(Mat 19:30-20:16; Mat_21:28-32; Mat_21:33-46; Mar_12:1-12; Luk_20:9-19; Mat_22:1-14)
Although it may not be possible to mark their exact succession, it will be convenient here to group together the last series of Parables. Most if not all of them, were spoken on that third day in Passion-Week: the first four to a more general audience; the last three (to be treated in another chapter) to the disciples, when, on the evening of that third day, on the Mount of Olives, He told them of the ‘Last Things.’ They are the Parables of Judgment, and in one form or another treat of ‘the End.’
1. The Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard. As treating of ‘the End,’ this Parable evidently belongs to the last series, although it may have been spoken previously to Passion-Week, perhaps on that Mission-journey in Peraea, in connection with which it is recorded by Matthew. At any rate, it stands in internal relation with what passed on that occasion, and must therefore be studied with reference to it.
We remember, that on the occasion of the rich young ruler’s failure to enter the Kingdom, to which he was so near, Christ had uttered an earnest warning on the danger of ‘riches.’ In the low spiritual stage which the Apostles had as yet attained it was, perhaps, only natural that Peter should, as spokesman of the rest, have, in a kind of spiritual covetousness, clutched at the promised reward, and that in a tone of self-righteousness he should have reminded Christ of the sacrifices which they had made. It was most painfully incongruous, yet part of what He, the Lord, had always to bear, and bore so patiently and lovingly, from their ignorance and failure to understand Him and His work. And this want of true sympathy, this constant contending with the moral dulness even of those nearest to Him, must have been part of His great humiliation and sorrow, one element in the terrible solitariness of His Life, which made Him feel that, in the truest sense, ‘the Son of Man had not where to lay His Head.’ And yet we also mark the wondrous Divine generosity which, even in moments of such sore disappointment, would not let Him take for nought what should have been freely offered in the gladsome service of grateful love. Only there was here deep danger to the disciples: danger of lapsing into feelings kindred to those with which the Pharisees viewed the pardoned Publicans, or the elder son in the Parable his younger brother; danger of misunderstanding the right relations, and with it the very character of the Kingdom, and of work in and for it. It is to this that the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard refers.
The principle which Christ lays down is, that, while nothing done for Him shall lose its reward, yet, from one reason or another, no forecast can be made, no inferences of self-righteousness may be drawn. It does not by any means follow, that most work done – at least, to our seeing and judging – shall entail a greater reward. On the contrary, ‘many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.’ Not all, nor yet always and necessarily, but ‘many.’ And in such cases no wrong has been done; there exists no claim, even in view of the promises of due acknowledgment of work. Spiritual pride and self-assertion can only be the outcome either of misunderstanding God’s relation to us, or else of a wrong state of mind towards others – that is, it betokens mental or moral unfitness.
Of this the Parable of the Labourers is an illustration. It teaches nothing beyond this. But, while illustrating how it may come that some who were first are last, and how utterly mistaken or wrong is the thought that they must necessarily receive more than others, who, seemingly, have done more – how, in short, work for Christ is not a ponderable quantity, so much for so much, nor yet we the judges of when and why a worker has come – it also conveys much that is new, and, in many respects, most comforting.
We mark, first, the bearing of ‘the householder, who went out immediately, at earliest morn (ἅμα πρωΐ́), to hire labourers into his vineyard.’ That he did not send his steward, but went himself, and with the dawn of morning, shows both that there was much work to do, and the householder’s anxiety to have it done. That householder is God and the vineyard His Kingdom; the labourers, whom with earliest morning He seeks in the market-place of busy life, are His Servants. With these he agreed for a denarius a day, which was the ordinary wages for a day’s labour, and so sent them into the vineyard; in other words, He told them He would pay the reward promised to labourers. So passed the early hours of the morning. About the third hour (the Jewish working day being reckoned from sunrise to sunset), that is, probably as it was drawing towards a close, he went out again, and, as he saw ‘others’ standing idle in the market-place, he said to them, ‘Go ye also into the vineyard.’ There was more than enough to do in that vineyard; enough and more to employ them. And when he came, they had stood in the market-place ready and waiting to go to work, yet ‘idle’ – unemployed as yet. It might not have been precisely their blame that they had not gone before; they were ‘others’ than those in the market-place when the Master had first come, and they had not been there at that time. Only as he now sent them, he made no definite promise. They felt that in their special circumstances they had no claim; he told them, that whatsoever was right he would give them; and they implicitly trusted to his word, to his justice and goodness. And so happened it, yet again, both at the sixth and at the ninth hour of the day. We repeat, that in none of these instances was it the guilt of the labourers – in the sense of being due to their unwillingness or refusal – that they had not before gone into the vineyard. For some reason – perhaps by their fault, perhaps not – they had not been earlier in the market-place. But as soon as they were there and called, they went, although, of course, the loss of time, however caused, implied loss of work. Neither did the Master in any case make, nor they ask for, other promise than that implied in his word and character.
