Dress code for heaven? Exploring the textures of the parable of the Royal Wedding Feast (Matt 22:1–14)

Ruth Mathieson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The Parable of the Royal Wedding Feast (Matt 22:1–14) concludes with the troubling scene of an individual being cast out into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth—because this person is not wearing wedding clothes! This is powerful “rhetography” using graphic imagery for rhetorical purposes. To explore what this Parable might imply regarding a “dress code for heaven,” Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation (SRI) as formulated by Vernon Robbins is employed to consider the inner, inter-, socio-cultural, ideological and sacred textures of the Parable.
Analysis of each of these textures contributes to my thesis that the expulsion of an individual from the wedding feast may be for the well-being of the community, especially “little ones.” This is the focus of concern in the Community Discourse (Matt 18) where the only other “king” parable in Matthew’s Gospel occurs and the king is associated with the heavenly Father (18:35). In my interpretation of Matthew 22:1–14 the king is also understood to represent God. Inner texture analysis draws attention to Matthew 22:11–13 as an act of expulsion of an individual (cf. Matt 18:15–17) rather than of separation of the good and the bad at the end of the age (cf. Matt 13; Matt 25). In intertexture explorations parallels are drawn between Matthew 22:13 and the angel of healing, Raphael, being commanded to bind the fallen angel Asael by the feet and hands and to cast him into the outer darkness (1 Enoch 10). In analysis of the social and cultural texture of the Parable I recognise the importance of honour in the first-century world but note that the Gospel of Matthew exhibits a counter-cultural attitude to honour. Therefore, I argue that expulsion of an individual concerns more than dishonouring the king by failing to dress in clean clothes. Ideological texture analysis of this Parable and its interpretations is undertaken from my social location as an Anglican priest in a church where “little ones” have been sexually abused and religious leaders have not taken sufficient responsibility for their well-being. Consideration of sacred texture categorises this Parable as primarily prophetic rhetoric (rhetorolect) directed at the religious leaders and insiders of first-century Judaism. I argue that the Parable of the Royal Wedding Feast continues to address religious leaders and insiders rather than little ones or those on the margins. This provokes the question of how the criticism Jesus levels at the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 23) and the teaching on community discipline Jesus provides to the disciples (Matt 18) applies to the church today, especially with respect to allegations of child sexual abuse.
My reading of the Parable of the Royal Wedding Feast differs from others by exploring why one would be expelled from the feast with feet and hands bound, rather than focusing on the requirements needed to enter the dominion of heaven, such as better righteousness, bearing good fruit and doing good works. These may form “the dress code for heaven” for those preparing for the return of the Son of Man (Matt 13, 24–25), but this Parable is not addressed to disciples but rather to religious leaders (Matt 21–23).
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Neville, David, Principal Supervisor
Award date09 Dec 2019
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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