“And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son,and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’
The unique element in the parable before us is the willful refusal of those who were invited. It was not that they could not come. Rather they would not. The reason for their refusal is not spelled out, but it is suggested in the way the servants were treated. They “seized” the servants, “mistreated them and killed them” (v.6). If the invited guests felt that way toward the servants, they obviously felt that way toward the king who had sent them and would have seized, mistreated, and killed him if they could have. In other words, they would not come because they actually despised the king and were hostile to him.
Those of Christ’s day bitterly resented his portrait of them, but resent it or not, that is precisely the way those religious leaders thought and acted. In the chapter immediately preceding (Matthew 21:33-46), Jesus told of tenant farmers who beat, killed, and stoned the owners servants. At last they murdered his son. In the chapter following (Matthew 23), Jesus pronounces “woes” upon those same people saying,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous,saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
We know that at the last those rebellious subjects of the King of heaven killed Christ. As Stephen later put it,
“Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
Today we are not so inclined to kill prophets. But if we are honest, we will admit that the same spirit is present among many of our contemporaries and that they and others sometimes dispose of God’s messengers by ridicule or neglect, if not by more violent hostility. Charles H. Spurgeon preached seven sermons on this parable during the course of his long ministry, and he was deeply touched by that fact. He said,
Today this same class will be found among the children of godly parents; dedicated from their birth, prayed for by loving piety, listening to the gospel from their childhood, and yet unsaved. We look for these to come to Jesus. We naturally hope that they will feast upon the provisions of grace, and like their parents will rejoice in Christ Jesus; but alas! How often it is the case they will not come!… A preacher may be too rhetorical: let a plain speaking person be tried. He may be too weighty: let another come with parable and anecdote. Alas! With some of you the thing wanted is not a new voice, but a new heart. You would listen no better to a new messenger than to the old one.1
1 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Wedding Was Furnished with Guests,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vols, 28-37 (London: Banner of Truth, 1970), pp. 254-255