These four things, then, stand out clearly in the Parable: the abundance of work to be done in the vineyard; the anxiety of the householder to secure all available labourers; the circumstance that, not from unwillingness or refusal, but because they had not been there and available, the labourers had come at later hours; and that, when they had so come, they were ready to go into the vineyard without promise of definite reward, simply trusting to the truth and goodness of him whom they went to serve. We think here of those ‘last,’ the Gentiles from the east, west, north, and south; of the converted publicans and sinners; of those, a great part of whose lives has, alas! been spent somewhere else, and who have only come at a late hour into the market-place; nay, of them also whose opportunities, capacity, strength, or time have been very limited – and we thank God for the teaching of this Parable. And if doubt should still exist, it must be removed by the concluding sentences of this part of the Parable, in which the householder is represented as going out at the last hour, when, finding others standing, he asks them why they stood there all the day idle, to which they reply, that no man had hired them. These also are, in turn, sent into the vineyard, though apparently without any expressed promise at all. It thus appears, that in proportion to the lateness of their work was the felt absence of any claim on the part of the labourers, and their simple reliance on their employer.
And now it is even. The time for working is past, and the Lord of the vineyard bids His Steward [here the Christ] pay His labourers. But here the first surprise awaits them. The order of payment is the inverse of that of labour: ‘beginning from the last unto the first.’ This is almost a necessary part of the Parable. For, if the first labourers had been paid first, they would either have gone away without knowing what was done to the last, or, if they had remained, their objection could not have been urged, except on the ground of manifest malevolence towards their neighbours. After having received their wages, they could not have objected that they had not received enough, but only that the others had received too much. But it was not the scope of the Parable to charge with conscious malevolence those who sought a higher reward or deemed themselves entitled to it. Again, we notice, as indicating the disposition of the later labourers, that those of the third hour did not murmur, because they had not got more than they of the eleventh hour. This is in accordance with their not having made any bargain at the first, but trusted entirely to the householder. But they of the first hour had their cupidity excited. Seeing what the others had received, they expected to have more than their due. When they likewise received every man a denarius, they murmured, as if injustice had been done them. And, as mostly in like circumstances, truth and fairness seemed on their side. For, selecting the extreme case of the eleventh hour labourers, had not the Householder made those who had wrought only one hour equal to them who had ‘borne the burden of the day and the heat?’ Yet, however fair their reasoning might seem, they had no claim in truth or equity, for had they not agreed for one denarius with him? And it had not even been in the general terms of a day’s wages, but they had made the express bargain of one denarius. They had gone to work with a stipulated sum as their hire distinctly in view. They now appealed to justice; but from first to last they had had justice. This as regards the ‘so much for so much’ principle of claim, law, work, and pay.
But there was yet another aspect than that of mere justice. Those other labourers, who had felt that, owing to the lateness of their appearance, they had no claim – and, alas! which of us must not feel how late we have been, in coming, and hence how little we can have wrought – had made no bargain, but trusted to the Master. And as they had believed, so was it unto them. Not because they made or had any claim – ‘I will, however, to give unto this last, even as unto thee’ – the word ‘I will’ (θέλω) being emphatically put first to mark ‘the good pleasure’ of His grace as the ground of action. Such a Master could not have given less to those who had come when called, trusting to His goodness, and not in their deserts. The reward was now reckoned, not of work nor of debt, but of grace. In passing we also mark, as against cavillers, the profound accord between what negative critics would call the ‘true Judaic Gospel’ of Matthew, and what constitutes the very essence of ‘the anti-Judaic teaching’ of Paul – and we ask our opponents to reconcile on their theory what can only be explained on the ground that Paul, like Matthew, was the true disciple of the true Teacher, Jesus Christ.
