Put on The Wedding Garment
Ordinary Time 28-A / Pentecost 18 / 14, 15 October 2017
The ferocity and power of that parable beg for attention; it is one of the most grim that Jesus tells. We need first to see the setting – lest we be crushed by the way Jesus’ story develops.
A King invites various notables to the wedding feast he is giving for his son. He does so twice, once gently and then when his first invitation is ignored more firmly.
What we should hear in the setting and as the basic context of the story is God’s invitation to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We experience that in its two forms.
The first is final salvation, heaven. That is laid out for us more explicitly in today’s First Reading where Isaiah describes a great feast on a redeemed Mt. Zion when God has lifted the shroud of death from all people. We speak of heaven as the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Secondly, we hear the invitation in the parable as an image of the Mass. Here we mystically enter into the Sacrifice of Christ. We receive the Body and Blood once sacrificed for us. The Mass is also the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. This is the wedding feast the Father gives for his Son. This imagery is captured beautifully in the antiphon O Sacrum Convivium from the liturgy of Corpus Christi:
O sacred banquet! in which Christ is received,
the memory of his Passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory to us is given. Alleluia.
If we forget this joyous setting around which Jesus constructs this parable, we would rightly receive it in terror. The King invites us to the wedding feast of his Son – that’s of first importance!
That’s how we understand ourselves, the Church and its mission. We are those who have been invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It makes us who we are and then, in turn, we are called to invite others.
Then the parable continues. When the upper crust does not respond but turns on his messengers and kills them, the King turns to a military response, killing those ingrates and destroying their city.
Jesus is getting deeply under the skin of the chief priests and elders, as so many prophets before him troubled the leaders of the people. He’s not terribly subtle. They’re the upper crust that not only does not respond but violently rejects their King. The parable points toward the cross; Jesus, the King’s Son, will be rejected and killed like the prophets before him.
The King then recruits the rabble to be guests for the feast, and they come! And that’s what Jesus was already doing – calling the poor, the uneducated, the prostitutes and the tax collectors. The emissaries go forth and bring in good and bad alike.
His words and actions point ultimately toward the Gentile mission of the Church. Through the Church, the invitation will go out and continues to go out to all peoples.
The parable also reminds us that the Church is always a corpus mixtum, a mixed body of saints and sinners, mostly sinners.
The final scene of this long parable, the response to the man not wearing a wedding garment, teaches that God will do the sorting. And his fate reminds us that God judges harshly not only those who reject his invitation but those who treat it casually.
Thus a close look at this parable instructs, warns and encourages us.
1. God has invited us to the wedding feast of his Son. It is Christ’s celebration, not ours. But indeed God wants us here.
2. We must not, like the original invitees, disregard his invitation. That speaks to the obligation, by the way, to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. When you hear someone say that it doesn’t matter, that they can worship or read the Bible themselves, remind them – if necessary remind yourself – just who it is who gives the invitation. You wouldn’t turn down the invitation to the wedding of your closest friend. And the King’s Son does want to be your closes friend.
3. All humanity, including you, is the mixed rabble that finally come to the feast. This is humbling. Nobody really deserves the invitation. The invitation is by the sheer grace of the King. Flesh and blood merit nothing – but by God’s grace we gain everything.
4. Not only are we to show up but we are to show up with hearts and minds ready to serve and follow. We should put on the wedding garment of faith, charity and repentance. We should come to feast properly disposed.
5. If we do come to the feast with a proper disposition, we will understand at once the implication that we too must invite others. It is the Marriage Supper of the King’s Son – not our own party. There is a challenge here, for we are not so strong on spreading the invitation.
This parable is powerful, dramatic, and demanding. In it God’s grace and mercy shine brilliantly – along with the sharp and necessary warning to receive them properly.