Parable of The Great Supper and The Marriage of the King’s Son, by Father Basil William Maturin

“A man gave a great dinner to which he invited many. When the time for the dinner came, he dispatched his servant to say to those invited, ‘Come, everything is now ready.’ But one by one, they all began to excuse themselves. The first said to him, ‘I have purchased a field and must go to examine it; I ask you, consider me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have purchased five yoke of oxen and am on my way to evaluate them; I ask you, consider me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have just married a woman, and therefore I cannot come.’ The servant went and reported this to his master.

“Then the master of the house in a rage commanded his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

“The servant reported, ‘Sir, your orders have been carried out and still there is room.’

“The master then ordered the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedgerows and make people come in that my home may be filled. For, I tell you, none of those men who were invited will taste my dinner.'” – Luke 14:16-24

* *

“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 he 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.” – Matthew 22:2-14

* * *

These two Parables, though in many respects closely resembling one another, and by a few commentators considered as different recensions of the same discourse, yet seem clearly to be quite distinct. They belong to different epochs of our Lord’s ministry. The Parable of the Great Supper was spoken at a much earlier period, when the position of decided antagonism had not yet been assumed by the Pharisees. Indeed, their opposition was so far from having reached the acute stage to which it attained later, that the Parable was spoken while our Lord sat at meat ill the house of one of the chief of the body.

The Parable of the Marriage Feast, on the other hand, was given in the Temple court on the Tuesday before His Passion, when the final plan of the Pharisees was matured by which they meant to compass His death. At the time when the former Parable was spoken there was still the hope and the possibility that the chiefs of the nation might yet be won to His allegiance, their iniquity was not yet fulfilled, nor their rejection sealed. But when the later Parable was uttered, all such hope had long since ended, they had had their chance, and rejected it, their hatred to Christ could now be satisfied with nothing short of His death.

We see clearly the evidences of the altered condition of things in the substance of the two Parables. The latter is far more severe. The refusal of the guests to accept the invitation is wanting in the outward courtesy displayed in the former Parable, ‘they made light of it, and went their ways, and the remnant took His servants and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.’ Moreover, the wrath of the King in this Parable is manifested more terribly: in the former He sent His messengers to call others, saying, ‘that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of My Supper,’ but in the latter, ‘He sent forth His armies and destroyed those murderers and burnt up their cities.’

In this Parable, too, the Messianic claim is brought out more strongly. The giver of the feast is no longer ‘a certain man’ but ‘a king,’ and the occasion is not, as in Saint Luke’s Parable, ‘a supper,’ but the Marriage of the King’s Son. To those brought up amidst all the Messianic hopes and traditions of the Jews, such details would not pass unnoticed, and the import of the change of imagery in the later Parable could scarcely have been misunderstood.

The episode at the close of the latter of the two Parables is not to be considered therefore as another detail added by Saint Matthew to Saint Luke’s Parable, but the two Parables must be regarded as altogether distinct. We cannot fail to see in the Parable of the Marriage of the King’s Son the final rejection of the Jews and the call of the Gentiles, even the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. ‘He sent forth His armies and destroyed those murderers and burnt up their city.’ The utmost that is threatened in Saint Luke’s Parable is, ‘that God, turning from one portion of the Jewish people, from the Priests and Pharisees, would offer the privileges which they despised to another portion of the same nation, the people that knew not the law, the publicans and harlots, with only the slightest intimation of the call of the Gentiles; while here (in Saint Matthew) the forfeiture of the kingdom by the whole Jewish people, who, with fewer exceptions, had proved themselves unworthy of it, is foretold.’ But while it is right and proper to keep the two Parables each in its proper place, historically and exegetically as regards their immediate interpretation, and the circumstances under which they were spoken, it will not be amiss in considering them spiritually, and in their practical application, to take them together.

They describe for us then a supreme moment in the life of the soul. It is the moment in which it is forced to decide whether it will draw nearer to God in more intimate and devout relationship to Him or break with Him altogether. ‘They that were bidden were called.’ Their names had already been enrolled amongst the invited guests; that had taken place some time before. Now the messengers are sent to say, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ That first bidding to the wedding, or call to the feast – the choice and selection of the guests by God – was a greater reality and fraught with graver consequences than they were at all prepared for. To Him who gave the feast and selected the guests it meant a close and intimate relationship with those whom He had invited. All were not bidden, out of a great multitude there were comparatively but a few who were so highly honoured. And now the moment has come when the messengers are sent to summon the selected guests. ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ He who had chosen them out of all the world, calls them and claims them – ‘the time has arrived, come.’

