I’ve always struggled with the end of Matthew 22:1-14: the Parable of the Marriage Feast. I think it’s great that when the master’s acquaintances dishonor him by refusing the invitation to the feast, the master invites anyone else who might be willing to attend so that the wedding hall could be filled with guests. To me, that’s very much a view of unlimited atonement. However, at the end of the parable, the master throws some guy out for not having on the proper wedding garment - something I had always been taught that each guest personally brings with them. I’ve heard some preachers imply that the garment represents faith or good works or divine election, depending which one of those “vices” appeals most to your theological leanings. But I came across something a while back that changed how I read the last part of this parable.
This ”wedding garment” (sometimes called a Kuftan) is an outer robe that was worn at formal functions. Everyone wore this garment, whether they owned one or not. It was a symbol of equality: once everyone had theirs on, status and prestige disappeared and all respect was paid to the bridegroom alone. But the most important thing about this wedding garment was that it was provided by the host family to everyone who attended. Wealthy families (the kind that would’ve staged this feast) had a closet of them solely for the purpose of giving them out to their guests.
Now, that should change things for you. The master in the story sees a man in the main room (not in the foyer where the garments were given out) without his wedding garment on. He says, “Friend, how did you come in here (the main hall) without your wedding garment (Kuftan)?” In other words, you were offered a Kuftan when you entered…and the only reason you wouldn’t have it on now is if you purposefully chose to reject it. And that obstinate behavior is what caused the master to throw the guest out of the party.
You see, according to the context of first century Judaism, everyone would have received a wedding garment. There was no need to earn it, nor was it given to only a select or arbitrary few. Anyone and everyone received the garment regardless of socio-economic background or cultural status. And once everyone was together wearing their robes, egalitarianism reigned in the house of the master. And that’s exactly what Jesus was trying to say. Everyone gets a robe…unless they refuse to wear it. And even then, the master in this story offered the guest a second chance to reconsider before he threw him out – but the guest did not respond.
God’s not looking to throw anyone out of the party. In fact, you really have to want to get thrown out. And in this way, the marriage feast parable is fairly explicit in teaching unlimited atonement. To read beyond or dismiss this contextual clue is irresponsible. Personally, I’m thankful it’s in there. I’ve been stubborn enough at times to resist the wedding garment only to be drawn back to the king when he entreats me to return to the Kuftan closet and put it on. In this parable, the wedding garment is not a sign of judgment. It’s availability to all guests is a sign of God’s mercy and grace to anyone and everyone who wants to attend the feast.