Sunday, April 11, 2010

Christ’s Parable of the Wedding Feast Reveals the 3 Degrees of Glory

This parable turned out to be more challenging than I thought it would be, but it was also incredibly rewarding to study it. I will share with you some important insights that came to me as I worked on it.

The whole thing

1 And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said,
2 The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son,
3 And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.
4 Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage.
5 But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise:
6 And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.
7 But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.
8 Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy.
9 Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.
10 So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.
11 And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:
12 And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.
13 Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
14 For many are called, but few are chosen [wherefore all do not have on the wedding garment]. (Matthew 22:1-14, JST bracketed, compare to Luke 14:15-24)

Okay, from the beginning..
2 The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son,
3 And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.
If a king were going to have a wedding for his son, it would make sense that he would make sure that everyone knew about it beforehand. The invitations would have been sent out long before the actual event. This makes it seem very surprising that the people who were invited would not come. Why did they not come?

Perhaps the invites were sent out so far ahead that people began to think that the wedding feast wasn’t really going to happen, so they started filling up their life with other stuff instead. Maybe the delay made them think that the king wasn’t really serious about these invitations. Or maybe they weren’t excited about it, so they strategically positioned things they were more interested in over the top of the invited time so that they could say they had something else to do.

I can imagine this being the case. When there is a major delay between news of an event and the event itself, I have a hard time motivating myself to prepare for it. Just recently one of my friends sent me an invitation to her son’s wedding, and I set it aside, assuming that there was lots of time, and I didn’t even stick it on the calendar. The next time I thought about it was two weeks later, and then when I went to look at the date of the wedding, I realized the date had just passed. Whoops. (cringe)

This causes me to think about where I want to be. Am I merely content with the day-to-day business or am I thinking about, yearning for, preparing for the wedding feast, distant though it may seem?

What is the wedding feast?

Perhaps the wedding feast could refer to the church in the former days. This parable was given during the week before his crucifixion. The Jews would reject Jesus, and they were destroyed by the Romans around 70 A.D. However, this interpretation is problematic.

The first problem we encounter with this interpretation is this—the mind recoils at the idea of these Roman armies corresponding to the armies of the king, if we interpret the king to be Heavenly Father. Angel armies we can accept. Roman armies, not so much. But let us pass over this for the moment and see if we can find any other helpful similarities.

The conversion of gentiles to the gospel seems to correspond at least loosely with the parable details about people brought in from the highways to the feast. And certainly correct doctrine could be considered a joyful feast, yes? However, the problem with this is that the great apostasy does not correspond with the parable’s detail about the king tossing out the man without the wedding garment. Rather, if the events of the apostasy were translated into the parable, it would seem that the man without the wedding garment threw out all the other guests and the king! So it seems that this parable doesn’t perfectly correspond to the events in the former day church. We must look for another interpretation.

It appears that the wedding feast has to come at the end of the world, at the final judgment. One overlooked detail that seems to suggest this is the parable’s ending with all the properly clothed guests at the feast with no word about what comes afterward. It is as if the feast will continue forever and the guests no longer need to worry about every-day concerns. All the king has will be given to those who come. Another detail that indicates this is that the wedding feast is given on the occasion of the marriage of the king’s son. This could be the presentation of the purified church to God, since Christ has referred to Himself elsewhere as the bridegroom. This can only occur at the end of the world and the final judgment. Further, we haven’t yet seen the destruction of all the wicked who reject and persecute the saints and the prophets. That has yet to be fulfilled.

The wedding feast could also be considered to be taking the sacrament. We have to be prepared for that, yes? But while this possibility is intriguing in its surface similarities of eating, the events surrounding weekly administration of the sacrament don’t correspond in the essential details about the groups of people invited then destroyed for their rejection, so this can’t be what was intended by the parable.