It is an easy thing to pledge oneself for the future, to enter into obligations that do not interfere with one’s plans at the moment It is easy to accept even with pleasure the invitation that does not pledge one to any immediate step, or involve any immediate responsibilities. Men accept such indefinite invitations readily, and often gave them no further thought. They are bidden to the wedding, and their names are enrolled amongst the invited guests, and they go their way, and are interested and absorbed in the many calls of the present; and as time goes on, it may be they wholly forget the invitation and their pledge.

But it is not so with the Giver of the feast, to Him the selection and invitation of the guests has been a personal matter. He has chosen each one by name, the place is prepared for each separate guest that has been invited, and He cannot forget their promise, nor can He fail to send his servant at supper time to call them to fulfil their engagement The invitation on His part involved and necessitated the reminder, ‘Come.’ If He did not call them at the moment when the feast was prepared the first bidding would have been worse than meaningless. If the guests refuse to come, they cannot remain on the former terms with the Giver of the Feast; they have, as a matter of fact, been guilty of a gross insult, they can be His friends no longer.

The call, then, and the reminder of their promise was a supreme moment to the bidden guests, they must go to the feast or they must break with their king. They can no longer remain as they have been hitherto, they must enter into more intimate relations with Him, or all friendship must come to an end. They have, as a matter of fact, gone too far to remain upon their former easy terms. The invitation to the feast has been an act of gracious condescension on His part, the acceptance of the invitation has been an act of responsibility upon their part which necessitates a certain closer and more intimate association between them than heretofore, or an open rupture. To refuse to obey the summons to the feast is to offer Him an insult which makes further friendship with Him impossible. Many of them looking forward to the Feast in the far future, as a thing that was not likely to interfere in any way with their present lives and interests, may have echoed the platitude of the guest who sat at the board with our Lord in the Pharisee’s house, ‘Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God.’ It seemed in the far distance a blessed thing no doubt. It was a pleasant prospect to have in the background of their lives to which they could turn and of which they could think as a counterpoise to the world’s disappointments. But it is a different matter when the call to eat bread in the Kingdom of God breaks in upon all the excitements and interests of a very real and entrancing present.

Yet the bidding to the Feast necessitated the call to come when it was ready, and the King would have been untrue to Himself and unfaithful to his guests had He not reminded them.

The invitation, then, involved the creation of a situation which sooner or later must lead to a crisis. Every one of those who were bidden must sit down to the great Feast with their King or they must break with Him for ever. They must enter upon terms of closer intimacy or they must be – not as though they had never known Him, far worse than that – they must be henceforth His enemies.

The Parables describe this crisis in the lives of these men. When the call comes they refuse to fulfil their engagements; ‘they all with one consent began to make excuse;’ ‘they made light of it and went their way, one to his farm, another to his merchandise, and the remnant took his servants and entreated them spitefully and slew them.’ They saw clearly as time went on all that their refusal implied: at first it was couched in the most courteous terms, but in the later Parable the position is more clearly grasped; if they will not come they can no longer remain friends, or even subjects of the King, they break into open rebellion and entreat the servants spitefully and slay them.

All this is a graphic picture of what we are constantly witnessing, perhaps of what some of us may be experiencing. The position in which the Christian is placed by Baptism, resembles that of the bidden guests. It is an initial state, it is not final. It is the enrolling of the names of those who have been chosen by God to enter into the closest and most intimate relation with Himself All, in the mystery of God’s wisdom are not called to this state of high privilege, He calls those whom in His love He wills. Each of those who are so called is the object of His special solicitude. Why He should call one and not another we cannot tell. But the first call to Baptism involves other calls. Those who enter into the Christian state and are then enrolled amongst the selected and invited guests to partake of His bounties, and to be on terms of holy friendship with Him, must expect that He will assert His claim upon them, remind them of their pledges, and demand of them something worthy of their calling. ‘I call you not servants, but I have called you friends.’ (John 15:15) Such is His language to those whom He has selected out of the world to draw near in a special way to Himself.

Now this call to enter upon all that the Baptism covenant involves comes to some sooner, to others later, but it surely comes one day to all. ‘He sent His servant to say to them that were bidden, Come, for all things are now ready.’ If it did not come it would involve an unfaithfulness on the part of our Lord. He is pledged to call us into an ever more and more intimate communion with Himself. And this, and this only, is the true meaning of whatever call at any time we may receive. He bids us do something, that in the doing it we may get to know Him better. He commands us to give up something that He may Himself take its place. He sends His servant to warn us that the hour is come, that we can no longer remain as we are, that we must come to the Feast of His love and self-revelation.