But if all is to be placed on the new ground of grace, with which, indeed, the whole bearing of the later labourers accords, then (as Paul also shows) the labourers who murmured were guilty either of ignorance in failing to perceive the sovereignty of grace – that it is within His power to do with His own, as He willeth – or else of malevolence, when, instead of with grateful joy, they looked on with an evil eye – and this in proportion as ‘the Householder’ was good. But such a state of mind may be equally that of the Jews, and of the Gentiles. And so, in this illustrative case of the Parable, ‘the first shall be last, and the last first.’ And in other instances also, though not in all – ‘many shall be last that are first; and first that are last.’ But He is the God, Sovereign in grace, in Whose Vineyard there is work to do for all, however limited their time, power, or opportunity; Whose labourers we are, if His Children; Who, in His desire for the work and condescension and patience towards the workers, goeth out into the market-place even to the eleventh hour, and, with only gentlest rebuke for not having earlier come thither and thus lost our day in idleness, still, even to the last, bids us come; Who promises what is right, and gives far more than is due to them who simply trust Him: the God not of the Jews nor of the Gentiles only, but our Father; the God Who not only pays, but freely gives of His own, and in Whose Wisdom and by Whose Grace it may be, that, even as the first shall be last, so the last shall be first.
Another point still remains to be noticed. If anywhere, we expect in these Parables, addressed to the people, forms of teaching and speaking with which they were familiar – in other words, Jewish parallels. But we equally expect that the teaching of Christ, while conveyed under illustrations with which the Jews were familiar, would be entirely different in spirit. And such we find it notably in the present instance. To begin with, according to Jewish Law, if a man engaged a labourer without any definite bargain, but on the statement that he would be paid as one or another of the labourers in the place, he was, according to some, only bound to pay the lowest wages in the place; but, according to the majority, the average between the lowest and the highest. Again, as regards the letter of the Parable itself, we have a remarkable parallel in a funeral oration on a Rabbi, who died at the early age of twenty-eight. The text chosen was: ‘The sleep of a labouring man is sweet,’ and this was illustrated by a Parable of a king who had a vineyard, and engaged many labourers to work in it. One of them was distinguished above the rest by his ability. So the king took him by the hand, and walked up and down with him. At even, when the labourers were paid, this one received the same wages as the others, just as if he had wrought the whole day. Upon this the others murmured, because he who had wrought only two hours had received the same as they who had laboured the whole day, when the king replied: ‘Why murmur ye? This labourer has by his skill wrought as much in two hours as you during the whole day.’ This in reference to the great merits of the deceased young Rabbi.
But it will be observed that, with all its similarity of form, the moral of the Jewish Parable is in exactly the opposite direction from the teaching of Christ. The same spirit of work and pay breathes in another Parable, which is intended to illustrate the idea that God had not revealed the reward attaching to each commandment, in order that men might not neglect those which brought less return. A king – so the Parable runs – had a garden, for which he hired labourers without telling them what their wages would be. In the evening he called them, and, having ascertained from each under what tree he had been working, he paid them according to the value of the trees on which they had been engaged. And when they said that he ought to have told them, Which trees would bring the labourers most pay, the king replied that thereby a great part of his garden would have been neglected. So had God in like manner only revealed the reward of the greatest of the commandments, that to honour father and mother, and that of the least, about letting the mother-bird fly away – attaching to both precisely the same reward.
To these, if need were, might be added other illustrations of that painful reckoning about work, or else sufferings, and reward, which characterises Jewish theology, as it did those labourers in the Parable.
2. The second Parable in this series – or perhaps rather illustration – was spoken within the Temple. The Saviour had been answering the question of the Pharisees as to His authority by an appeal to the testimony of the Baptist. This led Him to refer to the twofold reception of that testimony – on the one hand, by the Publicans and harlots, and, on the other, by the Pharisees.
The Parable, which now follows, introduces a man who has two sons. He goes to the first, and in language of affection (τέκνον) bids him go and work in his vineyard. The son curtly and rudely refuses; but afterwards he changes his mind and goes. Meantime the father, when refused by the one, has gone to his other son on the same errand. The contrast here is marked. The tone: is most polite, and the answer of the son contains not only a promise, but we almost see him going: ‘I, sir! – and he did not go.’ The application was easy. The first son represented the Publicans and harlots, whose curt and rude refusal of the Father’s call was implied in their life of reckless sin. But afterwards they changed their mind – and went into the Father’s vineyard. The other son, with his politeness of tone and ready promise, but utter neglect of obligations undertaken, represented the Pharisees with their hypocritical and empty professions. And Christ obliged them to make application of the Parable. When challenged by the Lord, which of the two had done the will of his father, they could not avoid the answer. Then it was that, in language equally stern and true, He pointed the moral. The Baptist had come preaching righteousness, and, while the self-righteous Pharisees had not believed him, those sinners had. And yet, even when the Pharisees saw the effect on these former sinners, they changed not their minds that they might believe. Therefore the Publicans and harlots would and did go into the Kingdom before them.
