We have all been invited to a number of weddings in our lives. We can all recall with happiness the great day when a brother or sister or close friend announce their engagement and the anticipation and the countdown to the wedding begins.
As a priest however I get to see weddings from a slightly different angle. I get to meet many couples preparing for marriage.
In my experience of all the items that are crucial to any wedding preparation, whether it is the venue, the date, the church, the priest, the flowers, the wedding booklet, the honeymoon, the dress, the rings, meeting the Registar, the dinner menu the one matter where a couple has their first major row, it is....the invitations!
Now, invitations are a source of great excitement for a couple as the invitation cards are sent with anticipation of RSVPs but they can also be a source of disagreement and emotion when budgeting for the wedding limits numbers. There can be disagreement as to how wide or narrow the invitation list will be, and a clash of opinions over who to invite and who to exclude. If parents are paying for a wedding they may have some say in the invitation list. Some guests are invited without a second thought. Some friends as well as the obvious relatives, come to mind readily. Others we may be more hesitant about, as to whether we are that close to them for them to merit an invite.
Wedding invitations in Israel at the time of Jesus were slightly different. A general invitation would first be issued without a firm date set. Servants would be sent at the appropriate time to prompt guests that the dinner was ready, but there was an indeterminate lapse of time between each. It was up to guests to ready themselves and be prepared at a moment’s notice to drop everything at once to hasten to the banquet. As the wedding celebrations could last several days one would need to have one’s business and domestic affairs in order to leave them behind for a while.
This state of readiness in the parable points to what was lacking in the people of Israel, some of whom were too busy pursuing their own interests to make room for the Lord’s call, while worse still, others violently rejected the invitation by ‘shooting the messenger’ as it were.
The parable clearly points to those among the Jews who would not accept the prophets’ call to repentance (as in last week’s parable of custody of the vineyard) and the invitation is now extended to all ‘unacceptable classes’ of people who were ready to accept. Their rejection of him is punished severely, and the burning of the city as ordered by the King may well point to the destruction of Jerusalem who rejected and killed the prophets, as well as to the rejection of the Lord Jesus Himself. The calamity was in 70 AD. As we are in the closing stages of Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel according to Matthew, and the impending Passion, the parables of the last few Sundays point to the transfer of stewardship of the mysteries of God’s kingdom from the Jews to all peoples who would accept Christ.
There is a second parable tucked in to the first one.
Another source of comment at weddings is how people dress. We can often remark at how tastes differ, to put it mildly, at weddings. We would never consider casual dress at a wedding; therefore an invitation to heaven is not to be taken lightly either. In fact, it is on merit. The parable describes the only reference to ‘gate-crashing’ at a wedding in the Bible that I am aware of. The lesson is that many are called and few are chosen. Those called and chosen must prove their worthiness by good deeds. We must realise that the parable teaches us that there is a danger of disqualification. The garment symbolises our good deeds – love of God and neighbour, and virtuous living, piety and justice – often a difficult but achievable combination. In a symbolic way at baptism the infant is clothing with a white garment – with the admonition –‘to keep this garment unstained unto everlasting life’. Just as a stain on a dress or a suit would be mortifying and unacceptable at a public occasion at a wedding, so we too are called to be washed clean of sin for entrance to heaven.
The new response before Holy Communion at the Mass reminds us that the Mass is the foretaste and promise of the heavenly banquet – ‘blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb’. Let us be ready for the call by a virtuous life. By being worthy to receive Him, we are asking to be worthy to be received by Him.