In a parable, Jesus describes a great wedding feast. Those who get invitations would be wise to ask: “What should I wear?”
By Gayle Somers
Gospel (Read Mt 22:1-14)
In the last of three parables in this portion of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus continues to describe the kingdom of God for “the chief priests and elders.” Today, He compares it to “a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” We should be able to recognize this as an allegory of salvation history right away. It begins with what we usually think of as the end of the story of God and man. The “wedding feast” is a reference to the ultimate union of God’s people with Christ in heaven. There we will know an eternal communion of joy that is anticipated even now in every happy earthly wedding celebration (remember, Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding). Beyond that, it is actually experienced, as a foretaste, in the Eucharist, a pledge of that future joy. However, as good as this sounds, Jesus describes a problem: the invited guests “refused to come.” This refers to the Jews who, although they were God’s covenant people and the first to be invited to the Messianic banquet, became indifferent to Him. The king sent his servants again to the invited guests, but that stirred up hostility among them, and they murdered the servants. Here’s where the story takes a surprising twist.
“The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” No one would argue the justice of this punishment, considering how long-suffering the king had been in his attempts to bring the guests to his home for a resplendent feast. In this, Jesus is announcing a future judgment on Jerusalem for refusing to believe He was God’s Messiah. Therefore, the king sent out more servants (the apostles) to “invite to the feast whomever you find.” Ultimately, the king’s hall was filled with guests, “bad and good alike.” Here Jesus describes how the Gospel would be preached to all people, Gentiles and Jews, and many would gladly respond to enter a new covenant with God. This looks like a happy ending, yet the story now takes another turn.
“But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.” In those days, kings gave regal garments to those whom they chose to favor (see Gn 45:22; Esther 6:8). Not to wear it would, of course, be an act of great disrespect and insult to the king. When questioned, the man without his garment had no answer; there were no words that would explain away his behavior. He was thrust out of the party. So, even though the invitation to the feast had gone out far and wide, to both “bad and good,” there was still an individual response that each guest had to make to the king. What did Jesus mean in this part of the parable?
Jesus wants to make it as clear as He can that an invitation to the joy of eternal communion with God, offered in the Gospel and received in baptism, calls for a personal response. Ethnic identity (the Jews then) or attendance at church (Christians now) doesn’t automatically guarantee a place at the banqueting table. We will need to be wearing appropriate attire, provided by God Himself, which is a metaphor for the righteous deeds that accompany faith (see Rev 19:7-8). Our good works are our personal response to the grace given to us in Christ. “Many are invited,” says Jesus, “but few are chosen.” This was simply another way of saying what He frequently says in the Gospels: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father” (Mt 7:21; see also Mt 25:31-46).
Possible response: Heavenly Father, I never want to turn a deaf ear to You when You invite me to draw close. Please heal my hearing.
First Reading (Read Isa 25:6-10a)
Here is a beautiful prophecy of the joy God has always intended for His people. Isaiah, writing around 700 B.C., delivered it as a word of hope, because Judah was about to undergo a terrible chastisement for her covenant infidelity. Nevertheless, God promises “a feast of rich food and choice wines” for “all peoples,” a foreshadowing of the Eucharist and the nuptial feast of the Lamb. Where will this feast take place? It will happen “on this mountain,” which is, first, the city of Jerusalem, and then the heavenly Jerusalem of eternity. See how this characteristic of double fulfillment pervades the whole prophecy. Isaiah speaks of the destruction of a “veil.” That happened at the time of the Crucifixion, when the “veil” guarding the Holy of Holies in the Temple was torn from top to bottom (Mt 27:50-51a). It will also happen at the end of time, when there will be an “unveiling” of reality itself (the word for “unveiling” or “revelation” in Greek is apokalypsis). There is a promise that God “will wipe away the tears from every face.” Think of Jesus saying to Mary Magdalene on Resurrection Day: “Woman, why are you weeping?” (Jn 20:15) The Book of Revelation assures us that one day, tears will end forever (see Rev 21:1-4). Finally, there is a promise that God’s people will “behold our God, to Whom we looked to save us. This is the LORD for Whom we looked.” It was John the Baptist who first announced the fulfillment of this prophecy when he called out, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:29) It was St. John the Evangelist who wrote about its fulfillment in his Gospel: “No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, has made Him known” (Jn 1:18). And, when time ends, St. John also tells us: “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men” (Rev 21:3).
When we read this Old Testament prophecy, we can better understand Jesus’ parable. Our “king” has long desired to invite His people to a joyous feast. Israel understood herself to be espoused to God (see Isa 54:5; Jer 3:20; Hos 2:14-20), so a “wedding feast” with Him was not surprising. The chief priests and elders who heard Jesus that day should have known that to refuse the invitation was to lose their inheritance. No one should ever be indifferent to a banquet like this.
Possible response: Heavenly Father, thank You for this promise of joy that lasts forever and the end of all tears. Give me patience to wait.
Psalm (Read Ps 23:1-6)
This psalm is so familiar to us. How is it connected to our other readings? It is the heartfelt praise of one who accepts God’s invitation to communion and fellowship with Him. It details for us why this invitation overshadows anything else that calls to us in life. When we answer God’s call, we have refreshment, guidance, and courage. The banquet table God sets for us is secure even in the presence of our enemies. God’s goodness and kindness are our constant companions. The psalm should stir us up to eagerly accept God’s invitation and to say with the psalmist: “I shall live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life.”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read Phil 4:12-14, 19-20)
Our readings have been about an invitation to communion with God. That can sound ethereal and mysterious. The epistle gives us concrete understanding of what communion with Christ actually does in our lives now. St. Paul tells us that he has “learned the secret” of not relying on his circumstances for contentment. This is a treasured lesson! What is the “secret”? It is knowing, from our personal relationship with Christ, that we “can do all things in Him Who strengthens” us. The invitation to communion with God, now and for eternity, means to be firmly planted in this conviction. No wonder St. Paul says, “To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Possible response: Lord Jesus, please be my strength today. Remind me that my contentment always lies in You.