3. Closely connected with the two preceding Parables, and, indeed, with the whole tenor of Christ’s sayings at that time, is that about the Evil Husbandmen in the Vineyard. As in the Parable about the Labourers sought by the Householder at different times, the object here is to set forth the patience and goodness of the owner, even towards the evil. And as, in the Parable of the Two Sons, reference is made to the practical rejection of the testimony of the Baptist by the Jews, and their consequent self-exclusion from the Kingdom, so in this there is allusion to John as greater than the prophets, to the exclusion of Israel as a people from their position in the Kingdom, and to their punishment as individuals. Only we mark here a terrible progression. The neglect and non-belief which had appeared in the former Parable have now ripened into rebellion, deliberate, aggravated, and carried to its utmost consequences in the murder of the King’s only and loved Son. Similarly, what formerly appeared as their loss, in that sinners went into the Kingdom of God before them, is now presented alike as their guilt and their judgment, both national and individual.
The Parable opens, like that in Isa v., with a description of the complete arrangements made by the Owner of the Vineyard, to show how everything had been done to ensure a good yield of fruit, and what right the Owner had to expect at least a share in it. In the Parable, as in the prophecy, the Vineyard represents the Theocracy, although in the Old Testament, necessarily, as identified with the nation of Israel, while in the Parable the two are distinguished, and the nation is represented by the labourers to whom the Vineyard was ‘let out.’ Indeed, the whole structure of the Parable shows, that the husbandmen are Israel as a nation, although they are addressed and dealt with in the persons of their representatives and leaders. And so it was spoken ‘to the people,’ and yet ‘the chief priests and Pharisees’ rightly ‘perceived that He spake of them.’
This vineyard the owner had let out to husbandmen, while he himself ‘travelled away’ [abroad], as Luke adds, ‘for a long time.’ From the language it is evident, that the husbandman had the full management of the vineyard. We remember, that there were three modes of dealing with land. According to one of these (Arisuṯ), ‘the labourers’ employed received a certain portion of the fruits, say, a third or a fourth of the produce. In such cases it seems, at least sometimes, to have been the practice, besides giving them a proportion of the produce, to provide also the seed (for a field) and to pay wages to the labourers. The other two modes of letting land were, either that the tenant paid a money rent to the proprietor, or else that he agreed to give the owner a definite amount of produce, whether the harvest had been good or bad. Such leases were given by the year or for life: sometimes the lease was even hereditary, passing from father to son. There can scarcely ‘be a doubt that it is the latter kind of lease (ḥakhranuṯa, from חבר) which is referred to in the Parable, the lessees being bound to give the owner a certain amount of fruits in their season.
Accordingly, ‘when the time of the fruits drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen to receive his fruits’ – the part of them belonging to him, or, as Mark and Luke express it, ‘of the fruits of the vineyard.’ We gather, that it was a succession of servants, who received increasingly ill treatment from these evil husbandmen. We might have expected that the owner would now have taken severe measures; but instead of this he sent in his patience and goodness, ‘other servants’ – not ‘more,’ which would scarcely have any meaning, but ‘greater than the first,’ no doubt, with the idea that their greater authority would command respect. And when these also received the same treatment, we must regard it as involving, not only additional, but increased guilt on the part of the husbandmen. Once more, and with deepening force, does the question arise, what measures the owner would now take. But once more we have only a fresh and still greater display of his patience and unwillingness to believe that these husbandmen were so evil. As Mark pathetically put it, indicating not only the owner’s goodness, but the spirit of determined rebellion and the wickedness of the husbandmen: ‘He had yet one, a beloved son – he sent him last unto them, on the supposition that they would reverence him. The result was different. The appearance of the legal heir made them apprehensive of their tenure. Practically, the vineyard was already theirs; by killing the heir, the only claimant to it would be put out of the way, and so the vineyard become in every respect their own. For, the husbandmen proceeded on the idea, that as the owner was ‘abroad’ ‘for a long time,’ he would not personally interfere – an impression strengthened by the circumstance that he had not avenged the former ill-usage of his servants, but only sent others in the hope of influencing them by gentleness. So the labourers ‘taking him [the son], cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him’ – the first action indicating that by violence they thrust him out of his possession, before they wickedly slew him.
