OT XXVIII [A] Is 25:6-10a; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20; Mt 22:1-14
At the end of World War II, the Russian head-of-state gave an elaborate banquet to honor the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Russians arrived in their best formal wear -- military dress uniforms -- but their honored guest did not. Churchill arrived wearing his famous zipper coveralls that he had worn during the German bomb attack in London. He thought it would provide a nostalgic touch the Russians would appreciate. They didn’t. They were humiliated and insulted that their prominent guest-of-honor had not considered their banquet worthy of his best clothes. Wearing the right clothing to a formal dinner honors the host and the occasion; neglecting to wear the right clothing is an insult. Weddings were such an important occasion in Palestine in Christ’s days that people were expected to wear the proper clothing to show appreciation and respect for the invitation. In today’s Gospel, Jesus demands and provides the wedding garment of righteousness from his followers.
Today’s Scripture gives us the strong warning that if we do not accept God’s love, if we reject His gift, we can have no place with Him. We have to stay prepared for the freely-offered Heavenly banquet and wearing the freely-given wedding garment of grace always. Our wedding garment is made of our grace-assisted works of justice, charity and holiness. The parable warns us that membership in a Church alone does not guarantee our eternal salvation.
This parable is obviously more than a story about a king and a banquet. It is the story of Salvation History in which God sent prophets and Christian evangelists with Good News. The first-invited are now rejected, but strangers are accepted. In other words, the Gentiles have replaced the Jews who refused to respond to Yahweh's call. This was the way that first-century Christians looked at the Jewish rejection of Jesus.
The “refusal of a king's invitation by the VIPs, without any valid reason suggested rebellion and insurrection” (The Interpreter’s Bible). That is why the king sent soldiers to suppress the rebellion. The other invited guests challenge the king's honor directly by seizing his slaves who bring the invitation, beating, and killing them. Clearly this action demands reprisal, and the King obliges. Later, Christians tended to see the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as a similar judgment of God upon the people who had rejected the invitation by Christ to the eschatological banquet.
God’s invitation includes an offer of the correct dress for the feast, namely, the robe of Christ's righteousness. The invitation to the ordinary people from the byways tells us that God’s invitation to each one of us is purely an act of grace and not something that we deserve by our good works. The parable also warns us that God will judge those who refuse His invitation.
In those days, participants in a banquet were expected to dress in clothes that were superior to those worn on ordinary days. Guests who could afford it would wear white, but it was sufficient for ordinary people to wear garments as close to white as possible. It was customary for the rich hosts to provide their guests with suitable apparel. For royal weddings, special outfits were given to any guests who could not afford to buy their own. Hence, to appear in ordinary, soiled working clothes would show contempt for the occasion, a refusal to join in the King's rejoicing.
The Christian must be clothed in the spirit and teaching of Jesus. Grace is a gift and a grave responsibility. Hence, a Christian must be clothed in a new purity and a new holiness. In other words, while God, through the Church, opens wide His arms to the sinner, the sinner can only accept His invitation to this relationship of mutual love by loving Him back, and so by making some effort to repent and change his life. It is not enough for one simply to continue unabated in one’s sinful ways. Although Jesus accepted the tax collectors and prostitutes, he demanded that they abandon their evil ways.
We need to be grateful to Christ for the invitation to the Heavenly banquet: From the moment of our Baptism, we have been invited to the Heavenly banquet and provided with the wedding garment of sanctifying grace. These great privileges and blessings are freely given to us by a loving God. But the same obstacles which prevented the Pharisees from entering the Kingdom –- pride, love of this world, its wealth and its pleasures –- can impede us too. Hence, we must be prepared to do violence to our ordinary inclinations and offer ourselves in love and service to Jesus and to his people. That is how we will make our wedding garment clean and bright every day. Receiving these gifts of God fully also demands that, instead of remaining marginal members of our parish community, we bear visible witness to our beliefs.
Let us pray that we may keep our wedding garments pure and spotless and that we may become disciples who really practice the teachings of Jesus, rather than remaining mere Sunday Catholics. Let us pray for a deeper Faith and love and a better spirit of responsibility to our community.
Let us examine whether we have fully accepted God’s invitation to the Messianic banquet and remember that banqueting implies friendship and intimacy, trust and reconciliation.