Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Parable of the Wedding Feast
Matthew 22: 2-14
From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Matthew
by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria
1-7. And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man who was a king, who made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were called to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them who were called, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fattened calves are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his field, another to his merchandise: and the others took his servants, and treated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. This parable, too, like that of the vineyard, alludes to the disobedience of the Jews. But as that one indicates Christ's death, so this one indicates the nuptial joy, that is, the resurrection. But this parable also shows them to be worse transgressors than the men in the preceding parable. For the husbandmen of the vineyard slew those who demanded fruits of them. But these men vented their murderous rage upon those who had invited them to a wedding. God is likened to a human king, for He does not appear as He is, but as it is fitting for Him to appear to us. When we die as humans, subject to human failings, God appears to us in human form; but when we walk about as gods, then God stands in the congregation of gods (Ps. 81:1). And when we live as wild beasts, then He, too, becomes for us a panther, and a bear, and a lion. He makes a wedding feast for His Son, joining Him to every soul that is beautiful. For the bridegroom is Christ and the bride is the Church and the soul. The servants that were sent out first are Moses and those with him, whom the Jews did not obey but provoked God in the wilderness for forty years and did not want to accept the word of God and spiritual joy. Then other servants, the prophets, were sent out; but of these, some they killed, as they did Isaiah; others they treated spitefully, as they did Jeremiah, throwing him into a pit of mire. Those who were less extreme merely declined the invitation: one went his way to his own field, that is, turned towards a life of pleasure and carnal pursuits, for one's own field is the body; another, to his merchandise, that is, to a life of acquisition and profit, for merchants are a type of men most greedy for profit. This parable shows that those who fail to attend the wedding feast and the fellowship and feasting with Christ, do so primarily on account of these two things—the pleasures of the flesh, or the passion of greed. In this parable the meal is called a dinner, although elsewhere the same thing is called a supper (Lk. 14:16), and not unreasonably. For it is called a supper when this wedding feast appears in perfect form in the latter times, towards evening, that is, at the end of the ages. But it is called a dinner when even in former times the mystery was revealed, although more obscurely. The oxen and the fattened calves [in Greek, sitista, grain-fattened calves] are the Old and the New Testaments. The Old Testament is symbolized by the oxen, for it contained animal sacrifice; the New Testament is symbolized by the grain-fattened calves, for now we offer loaves upon the altar, which could truly be called sitista [literally, "formed from wheat"], as the loaves consist of wheat, sitos. God therefore calls us to partake of the good things of both the Old Testament Scriptures and the New. But when you see someone clearly interpreting the divine words, know that he is giving grain-fattened meat. For when he teaches clearly, it is as if he were feeding the unlearned with rich food. No doubt you will ask why He says here, Call them that were called. If they were already invited, why are they going to invite them again? Learn, then, that each of us by nature has been called towards the good, for we are being called by the word of the innate teacher within us. But God also sends us external teachers to call us from without, we who were first called by the word in our nature. The king sent his armies, that is, the Roman legions, and destroyed the disobedient Jews and burnt up their city, Jerusalem, as even the truthful Josephus says (History of the Jewish Wars).
8-10. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they that were called were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the lanes off from the highways, and as many as ye shall find, call to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. Since the previous servants, Moses and those with him, and the prophets, did not persuade them, He sends out other servants, the apostles, and they call the Gentiles who do not walk in the true way but are divided, some here, some there, separated into many ways and doctrines. Indeed, they are to be found along the lanes off from the highways, that is, in great error, delusion, and deviation. They were even at odds among themselves, and were not in the true way, but along the exits, which are the evil doctrines that they taught. For they were not all content with the same doctrines, but some with these and some with those. But perhaps an even better explanation is this: the highway is the life and the manner in which each person lives; the lanes exiting from the highway are doctrines. The pagan Greeks, then, travel along evil highways, that is, they lead reprehensible lives, and from these evil lives they have turned off into godless doctrines, setting up shameful gods as patrons of their own passions. So as the Apostles went forth from Jerusalem to the Gentiles, they gathered all together, both evil and good, that is, those filled with every wickedness and also those less wicked whom He calls good by comparison to the others.
11-14. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man who had not on a wedding garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind his hands and feet, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen. The entry into the wedding takes place without distinction of persons, for by grace alone we have all been called, good and bad alike; but the life thereafter of those who enter shall not be without examination, for indeed the king makes an exceedingly careful examination of those found to be sullied after entering into the faith. Let us tremble, then, when we understand that if one does not lead a pure life, faith alone benefits him not at all. For not only is he cast out of the wedding feast, but he is sent away into the fire. Who is he that is wearing filthy garments? It is he who is not clothed with compassion, goodness, and brotherly love. For there are many who deceive themselves with vain hopes, thinking that they shall attain the kingdom of heaven, and they include themselves among the assembly of the dinner guests, thinking great things of themselves. Being justified in regard to that unworthy man, the Lord demonstrates these two things to us; first, that He loves mankind, and secondly, that we ought not to pass judgement on anyone, even if they sin openly, unless they have been reproved for their sin. The Lord then says to His servants, the angels of punishment, Bind his hands and feet, that is, the soul's powers of action. For in this present age is the time to act and to do, but in the age to come all of the soul's powers of action are bound, and a man cannot then do any good thing to outweigh his sins. Gnashing of teeth is the meaningless repentance that will then take place. Many are called, for God calls many, indeed, all, but few are chosen. Few are saved and found worthy to be chosen by God. It is God's part to call, but to become one of the chosen or not, is our part. He shows, then, that this parable was spoken for the Jews who were called but were not chosen, as they did not listen.