The meaning of the Parable is sufficiently plain. The owner of the vineyard, God, had let out His Vineyard – the Theocracy – to His people of old. The covenant having been instituted, He withdrew, as it were – the former direct communication between Him and Israel ceased. Then in due season He sent ‘His Servants,’ the prophets, to gather His fruits – they had had theirs in all the temporal and spiritual advantages of the covenant. But, instead of returning the fruits meet unto repentance, they only ill-treated His messengers, and that increasingly, even unto death. In His longsuffering He next sent on the same errand ‘greater’ than them – John the Baptist. And when he also received the same treatment, He sent last His own Son, Jesus Christ. His appearance made them feel, that it was now a decisive struggle for the Vineyard – and so, in order to gain its possession for themselves, they cast the rightful heir out of His own possession, and then killed Him!
And they must have understood the meaning of the Parable, who had served themselves heirs to their fathers in the murder of all the prophets, who had just been convicted of the rejection of the Baptist’s message, find whose hearts were even then full of murderous thoughts against the rightful Heir of the Vineyard. But, even so, they must speak their own judgment. In answer to His challenge, what in their view the owner of the vineyard would do to these husbandmen, the chief priests and Pharisees could only reply: ‘As evil men evilly will he destroy them. And the vineyard will He let out to other husbandmen, which shall render Him the fruits in their season.’
The application was obvious, and it was made by Christ, first, as always, by a reference to the prophetic testimony, showing not only the unity of all God’s teaching, but also the continuity of the Israel of the present with that of old in their resistance and rejection of God’s counsel and messengers. The quotation, than which none more applicable could be imagined, was from Psa_118:22, Psa_118:23, and is made in the (Greek) Gospel of Mathew – not necessarily by Christ – from the LXX. Version. The only, almost verbal, difference between it and the original is, that, whereas in the latter the adoption of the stone rejected by the builders as head of the corner (‘this,’ hoc, זאֹת) is ascribed to Jehovah, in the LXX. its original designation (αὕτη) as head of the corner (previous to the action of the builders), is traced to the Lord. And then followed, in plain and unmistakable language, the terrible prediction, first, nationally, that the Kingdom of God would be taken from them, and ‘given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof;’ and then, individually, that whosoever stumbled at that stone and fell over it, in personal offence or hostility, should be broken in pieces, but whosoever stood in the way of, or resisted its progress, and on whom therefore it fell, it would ‘scatter Him as dust.’
Once more was their wrath roused, but also their fears. They knew that He spake of them, and would fain have laid hands on Him; but they feared the people, who in those days regarded Him as a prophet. And so for the present they left Him, and went their way.
4. If Rabbinic writings offer scarcely any parallel to the preceding Parable, that of the Marriage-Feast of the King’s Son and the Wedding Garment seems almost reproduced in Jewish tradition. In its oldest form it is ascribed to Jochanan ben Zakkai, who flourished about the time of the composition of the Gospel of Matthew. It appears with variety of, or with additional details in Jewish commentaries. But while the Parable of our Lord only consists of two parts, forming one whole and having one lesson, the Talmud divides it into two separate Parables, of which the one is intended to show the necessity of being prepared for the next world – to stand in readiness for the King’s feast; while the other ‘is meant to teach that we ought to be able to present our soul to God at the last in the same state of purity in which we had (according to Rabbinic notions) originally received it. Even this shows the infinite difference between the Lord’s and the Rabbinic use of the Parable. In the Jewish Parable a King is represented as inviting to a feast, without, however, fixing the exact time for it. The wise adorn themselves in time, and are seated at the door of the palace, so as to be in readiness, since, as they argue, no elaborate preparation for a feast can be needed in a palace; while the foolish go away to their work, arguing there must be time enough, since there can be no feast without preparation. (The Midrash has it, that, when inviting the guests, the King had told them to wash, anoint, and array themselves in their festive garments; and that the foolish, arguing that, from the preparation of the food and the arranging of the seats, they would learn when the feast was to begin, had gone, the mason to his cask of lime, the potter to his clay, the smith to his furnace, the fuller to his bleaching-ground.) But suddenly comes the King’s summons to the feast, when the wise appear festively adorned, and the King rejoices over them, and they are made to sit down, eat and drink; while he is wroth with the foolish, who appear squalid, and are ordered to stand by and look on in anguish, hunger and thirst.
