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“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” - Matthew 22:1-14
One of the most pernicious misunderstandings of Christianity is the belief that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. This parable speaks to the contrary, but not in any simplistic way. The people who thought they were good are thrown out, and a group of previously uninvited people, “both good and bad,” are invited in. In the end, we’re not even sure of the relative “goodness” or “badness” of the underdressed guest.
The king is the only character with a speaking role, for we are specifically told that the underdressed guest is speechless. Not only does this make clear that God is the one who makes all decisions regarding judgment, but it may also help address the otherwise unresolved problem of the wedding garment. We know that both the bad and the good were invited in, but we do not know whether the garment refers to our fruitful works, our resurrected body, our baptism, or our willingness to be seen at a party where all kinds of riffraff have been allowed in. Perhaps if the guest had chosen instead to apologize or even to argue with the king, things might have gone better for him. Instead he says nothing. This seems to seal his fate, and he is thrown out.
Stanley Hauerwas writes, “This is a feast of God’s abundance. Yet many seem to think that they have all they need and refuse to take the time to attend the king’s banquet. They act as if they need no king.” But he cautions that the second part of the parable makes clear that this isn’t just a slam against the elite and well-off: “Those who come to the banquet from the streets are expected to be clothed by the virtues bestowed on them through their baptism. If the church is to be a people capable of hospitality, it will also have to be a community of holiness.” For Daniel Harrington, “One must be prepared to enter into the banquet as a full participant.”
I once heard a sermon on this passage in which the preacher’s main point was this: “Don’t be stupid. Relax and enjoy the party.” Presumably, this means that any true guest at the heavenly banquet will not come as he or she is, but will come prepared to grow in love for God and for fellow guest.
Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 188-189.
Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., The Gospel of Matthew (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991), 308.