The very position of the Christian, as one called to exceptional privileges such as are not granted to all mankind, ought to prepare him for these calls, these reminders that he is pledged to something more; and yet when they do come, how unexpected they are, they take him by surprise, he is not prepared for them or ready to obey them! The call breaks in upon all the interests and events and ties of life: ‘I have bought a piece 6f ground, and I must needs go and see it’ ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them.’ ‘I have married a wife.’ The messenger of Christ comes as an intruder in the midst of such interests and complications – one man just settling down as a landed proprietor, another forming the gentle ties of domestic life – and calls them away to wholly different scenes and interests, reminds them of pledges long ago made and obligations entered into. The Master saith, ‘Come, for all things are ready.’

To such a call there can be but one of two answers. Those to whom it comes must either obey it, rise, leave all, and follow whither they are called, or they must refuse to obey, refuse, that is, to carry out the engagements which their whole privileged condition as Christians pledges them to, and consequently make an open breach with our Lord, a breach which, as we have seen, ends in active antagonism and rebellion.

It is the advent of such calls breaking in upon all the activities and pressing interests of life that tests what manner of men these bidden guests are, whether they have forgotten all about that relationship which they have formed with Christ, and settled down into a life of earthliness, or whether all the things of time take a secondary place in their life, and the invitation of our Lord is paramount.

The call comes and sifts them through and through. It shows them to themselves and to others – it lays them bare to the eye of scrutiny. It is their treatment of the invitation when it comes that shows better than the fairest words or the most sacred promises what manner of men they are. But more than this, the refusal to obey the call and to keep true to the promises already made lead again and again to a final, often to an open rupture with our Lord. Those who will not go forward go backward, they close their hearts against Him from whom they have already averted their wills. The easy relationship of the past can no longer be continued; they had not disobeyed before, they had lived true to their standard, though it may not have been a very high one, but now they are in revolt, they disobey a distinct reminder of forgotten pledges, and forthwith their spiritual life begins to deteriorate, and those who have been called to a close and intimate friendship with Christ not uncommonly are in open rebellion against Him, ‘and take His servants and entreat them spitefully and slay them; others enter and take the places of those who refuse to obey, and the door is shut The chance is lost for ever.

But what of those who do not reject such calls. Are all such safe? Is there such a thing possible as that men should outwardly keep on terms of obedience, and pass through life without any apparent breach with Christ and in apparent obedience to His many calls, and yet not be permitted to enter into the joy of that union and intimacy with Him which the Marriage Feast is meant to typify.

The closing scene of the later Parable warns us that this is possible. If the two Parables together, in that which they have in common, reveal to us the open rupture between the soul and God in this life, and the cause and occasion of the rupture, this tells us that it is possible to go through life without any such open rupture, and yet to be finally rejected.

It is possible, so this Parable would teach us, to obey God’s calls to enter upon the various privileges and blessings to which such calls invite us, and yet to do so in such a spirit that it separates us from the Person who calls us. To be called to a special nearness to God in His service, and not to realize Him whom we serve, is to beget a spirit of irreverence that ends in an alienation from Him more complete even than that which comes from open rebellion. Amongst those who entered into the Marriage Feast there was but one rejected – one type of man. In the person of that one man there may be represented many or few, it matters not, the cause of rejection is the same for all. They live on to the end in God’s service, but the character of their lives leads them to a daring and irreverent familiarity, a complete absence of holy fear or of the sense of sin, or of the need of the garment of grace. Though this man in the Parable saw all the guests clad in the wedding garment, he believed he could pass muster, he considered that his own garments were good enough, he should not be rejected. And in this spirit he pushes into the very Presence of the King. Such was the effect of a life of outward obedience and apparent nearness to God upon a man who did not inwardly rise up to correspond with the external privileges of his position. Ever near Him in body but not in heart, he became familiar, and familiarity bred contempt.

‘What is commoner than this self-complacency, this utter blindness to the fact that God is holy, and that holiness must therefore be the rule everywhere? What is commoner than the feeling that we are well enough, that we shall somehow pass muster, that as we mean to take our places amongst the heavenly guests we shall surely not be ejected? How hard it is for any of us fully to grasp the radical nature of the inward change that is required if we are to be meet for the inheritance of the saints in light No mere appearance of accepting His invitation, no associating of yourself with those who love Him, no outward entrance into His presence, no making use of the right language, is anything to the purpose: what is wanted is a profound sympathy with God, a real delight in what is holy, a radical acceptance of His will; in other words, a state of mind in you which God can delight in and approve of, and hold fellowship with. There is no real acceptance of the invitation, no abiding entrance into God’s favour where there is no growing likeness to God; without this it is mere word and self-deception. “Know ye not that the unjust shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”‘