The other Jewish Parable is of a king who committed to his servants the royal robes. The wise among them carefully laid them by while the foolish put them on when they did their work. After a time the king asked back the robes, when the wise could restore them clean, while the foolish had them soiled. Then the king rejoiced over the wise, and, while the robes were laid up in the treasury, they were bidden go home in peace. ‘But to the foolish he commanded that the robes should be handed over to the fuller, and that they themselves should be cast into prison.’ We readily see that the meaning of this Parable was, that a man might preserve His soul perfectly pure, and so enter into peace, while the careless, who had lost their original purity [no original sin here], would, in the next world, by suffering, both expiate their guilt and purify their souls.
When, from these Rabbinic perversions, we turn to the Parable of our Lord, its meaning is not difficult to understand. The King made a marriage for his Son, when he sent his Servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding. Evidently, as in the Jewish Parable, and as before in that of the guests invited to the great Supper, preliminary general invitation had preceded the announcement that all was ready. Indeed, in the Midrash on Lam_4:2, it is expressly mentioned among other distinctions of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that none of them went to a feast till the invitation had been given and repeated. But in the Parable those invited would not come. It reminds us both of the Parable of the Labourers for the Vineyard, sought at different times, and of the repeated sending of messengers to those Evil Husbandmen for the fruits that were due, when we are next told that the King sent forth other servants to tell them to come, for he had made ready his ‘early meal’ (ἄριστον, not ‘dinner,’ as in the Authorised and Revised Version), and that, no doubt with a view to the later meal, the oxen and fatlings were killed. These repeated endeavours to call, to admonish, and to invite, form a characteristic feature of these Parables, showing that it was one of the central objects of our Lord’s teaching to exhibit the longsuffering and goodness of God. Instead of giving heed to these repeated and pressing calls, in the words of the Parable: ‘But they [the one class] made light of it, and went away, the one to his own land, the other unto his own merchandise.’
So the one class; the other made not light of it, but acted even worse than the first. ‘But the rest laid hands on his servants, entreated them shamefully, and killed them.’ By this we are to understand, that, when the servants came with the second and more pressing message, the one class showed their contempt for the king, the wedding of his son, and the feast, and their preference for and preoccupation with their own possessions or acquisitions – their property or their trading, their enjoyments or their aims and desires. And, when these had gone, and probably the servants still remained to plead the message of their lord, the rest evil entreated, and then killed them – proceeding beyond mere contempt, want of interest, and preoccupation with their own affairs, to hatred and murder. The sin was the more aggravated that he was their king, and the messengers had invited them to a feast, and that one in which every loyal subject should have rejoiced to take part. Theirs was, therefore, not only murder, but also rebellion against their sovereign. On this the king, in his wrath, sent forth his armies, which – and here the narrative in point of time anticipates the event – destroyed the murderers, and burnt their city.
But the condign punishment of these rebels forms only part of the Parable. For it still leaves the wedding unprovided with guests, to sympathise with the joy of the king, and partake of his feast. And so the narrative continues: ‘Then’ – after the king had given commandment for his armies to go forth, he said to his servants, ‘The wedding indeed is ready, but they that were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the partings of the highways [where a number of roads meet and cross], and, as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.’ We remember that the Parable here runs parallel to that other, when, first the outcasts from the city-lanes, and then the wanderers on the world’s highway, were brought in to fill the place of the invited guests. At first sight it seems as if there were no connection between the declaration that those who had been bidden had proved themselves unworthy, and the direction to go into the crossroads and gather any whom they might find, since the latter might naturally be regarded as less likely to prove worthy. Yet this is one of the main points in the Parable. The first invitation had been sent to selected guests – to the Jews – who might have been expected to be ‘worthy,’ but had proved themselves unworthy; the next was to be given, not to the chosen city or nation, but to all that travelled in whatever direction on the world’s highway, reaching them where the roads of life meet and part.
