Chapter 4 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 6
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE CROSS AND THE CROWN
THE END DAY IN PASSION-WEEK, THE LAST SERIES OF
PARABLES: TO THE PHARISEES AND TO THE PEOPLE
ON THE WAY TO JERUSALEM: THE PARABLE OF THE LABOURERS IN THE VINEYARD
IN THE TEMPLE: THE PARABLE OF THE 'NO' AND 'YES' OF THE TWO SONS
THE PARABLE OF THE EVIL HUSBANDMEN EVILLY DESTROYED
THE PARABLE OF THE MARRIAGE OF THE KING'S SON AND THE WEDDING GARMENT
(St. Matthew 19:30, 20:16; St. Matthew
21:28-32; St. Mark 12:1-12; St. Luke 20:9-19; St. Matthew
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,1 He told
them of the 'Last Things.' They are the Parables of Judgment, and in one form
or another treat of 'the End.'
Matt. xxiv. 1. St. Luke xxi. 37.
1. The Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard.2
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 Per�a, in connection with which it is recorded by St.
Matthew. At any rate, it stands in internal relation with what passed on that
occasion, and must therefore be studied with reference to it.
Matt. xix. 30-xx. 16.
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.'3
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 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.
Matt. xix. 23, 24.
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, not 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 acknowledgement 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;4 - that
is, it betokens mental or moral unfitness.
Matt. xx. 15.
Of this the Parable of the Labourers is an illustration.
It teaches nothing beyond this.5
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.
of discussing the explanations of others, I prefer simply to expound that which
I have to propose. The difficulties of the usual interpretations are so great
that a fresh study seemed requisite. Our interpretation turns on this, that the
Parable is only an illustration of what is said in St. Matt. xix. 30.
We mark, first, the bearing of 'the householder, who went out
immediately, at earliest morn (ama prwi),
to hire labourers into his vineyard.' That he did not send his steward, but
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,7
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 marketplace 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.
Matt. xx. 1.
Rome, at the time of Cicero, a day-labourer received 12 as =about 6d.
- that is, rather less than in Jud�a (comp. Marquardt, R�m. Alterth.
vol. v. p. 52).
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;8
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 standing9
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.10
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
Luke xiii. 30.
word 'idle' in the second clause of ver. 6 is spurious, though it may, of
course, be supplied from the fourth clause.
last clause in our T. R. and A. V. is spurious, though perhaps such a
promise was understood.
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 like wise 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 wrought11
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.
prefer not rendering with Meyer and the R.V. epoihsan, viz., wran,
by 'spent,' but taking the verb as the Hebrew h#( = 'wrought.' And the
first labourers could not have meant, that the last had 'spent,' not 'wrought,'
an hour. This were a gratuitous imputation to them of malevolence and calumny.
But there was yet another aspect than that of mere justice.
Those other labourers, who had felt that, owning 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' (qelw) 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
passing we also mark, as against cavillers, the profound accord between what
negative critics would call the 'true Judaic Gospel' of St. Matthew, and what
constitutes the very essence of 'the anti-Judaic teaching' of St. Paul - and we
ask our opponents to reconcile on their theory what can only be explained on
the ground that St. Paul, like St. Matthew, was the true disciple of the true
Teacher, Jesus Christ.
iv. 4-6; xi. 6.
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
St. 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 willeth13
- 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,14
and of the Gentiles.15
And so, in this illustrative case of the Parable, 'the first shall be last, and
the last first.'16
And in other instances also, though not in all - 'many shall be last
that are first; and first that are last.'17
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.
ii.; iii. 28-31; ix. 18-24.
clause which follows in our A.V. is spurious.
Matt. xix. 30.
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 instances. 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.1819
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,'20
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.'21
This in reference to the great merits of the deceased young Rabbi.
Mets. 87 a, towards the end.
interesting illustrations of secondary importance, and therefore not here
introduced, may be found at the close of Badha Mets. 83 a and the
beginning of b.
on Eccl. v. 11; Jer. Ber. ii. 8.
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,22
and that of the least, about letting the mother-bird fly away23
- attaching to both precisely the same reward.24
R. 6 on Deut. xxii. 6.
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.25
for example, Ber. 5 a and b, but especially 7 a.
2. The second Parable in this series - or perhaps rather
illustration - was spoken within the Temple. The Savior 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
which now follows, introduces a man who has two sons. He goes to the first, and
in language of affection (teknon)
bids him go and work in his vineyard. The son curtly and rudely refuses; but
afterwards he changes his mind27
and goes.28 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, be 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.
Matt. xxi. 28-32.
word is not the same as that for 'repent' in St. Matt. iii. 2. The latter refers
to a change of heart, and means something spiritual. The word used in
the text means only a change of mind and purpose. It occurs besides in St.
Matt. xxvii. 3; 2 Cor. vii. 8; Heb. vii. 21.
away from the very profane use made of the saying in the Talmud, we may quote
as a literary curiosity the following as the origin of the proverb: He that
will not when he may, when he will he shall have nay, tycr )l ytycr#k hcwr yny) hcwr ht)# wy#k( Ber. 7 a,
line 8 from bottom.
