Weddings are great events in the lives of many people. The bride and groom have been preparing for months, sometimes years, to be joined together as one. Family and friends share in their excitement and joy as the couples enter a covenant of love.
After the Mass and exchange of vows, a large feast usually takes place, one requiring extensive planning. A number of decisions have to be made regarding the venue, caterer, menu, appropriate dress and so forth. When all is ready, invitations are sent and the couple awaits the response from family and friends, with whom they wish to celebrate their love.
Jesus uses the image of a wedding to describe heaven in his preaching the kingdom of God. We have one such example in today’s Gospel passage, where Jesus offers a parable in which “the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.”
When we hear that a king is offering the invitation, we may have to use our imagination a bit, since we live in a society where kingship is not present. If we think of a royal wedding, perhaps of the sort in the United Kingdom, we might have a different insight into this parable. On first hearing that the king is sponsoring the wedding feast, people would clamor for an invitation, desiring and appreciating such an honor.
Such would be the expectation of Jesus’ hearers when he begins this parable. A quick surprise comes as the king sends out his servant to summon the invited guests but no one comes. Suspense grows as another servant is sent and still no one is coming — even though a great feast has been prepared.
The responses to the invitation vary: “Some ignored it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.” Others mistreated the servants who brought the invitation, and some of those servants were killed. So the king sends other servants to invite the ‘bad and the good alike.” At last, the hall was filled with guests.
Now comes another twist with regard to expectations in the parable. When the king sees one of the guests inappropriately attired, he has him thrown out. The parable ends, and Jesus says, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
When we reflecting on the parable, we might consider the following points. The kingdom of heaven is compared to a feast, one with the finest food and company. Nothing could be better. The king who represents God the Father will be there; in fact, he is the host.
Isaiah uses the image of the “mountain of the Lord” to describe heaven and its eternal celebration: “The Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and pure, choice wines.” This will be a place of peace, harmony and unity. It will be a place of life, for God “will destroy death forever.” It will be a place of pure joy, for God “will wipe away the tears from every face; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth.” And on that day, the faithful will rejoice saying, “This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!” So heaven is described, in human terms, as the best possible place to be.
The invitation, the greatest and best to be had, is sent to everyone. Through multiple rounds of invitations, all peoples have the opportunity to participate. God wants all people to share in the life he offers, to be part of this celebration. There’s no “A list” for this invitation. It does not matter if one is rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, good or bad, old or young, male or female. All are invited.
The invitation requires a response. Jesus is the Son who will be married, and his bride is the church. The marriage is his passion, death and resurrection. But when Jesus offers the parable, there is a clear reference to rejection.
The first rejection seems to reference the Jewish leaders at that time, the scribes and the Pharisees, who refuse to accept him. They have been invited, but they refuse to accept.
The ones invited later are the Jewish people and the Gentiles. These are the ones who accept the invitation and go to the feast. The invitation, then and now, goes out to all people. God invites all, but does not force anyone to respond. He gives us freedom, in love, to accept or reject. He wants us to accept the invitation, but he will not force us to do so.
The invitation requires not only a response, but an appropriate response. When the king encounters a guest not dressed appropriately, he is forced to leave the feast. Perhaps this refers to the manner of response.
Think of a all the preparations we make for a wedding feast here on earth, even if we are just guests. We want to know the “dress code,” we want to get an appropriate gift, we want to arrive on time. We put a lot of effort in making our response. Why?
Because that is our way of showing love and respect for the couple and the marriage. The manner of our response demonstrates how much we value the invitation. Likewise, our response to God’s invitation to life requires a proper response — one that comes from the heart, and one that is expressed in the way we live now as we journey to the feast.
God the Father invites us to heaven, and Jesus shows us the way. He is the Good Shepherd who leads us to the celebration.
As the psalmist says, “He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage. You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.