Scripture Readings: Book of the Prophet Isaiah 25:6-10; Letter to the Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20 Gospel According to Saint Matthew 22:1-14
Who of us hasn’t been to a wedding? We are likely familiar with the atmosphere surrounding a wedding as well: the necessary preparation, the actual ceremony, subsequent hoopla, general partying and then the great clean up. After it’s all over we are likely even to “watch,” so to speak, and see if the union actually lasts! Unfortunately, many marriages today, even sacramental ones, don’t last. Nonetheless the sacrament is not going to be abolished as a result of current trends nor distorted to be something our Lord never intended in instituting marriage and the other Sacraments of the Church.
On this autumn Sunday, as the days grow shorter and a bit colder, and the Church Year comes to a close next month, we are being invited to ponder what a bright and warm royal wedding might have to say about God’s kingdom. A frequent image of heaven in the Sacred Scriptures of our Judeo-Christian tradition is the banquet and wedding celebration. The first reading from the prophet Isaiah today takes up this theme in the very appealing description of the Lord’s feast of rich food and choice wines on the holy mountain, where God will wipe away all tears, destroy death forever, and cause great rejoicing because of God’s saving action.
In the Gospel parable this Sunday, Jesus tells of a great wedding banquet given by a king for his son. Presumably it would have cost a lot—as do most weddings today as well—much time and thought, effort and especially money needed to pull it all off. Some things never change!
The main thread of the Gospel this Sunday revolves around our being invited this day by the Lord to the most important banquet and wedding feast that there ever could be, nothing less than the royal wedding feast prepared by God for his beloved children, which includes each and every one. The Lord is not forcing us to attend this feast, of course, but lovingly extending an invitation to share in the bounty that exceeds what we could ever hope for or imagine.
The final book of the Bible, Revelation, ends with the beautiful summons to the wedding feast of the Lamb and the Bride, to be understood as the Church. The passage reads: “The Spirit and the Bride say, Come!” (Rev 22:17). No one will have his or her arm twisted in order to get a response, though, for God does not work that way. But the call is to an eternal reward to which nothing else can compare.
We might ask, then, why does the parable seem to take a different turn when the king punishes those who refuse the initial invitation and mistreat the servants who announce the feast? We need to recognize here probably two stories in the parable. Perhaps two parables were combined into one by our Lord himself or by the evangelist Saint Matthew. In any case the first story or part of the parable is about the original group who get invited to the marriage feast. The king sends out invitations well in advance to the subjects of his realm so that they will have plenty of time to prepare for the big event, nothing less than the marriage of the king’s son.
When the time comes for the actual festivity, how insulting it would be if the guests start coming up with all kinds of excuses as to why they can’t attend. Their own interests take precedence over the king’s wishes. They insult the king as well as his heir, not to mention the ill treatment and death dolled out to the king’s messengers. This is not a pretty picture, to say the least. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the king is angry and concludes that the invited are not worthy of an invitation or attendance at the wedding.
Jesus is directing the words of the parable to the people of his day, to express how much God wants them to share in the joy of the Kingdom, but also about the dire consequences of refusing to be part of God’s plan for the salvation of the human race. The same message is applicable to ourselves and we must heed the Lord’s warning that there may come a point when we risk losing all that God has in store for us by making choices that are ultimately against God’s plan for my life and the life of others.
The second story within the parable today concerns the ones who never imagined getting an invitation from the king, yet nevertheless do get invited to the wedding. No one is excluded, but everyone cordially invited, understood as those outside the Jewish faith, the Gentiles and really all who might be considered defiled or sinful.
The point being made here by our Lord and the Church is that God’s grace, undeserved and unmerited, is always being extended and we have a choice to accept it or not. To refuse to accept it, of course, ultimately means rejecting it. And that leaves us out in the cold, separated from what makes us truly human, that is, partakers in divinity.
Put another way, it is not enough to say “Lord, Lord,” and only give lip service to God’s invitation. That seems to be what is behind the idea of the guest at the wedding without the proper garment. A commitment is required when one accepts the Lord’s invitation to the heavenly banquet. It is a responsibility to give all we can, and even when we fail through weakness and sin, never giving up the commitment to be a follower of Jesus. Discipleship is going to mean taking up the cross every day and that costs us dearly, “nothing less than everything,” as the poet T.S. Eliot expressed the idea.
Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:19) has an important message for us. There Paul says, “My God in turn will supply your needs fully, in a way worthy of his magnificent riches in Christ Jesus.”
This ties in beautifully with the notion of God’s lavish love and invitation. May we not be left out in the cold, spiritually speaking. May we find our true home and happiness in the one who can satisfy the deepest longings of the heart.
We may not be attending many weddings these days, due to a variety of factors, including COVID-19, but memories of “weddings past” can help us better grasp what Jesus is saying to us about the ultimate wedding celebration in the life to come!
All glory to our God and Father for unending ages! (Phil 4:20). Amen.