The parable set before us today is a harsh one. I think that this is quite intentional. Jesus’ ministry is coming to its conclusion, he has already made his solemn entrance into the Holy City and he has told the people a number of important parables which we have heard during these last few Sundays.
Each one of these parables ramps up the importance of the choice everyone has to make. Each one of them also directly implies that the religious authorities have neglected their duty to accept the Messiah.
Here with this parable of the Wedding Feast Jesus is making a final stab at trying to win over the hard-hearted Chief Priests and elders of the people. He wants them to make the decision whether to accept him or not and to do this he places before them an increasingly stark set of choices. It also becomes more and more obvious as to who each of the various characters in the parables represent.
In this latest parable the wedding banquet clearly represents the Church and the guests are obviously the Chosen People who unfortunately decide not to come to the banquet. A second invitation is issued but they still do not come but instead some of them even kill the servants who come bearing the invitation. We understand these servants to represent the prophets.
The King in his fury destroys them and their town. Here we have a sort of prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD and the subsequent dispersal of the Jewish people among the nations.
Then the King issues his invitation to anyone and everyone; here we clearly understand that the invitation is extended by God to the Gentiles and that all people are invited to share in salvation. According to me, the word order here is rather important. The text says that bad and good alike were invited. Normally we would say ‘good and bad’ rather than ‘bad and good.’ This choice of words is to emphasise that every single person is invited to God’s feast.
A little more perplexing is the reference at the end of the parable to the man without a wedding garment. When he is questioned by the King he remains silent and so the King has him bound and then thrown out of the feast.
Some writers point out that when a great man such as a King invites you to a wedding banquet he would provide at the door the correct garment for the poorer guests to wear. This man had obviously been given such a garment but must have taken it off and laid it aside at some point.
Others don’t agree with this but say that anyone going to a wedding feast would wear their very best clothes. They say the fact that he was wearing a set of what were presumably his ordinary clothes is insulting to the King.
Either way the point is the same, the wedding banquet is a symbol of the Church and we realise that when we assume membership of the Church we leave off our old clothes which represent sin and put on the new garment of sinlessness. This guest has either never accepted the Gospel or returned to his sinful ways. Whichever it is he does not deserve to remain at the banquet.
So, while this parable is addressed to the Chief Priests and elders and demands that they must make a choice as to whether to embrace Christ or not, it also has a message to present day Christians warning us not to revert to our old sinful ways.
What then we must understand is that while all are welcome into God’s Kingdom, just turning up is not sufficient. No, actual, real change is also required in our lives. When we accept the invitation to become part of God’s family we are expected to leave off old sinful ways and to live a new kind of life according to the laws of God.
Of course, this is not easy and while we might be full of good intentions and earnestly desire to follow Christ’s Gospel of love we may on occasion lapse and fall back into sinful ways.
This does not mean that we are complete failures, as long as we pick ourselves up again and repent of our sins and once again attempt to follow the Christian way of life.
It has been said often enough that the Church is not a club for saints but a hospital for sinners. None of us are perfect, we are all sinners. But we are sinners who repent again and again. We are sinners who really do want to follow Christ’s way of perfection.
Because we recognise our own failures we should be even more patient with others and realise that everyone finds the Christian life difficult. The important thing though, is to sustain ourselves with regular prayer and worship. It is maintaining our commitment to Sunday mass and to daily prayer that will help us to repent when we fail to keep God’s laws.
The worse thing to do is to give up. Just because we commit one sin we should not think that we are failures and completely written off in God’s eyes. As we have already noted God calls sinners first to his banquet of love. What we should realise when we sin is that God still loves us deeply, perhaps even more deeply. And maybe coming to this recognition will give us the courage we need to repent and to turn once again to him.
All these things give us cause for rejoicing. The fact is that God has extended his invitation to ever closer union with him to everyone in the world; that this invitation is extended to sinners first of all; and that even if we return to our old sinful ways we can after repentance return to our full role as members of his Church.
This is Good News for the whole world, news that we certainly shouldn’t keep to ourselves but share with others.
Christ told this parable in the days running up to his death on the Cross. There is a sense of urgency in his words. He wants his listeners to choose life, he wants his listeners to recognise him for who he is, and he wants them to repent of sin and to commit their lives to following God’s laws.
These words of his echo down through the centuries to us now. Although much time has passed Christ’s words are as urgent as ever. He wants us to change but not for its own sake; he wants us to be ever more conformed to the way of life he proposes in the Gospels. And he tells us that by embracing his teaching we will be enabled to enter God’s Kingdom of Love and experience everlasting joy.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket