Jesus continues to speak with the “chief priests and elders of the people” in today’s gospel. As in last week’s passage, He does so in a parable. He begins again “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to…” He is teaching them, and us, about the Kingdom of God. He uses the image of a wedding feast a king is having for his son.
The image of a feast has been used in the scriptures to describe God’s reign. The first reading which is a passage from the book of Isaiah is a good example. The prophet points ahead to a time when the feast will be celebrated, “on this mountain” – mountain being an image of God’s dwelling place. The festive atmosphere will be everywhere. It will be a time of great joy, peace and celebration. Here the Lord will provide “a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” Life will be eternal for death will be destroyed. Suffering will be gone from the whole earth. God’s people will see him and cry out: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
How providential we are hearing these words this week. The horrific stories and images coming to us from the Holy Land are vivid reminders, as if Ukraine, Nigeria, and Sudan were not enough, of our frail humanity.
The words of the Hail Holy Queen come to mind that we are the “poor banished children of Eve” who “send up our sighs mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” We are the people who long to be delivered from this “exile” to our heavenly home. Isaiah describes that home, as does Jesus in the parable, as a banquet.
The image provides hope. No matter what the age, no matter where we live, no matter how violent or grotesque, no matter how peaceful or prosperous. There is something much better that awaits us. Now is a time of struggle, then is the time of victory. We call this to mind each time we repeat the responsorial: “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Psalm 23 likewise follows a similar theme. “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” He leads us to the promised land, the eternal banquet, to our eternal home.
So Jesus’ use of the banquet for the Kingdom of heaven/God is not unusual. Here he particularly uses the wedding feast.
Wedding feasts are easy to gravitate toward for we all have been to plenty of weddings and know what great celebrations they can be; a time of rejoicing in the love the newlyweds share with each other, the new family that is formed, and the hope of a bright future.
Jesus however takes image to a new level. He uses a royal wedding. I don’t know if anyone reading this has ever been to a royal wedding. Some might hear about royal weddings from the media. Just think of the number of people invited to those weddings. I’m sure they are larger than most but compared to the general population of a kingdom, I bet you’d have to be pretty high up in society to get invited. Perhaps that’s how this wedding feast in Jesus’ parable starts out.
The king sends out the invitations. Expectations are turned when the invited guests do not want to come. The king again sends his servants to invite them a second time: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed and everything is ready; come to the feast!”
The reaction is mixed. Some ignore the invitation. Others beat and kill the messengers. Here we have a similar situation to last week’s parable; that is rejection.
Now the king tells the servants to invite everyone they can find. He wants everyone to celebrate his son’s wedding. They go and gather everyone they can find – “good and bad alike.” Then the feast begins.
That’s not where the parable ends however. The king sees someone “not wearing the wedding garment.” In other words, they are not prepared, or in that culture, their behavior is causing a great offense.
We know what this is like. Have you ever been to a wedding where something so inappropriate happens that it is offensive and disruptive. One time I was at a wedding and the best man came inebriated. At the reception, the father of the groom actually pulled him aside and told him to leave because he was ruining the celebration. So to, at the king’s banquet in the parable; the king has this one thrown out.
Jesus concludes saying: “Many are invited, few are chosen.” Perhaps his point is that God has something great prepared for us, the Kingdom of heaven.
We are invited to partake now by acknowledging him as King in our lives and by living as members of the Kingdom. If we do so then we will be prepared for the celebration that will follow when the “veil is lifted” and His reign fully manifest.
One of the greatest gifts we have from God is freedom. We have the ability to choose. We have a free will. He does not force us to do anything.
When we see the gruesome images and hear the stories coming from the Middle East, we are reminded that some people choose evil over good; hate over love; death over life. Jesus urges us to accept the invitation to life and to the wedding feast that will never end.
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.
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