So the wedding feast comes at or after the final judgment. Grasping this detail helps us understand the reactions that follow announcement of the feast. Plainly this necessitates preparation and no wonder people put off the invitation.
4 Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage.
5 But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise:
6 And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.
7 But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.
We can’t underline enough the folly of refusing an invitation from the king. It smells of rebellion. The king wants people to come to a CELEBRATION, for heaven’s sake! Yet knowing as we do the world’s reaction to any invitation to repent and prepare for the final judgment, the invitation seems to suggest waiting the length of a lifetime, and God seems so far away and so far removed from life that the urgency is lost on them.

Now, what of those servants who are so diligent in delivering the message?

The invitation goes out through the servants. There are multiples rounds of invitation. These servants undoubtedly represent the prophets. They can also represent missionaries sharing the gospel, church leaders extending callings/invitations to get ready to go to the temple, and all the calls to repentance that we hear throughout our lives.
8 Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy.
9 Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.
10 So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.
What are the highways? Who are the people on the highways? What is significant about being on the highways that leads these people to accept the invitation?

If they were on the highways, they were travelers, going from one place to another. Perhaps this indicates they were leaving a place they didn’t want to be, going somewhere they wanted to go. When an exciting alternative was offered them, they took it. They were willing to divert their journey (or interrupt it) in favor of going to the king’s wedding. Perhaps they were searching. Maybe they felt they didn’t have anything to lose by coming to the wedding feast. (So Perhaps the people who didn’t listen to the invitation were too content with where they were and what they were doing.) Here are some scriptures that seem to throw light on the significance of highways in this parable:
The highway of the upright is to depart from evil: he that keepeth his way preserveth his soul. (Proverbs 16:17)
And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. (Isaiah 35:8)
Who are the good and bad on the highways, and why do both end up at the wedding feast? I suspect that one way we could interpret this is that there were people who had backgrounds of goodness and people who had backgrounds of badness. Both types came, and that was important. They both respond to the call, and they come, as opposed to those who don’t listen to the servants. Elsewhere, Christ elaborates on this point in His parable of the fishing net.
47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:
48 Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. (Matt. 13:47-48)
This leads to the next question. What do we make of the man who was not clothed in a wedding garment?

What’s wrong with not wearing a wedding garment to the wedding feast?

It’s hard for us to understand why someone would be thrown out for wearing the wrong thing. We have to remember that wearing the wedding garment would be how the guests would show respect for the king. Remember, wearing our Sunday best to church and to the temple shows our reverence to God. If we remember that the wedding feast is part of the final judgment, we understand better the necessity of being prepared. Further, that it was a WEDDING FEAST suggests that the occasion itself calls for the very best.

The next difficulty we face is this—it seems unfair that the man is thrown out of the wedding feast for not having a wedding garment; after all, the servants grabbed people from the highways. It seems paradoxical to gather these people from highways and then require a wedding garment be worn. People don’t carry formal wear when on the road. The king was rich; he should have provided wedding garments for his guests, right?

In terms of the gospel, yes, Heavenly Father has provided every one of us with the wedding garment of righteousness when we repent and come unto Christ. All of us have sinned (except Christ), so none of us are righteous of ourselves. The Atonement washes our sins from us, making us pure, and the grace of Christ covers us, works in us, giving us power and inclination to do righteous things that we couldn’t do on our own.

So, the king did provide wedding garments for his guests so that they wouldn’t be embarrassed to come.