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.29
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,30
to the exclusion of Israel as a people from their position in the Kingdom,31
and to their punishment as individuals.32
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.
Matt. xxi. 33 &c. and parallels.
The Parable opens, like that in Is. v., with a description of
the complete arrangements made by the Owner of the Vineyard,33
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, necessary, as identified with the nation of Israel,34
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,'35
and yet 'the chief priests and Pharisees' rightly 'perceived that He spake of
hedge' against animals or marauders, 'a winepress,' or, more specifically (St.
Mark), a 'winevat' (upolhnion),
into which the juice of the grapes flowed, and 'a tower' for the watchmen and
labourers generally. We may here remark that the differences in the narration
of this Parable in the three Gospels are too minute for discussion here. The
principal one, in St. Matt. xxi. 40, 41, comp. with the parallels, will be
briefly referred to in the text.
Luke xx. 9.
Matt. xxi. 45.
This vineyard the owner had let out to husbandmen, while he
himself 'travelled away' [abroad], as St. Luke adds, 'for a long time.' From
the language it is evident, that the husbandmen had the full management of the
vineyard. We remember, that there were three modes of dealing with land.
According to one of these (Arisuth), 'the labourers' employed received a certain
portion of the fruits, say, a third or fourth of the produce.37
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.38
The other two modes of letting land were, either that the tenant paid a money
rent to the proprietor,39
or else that he agreed to give the owner a definite amount of produce, whether
the harvest had been good or bad.40
Such leases were given by the year or for life: sometimes the lease was even
hereditary, passing from father to son.41
There can scarcely be a doubt that it is the latter kind of lease (Chakhranutha,
from rbx) which is referred to in the Parable, the lessees being bound to
give the owner a certain amount of fruits in their season.
Bikk. 64 b
R. 41, ed. Warsh, p. 54 b last line.
Mets. 104 a.
Bikk. 64 b.
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 St. Mark and St. Luke express it, 'of the fruits of
the vineyard.' We gather, that it was a succession of servants, who received
increasingly ill treatment from them 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,'42
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 St. 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.
in the A. and R. V.
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.43
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!
Luke vii. 26.
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.44
who had just been convicted of the rejection of the Baptist's message, and
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.'45
Matt. xxiii. 34-36.
Matt. xxi. 41.
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 Ps. cxviii. 22, 23, and is made in the (Greek) Gospel of St. Matthew -
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,
t#z) is ascribed to Jehovah, in the LXX. its original designation (auth) 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,46
but whosoever stood in the way of, or resisted its progress, and on whom
therefore it fell, it would 'scatter Him as dust.'
only Jewish parallel, even in point of form, so far as I know, is in Vayy. R.
11 (ed. Warsh., p. 18 a, near beginning), where we read of a king who
sent his treasurer to collect tribute, when the people of the land killed and
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
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
Garment47 seems almost reproduced in Jewish tradition. In its oldest form48
it is ascribed to Jochanan ben Zakkai, who flourished about the time of the composition
of the Gospel of St. Matthew. It appears with variety of, or with additional
details in Jewish commentaries.49
But while the Parable of our Lord only consists of two parts,50
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;51
while the other52
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.53
Even this shows the infinite difference between the Lord's and the Rabbinic use
of the Parable.54
In the Jewish Parable a King is represented as inviting to a feast,55
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.
Matt. xxii. 1-14.
153 a, and 152 b.
on Eccles. ix. 8; Midr. on Prov. xvi. 11.
Matt. xxii. 1-9 and 10-14.
Parable is only in the Talmud in this connection, not in the Midrashim.
reader will find both these Parables translated in 'Sketches of Jewish Social
Life,' p. 179.
the Talmud he invites his servants; in the Midrash, others.
The other Jewish Parable56
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 preversions, we turn to the Parable
of our Lord, its meaning is not difficult to understand. The King made a
marriage57 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,58
a preliminary general invitation had preceded the announcement that all was
ready. Indeed, in the Midrash on Lament. iv. 2,59
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' (ariston, 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.'
rather than 'marriage-feast.'
Luke xiv. 16, 17.
Warsh. p. 73 b.
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
is only made to that part who were murderers. Not that the others escaped
suffering or loss, but, in accordance with the plan of the Parable, this is not
mentioned. When we read of 'their city,' may there not here be also a reference
to a commonwealth or nation?
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
'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.62
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.
Matt. xxii. 8.
Luke xiv. 21-24.
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 things of one party, and the hatred,
resistance, and murder by the other. Then follow in quick succession the command
of judgement 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 verse 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 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' (anakeimenwn).
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 described one of who had
not on a wedding garment. Manifestly, the quickness of the invitation and the
previous unpreparedness. 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'].63
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 described without this garment, this
is intended to teach, that the King will 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 - diakonoiV - not
the same who had previously carried the invitation (douloiV), 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.'
in St. Matt. xxii. 34; see the note on it.
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.'64
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, out 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 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 from the marriage-board into the
darkness without, with its sorrow and anguish.
Matt. xxii. 14.
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, it is true: 'Many are called, but few are chosen!'
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