The Gospel reading for this past Sunday has always left me confused. In Matthew 22:1-14, we hear a parable of a king who holds a wedding banquet for his son.
[Okay, so far so good.]
The invited guests are asked twice—the second time practically begged—to come to the banquet. They refuse, for one reason or another. Some even go so far as to kill the servants who were sent out to invite them.
[Wait a minute…Kill someone for inviting you to a party?]
Up to now this seems like an unlikely story, until you consider that the servants are symbolic for the prophets of the Old Testament who went before Jesus. Those who refused the invitation represented the Jewish leaders of the day (New Jerome Biblical Commentary).
So the king sends out servants to grab anyone and everyone off “the streets” to come to the banquet, good and bad alike.
[Okay…I get it…we are ALL called…the Church is filled with both sinners and saints.]
Here comes the troubling part: the king sees someone without a wedding garment, and this poor guy ends up bound hand and foot and cast out into the darkness, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth [i.e. hell]” (Matt. 22:13) .
[Seems a bit harsh, no? I recently attended a Jewish wedding and I didn’t have to wear a special garment. What was Jesus thinking? What is this wedding garment and why was it so important?]
While we cannot ever say EXACTLY what Jesus was thinking, we can pray about it, rely on the Holy Spirit, trust the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church, and give it our best educated guess. Commentaries say it has eschatological (end times) significance and it parallels the wedding garments spoken of in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 19:8). The wedding garment represents the turning away from sin in repentance and taking on the new life of Christ. It is living in a state of grace. When we are baptized, we are clothed with Christ (Rom. 13:14). We must daily “put on Christ”, living as his disciple, doing his work, all for the glory of God.
It is not enough to just “show up” to the wedding. Just “accepting Jesus as my Lord and Saviour” verbally and then doing nothing about it is not enough. This is mere lip service. The Christian life requires ongoing conversion through prayer, service, and frequent participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. We cannot afford to be complacent. Jesus has given us ample warning.
Oh and one more thing…our Lord is ever-merciful. Before the king threw this guy out, “He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he [the man without the garment] was reduced to silence” (Matt. 22:12). The king gave the man a chance to answer for his poor choice and the opportunity to “change”. But like those who initially refused the invitation, this man had no good reason, and didn’t care to offer one. That is why “Many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). Every man, woman and child is offered the free gift of salvation. It requires an active response to accept this gift and live in the love that Christ gave us so freely. It requires a choice—and when we choose Jesus, God chooses us.