So now we ask again, why didn’t the man wear the wedding garment? Maybe we should first probe further about what the wedding garment is.
And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. (Revelation 19:8, emphasis added)
This is the “dress code” for heaven.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10, emphasis added)
9 Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness; and let thy saints shout for joy. . . .
16 I will also clothe her priests with salvation: and her saints shall shout aloud for joy. (Psalms 132:9,16, emphasis added)
12 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, and it hath gone forth in a firm decree, by the will of the Father, that mine apostles, the Twelve which were with me in my ministry at Jerusalem, shall stand at my right hand at the day of my coming in a pillar of fire, being clothed with robes of righteousness, with crowns upon their heads, in glory even as I am, to judge the whole house of Israel, even as many as have loved me and kept my commandments, and none else.
13 For a trump shall sound both long and loud, even as upon Mount Sinai, and all the earth shall quake, and they shall come forth—yea, even the dead which died in me, to receive a crown of righteousness, and to be clothed upon, even as I am, to be with me, that we may be one. (D&C 29:12-13, emphasis added)
Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness. (2 Nephi 9:14, emphasis added)
Language about being clothed can also refer to the glorious resurrection:
2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:
3 If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. (2 Cor. 5:2-3, emphasis added)
There are other righteous qualities suggested:
4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. (Revelation 3:4-5, emphasis added)
But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to fall the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead. (D&C 138:30, emphasis added)
Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. (1 Peter 5:5, emphasis added)
And above all things, clothe yourselves with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace. (D&C 88:125, emphasis added)
As a side question: could going to the temple correspond to going to the wedding feast? Both going to the temple and participating in the wedding feast seem to call for special clothing. Again, while this possibility is intriguing, the events surrounding a trip to the temple don’t correspond in the essential details to the parable’s groups of people invited and then destroyed for their rejection, so this can’t be what was intended by the parable. It seems then that faithful temple attendance in the general sense must be viewed as part of the process of putting on the wedding garment. (Of course, this doesn’t prevent us from pretending as we go to the temple and worship there that we are going to the wedding feast. It may help us remember that we are practicing for the real thing.)

So what does it mean that the man didn’t have the wedding garment on?

The man who rejected the wedding garment must have thought that he was fine how he was and he didn’t need to change for anyone. He seems to have been determined to corrupt the king’s wedding, determined to different from all others. He took his rebellion into the king’s very house, determined to defy the saying that “No unclean thing can enter into the kingdom of God”. The command to bind the man hand and foot and throw him into outer darkness suggests that this is a son of perdition. He’s taken his rebellion to the very limit, while pretending to be obedient. He is a hypocrite. The man can have nothing to say.

***

Okay, so we’ve gotten to this point. I have to point out here that I haven’t presented this in the same order that I realized it in. The real order was here, there, over there, back here again, and extremely disjointed. If I had done it in the same order, you would have thought me a very bad writer. If I’ve done my job right, you should be right along with me. Well, now I have to go back to sharing with you some other things that I found in the middle of this process that enabled me to come to the conclusions I’ve shared with you up to this point.

I really thought a lot about this parable. I would analyze parts and think that I got it and then I would think about other parts and get completely confused again. In the end, I asked myself what the main point of it seemed to be. The main point of this parable is to show the slow whittling down of the number of guests that actually make it to the wedding feast and to show the various reasons why they fail to make the cut. The words at the end of the parable underlined this—“Many are called, but few are chosen.” I thought about this for quite a long time. It haunted me with its simplicity; it seemed to ring like a gong through my head. I couldn’t figure out why that was, but I knew there was something there, something of great significance. Thinking so long and hard about this gradually led me to realize that this parable was actually setting forth the three degrees of glory, according to the various groups of people invited to the wedding feast.

Telestial - Some take the invitation seriously and feel threatened by it and the messengers. This indicates that they feel it is an encroachment upon their freedom to order their own lives as they want. They oppose the servants and murder them, and by doing so, implicitly oppose the king. (These people are destroyed by the king’s armies.)

Terrestrial - Some don’t take the invitation seriously and treat it as a joke. They are too busy “minding their own business” making a living on the farm or with their store. (It is not quite clear whether they are destroyed or not.) They are honorable, but deceived by the craftiness of men.

Celestial - The people gathered from the highways are those who actually listened to the king’s servants and came to the wedding feast. (a remnant?) They prepare themselves in spite of the shortness of the time they have to prepare. They put on the wedding garment.

Outer Darkness - Some accept the invitation to the wedding feast, yet come without a wedding garment. They seem to have made the conscious decision to NOT prepare themselves. These are detected and cast out. They weep and wail and gnash their teeth. (There is nothing they can do to change the outcome; they can’t turn back the clock and make different choices.)