We have already in part anticipated the interpretation of this Parable. ‘The Kingdom’ is here, as so often in the Old and in the New Testament, likened to a feast, and more specifically to a marriage-feast. But we mark as distinctive, that the King makes it for His Son. Thus Christ, as Son and Heir of the Kingdom, forms the central Figure in the Parable. This is the first point set before us. The next is, that the chosen, invited guests were the ancient Covenant-people – Israel. To them God had sent first under the Old Testament. And, although they had not given heed to His call, yet a second class of messengers was sent to them under the New Testament. And the message of the latter was, that ‘the early meal’ was ready [Christ’s first coming], and that all preparations had been made for the great evening-meal [Christ’s Reign]. Another prominent truth is set forth in the repeated message of the King, which points to the goodness and longsuffering of God. Next, our attention is drawn to the refusal of Israel, which appears in the contemptuous neglect and preoccupation with their own things of one party, and the hatred, resistance, and murder by the other. Then follow in quick succession the command of judgment on the nation, and the burning of their city – God’s army being, in this instance, the Romans – and, finally, the direction to go into the crossways to invite all men, alike Jews and Gentiles.
With Mat_22:10 begins the second part of the Parable. The ‘Servants’ – that is, the New Testament messengers – had fulfilled their commission; they had brought in as many as they found, both bad and good: that is, without respect to their previous history, or their moral and religious state up to the time of their call; and ‘the wedding was filled with guests’ – that is, the table at the marriage, feast was filled with those who as guests ‘lay around it’ (ἀνακειμένων). But, if ever we are to learn that we must not expect on earth – not even at the King’s marriage-table – a pure, Church, it is, surely, from what now follows. The King entered to see His guests, and among them he descried one who had not on a wedding-garment. Manifestly, the quickness of the invitation and the previous unpreparedness of the guests did not prevent the procuring of such a garment. As the guests had been travellers, and as the feast was in the King’s palace, we cannot be mistaken in supposing that such garments were supplied in the palace itself to all those who sought them. And with this agrees the circumstance, that the man so addressed ‘was speechless’ [literally, ‘gagged,’ or ‘muzzled’]. His conduct argued utter insensibility as regarded that to which he had been called – ignorance of what was due to the King, and what became such a feast. For, although no previous state of preparedness was required of the invited guests, all being bidden, whether good or bad, yet the fact remained that, if they were to take part in the feast, they must put on a garment suited to the occasion. All are invited to the Gospel-feast; but they who will partake of it must put on the King’s wedding-garment of Evangelical holiness. And whereas it is said in the Parable, that only one was descried without this garment, this is intended to teach, that the King will not only generally view His guests, but that each will be separately examined, and that no one – no, not a single individual – will be able to escape discovery amidst the mass of guests, if he has not the ‘wedding-garment.’ In short, in that day of trial, it is not a scrutiny of Churches, but of individuals in the church. And so the King bade the servants – διακόνοις – not the same who had previously carried the invitation (δούλοις) but others – evidently here the Angels, His ‘ministers,’ to bind him hand and foot, and to ‘cast him out into the darkness, the outer’ – that is, unable to offer resistance and as a punished captive, he was to be cast out into that darkness which is outside the brilliantly lighted guest-chamber of the King. And, still further to mark that darkness outside, it is added that this is the well-known place of suffering and anguish: ‘there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.’
And here the Parable closes with the general statement, applicable alike to the first part of the Parable – to the first invited guests, Israel – and to the second, the guests from all the world: ‘For’ (this is the meaning of the whole Parable) ‘many are called, but few chosen.’ For the understanding of these words we have to keep in view that, logically, the two clauses must be supplemented by the same words. Thus, the verse would read: Many are called out of the world by God to partake of the Gospel-feast, but few out of the world – not of the called – are chosen by God to partake of it. The call to the feast and the choice for the feast are not identical. The call comes to all; but it may be outwardly accepted, and a man may sit down to the feast, and yet he may not be chosen to partake of the feast, because he has not the wedding-garment of converting, sanctifying grace. And so one may be thrust even from the marriage-board into the darkness without, with its sorrow and anguish.
Thus side by side, yet wide apart, are these two – God’s call and God’s choice. The connecting-link between them is the taking of the wedding-garment, freely given in the Palace. Yet, we must seek it, ask it, put it on. And so here also, we have, side by side, God’s gift and man’s activity. And still, to all time, and to all men, alike in its warning, teaching, and blessing, is it true: ‘Many are called, but few chosen!’