were unworthy; go to the main crossroads and invite everyone you can find to come to the wedding.”
Going out on the streets, those servants gathered together everyone they could find, bad and good alike; and the wedding hall was filled with guests. The bad, who were excluded from participation in worship with the Jews because they were deemed impure, are now invited specifically by the king to participate in the feast. In the context of that time, the bad were the pagans. They also are invited to participate in the wedding feast.
• Matthew 22:11-14: The wedding garment. These verses tell us that the king went into the wedding hall and saw someone who was not wearing a wedding garment. And the king asked, “How did you get in here, my friend, without a wedding garment?” And he was silent. The story says that the man was bound hands and feet and thrown into the darkness outside. Then the story concludes: “Many are invited but not all are chosen.” Some scholars think that it is a second parable which was added to lessen the impression which one has after the first parable, which speaks about “the good and the bad” who enter into the feast (Mt 22:10). Even if one admits that it is not the observance of the Law which gives us salvation, but rather faith in the gratuitous love of God, that in no way diminishes the need for purity of heart as a prerequisite to be able to appear before God.
4) Personal questions
• Who are the persons who are normally invited to our feasts? Why? Who are the people who are not invited to our feasts? Why?
• What are the reasons which today prevent many people from participation in society and in the Church? What are some of the excuses that people offer to exclude themselves from the duty to participate in the community? Are those excuses valid?
5) Concluding Prayer
Do not thrust me away from Your presence,
do not take away from me Your spirit of holiness.
Give me back the joy of Your salvation,
sustain in me a generous spirit. (Ps 51:11-12)