This interpretation adds greater depth to our understanding of the gospel. It shows us how accepting the gospel is not enough; that’s like accepting the invitation. We also have to prepare ourselves with the wedding garment or we will be cast out at the last day.
Christ’s parable of the net seems to underline this idea. Even if we have been gathered in the gospel net, unless we are “good fishes”, we will be cast out.
47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:
48 Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.
49 So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,
50 And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 13:47-50, emphasis added)
I don’t think this refers to the first destruction of the people who wouldn’t even come to the wedding feast. I think reiterates the judgment that will occur among those who have come to the wedding feast, i.e. those who have joined the church. It is very easy to interpret the severing of the wicked from among the just as the destruction at the second coming of Christ, but what this points to is another judgment of removing the hypocrites from among the righteous.

Okay, back to the parable of the wedding feast..

I’ve told you I really spent a lot of time thinking about that haunting sentence—“Many are called, but few are chosen.” Something else I realized was that this very parable of the wedding garment had to be what Joseph Smith was pondering when he wrote those powerful words in D&C 121:34-36. “Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?...” The statement “Many are called, but few are chosen” must have haunted him even more than it haunted me. So I read the following with new understanding for the context:
34 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
35 Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—
36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.
39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen. (Doctrine & Covenants 121:34-40)
The parable describes people that have been called to the king's wedding feast and make light of it, preferring to go to their farms and merchandise. Joseph Smith observed, "Their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world and aspire to the honors of men". It was exciting to realize that was exactly what Joseph Smith was thinking about. I probably wouldn't have realized it if I hadn't been studying that same parable in order to do a blog post on it.

Yet Joseph Smith’s words bring up another difficulty. When Joseph Smith comments on the people who kick against the pricks, persecute the saints, and fight against God, he seems to refer to those who refused to accept the wedding invitation and who were eventually destroyed. This also seems to be substantiated by the idea that they set their hearts on things of the world. However, then he connects these ideas with those who have had the priesthood conferred upon them and who cover their sins, gratify their pride, or exercise unrighteous dominion, which seems to begin to refer to those who have come to the wedding feast without a wedding garment. Which is he referring to?

I suspect that he has to be referring to those coming to the wedding feast without a wedding garment because afterward he discourses on how the priesthood should be exercised, listing qualities that would fit really well into a description of charity. This would certainly allow the priesthood to put on the wedding garment and prepare them for the wedding feast. Joseph Smith’s statements about the priesthood setting their hearts on the things of men seems to indicate that even those who have accepted the king’s invitation may in the end fail to come to the wedding feast when the time comes. I think this expands on the characteristics of those who do not put on the wedding garment.

So what have we learned from this parable?
  • The wedding feast is the end of the world, the final judgment.
  • The wedding garment is the righteousness of the saints, which encompasses all the virtues.
  • The parable sets forth the three degrees of glory and warns of the penalty for refusing the invitation to come to the wedding feast and for not preparing one’s self.
  • We’ve learned that Joseph Smith was pondering this parable when he discoursed on the proper use of the priesthood in D&C 121.

7 comments:

Lirik said...

Thank you for this article! Could I translate it and use in my talks?

Thank you again! Kirill Klimov, Russia, Samara

Michaela Stephens said...

Absolutely yes!

Dan and Wendy said...

Very inciteful as always.

Matthew said...

Good article. I like your analysis - not an approach I had ever taken to that parable. Thanks!

quality inspection china said...

In some societies, clothing may be used to indicate rank or status. In ancient Rome, for example, only senators were permitted to wear garments dyed with Tyrian purple

Michaela Stephens said...

quality inspection china: Good point. That adds another interesting dimension to this parable.

Anonymous said...

Good insights!
Donna Nielsen has written an incredible book called "Beloved Bridegroom" which has stunning implications of the Jewish marriage ceremony as it testifies of Christ and the ordinances. A few of the things that relate to this post include that the wedding was the "second" invitation - the first came at the betrothal. This ties to the Second Coming that you mentioned above.
Also, there are ties to the sacrament too as the betrothal is a bread meal, and the wedding has wine (sacramental emblems, as you also allude to).

I can't recommend Donna's book highly enough. It's just beautiful, and one appreciates the Savior so much more after reading her insights.