Thus the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD,
"The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come.
Jesus is such a great teacher. His parables are so memorable and because they are stories, they draw us in, have surprising elements and stunning punch lines. Jesus was well aware of Ezekiel's preaching during the Exile. It was full of promise. The remnant left behind in a destroyed Jerusalem needed hope. God promises that the covenant will be restored. God will purify the people from their impurities and give them new hearts. The gift will include writing God's statues in their hearts. They will again be God's people. God will again be their God.
But, here in Matthew, Chapter 22, it is obvious that the ultimate gift of God - the Reign of God, announced by Jesus - has been rejected by many of his own people. Jesus ends his previous parable, about the unjust tenant farmers - by concluding, "Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit." (Mt.21:43) There will be some believing Jews, Gentiles, and the new community of his followers who will be hearing this Gospel. So Jesus next tells his listeners today's sad but promising teaching story.
“The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son." It is so consoling to think of the heaven as a wedding feast. Jesus must have loved wedding feasts and found them to be the closest analogy he could find to give us a peek into what God has prepared for us.
The drama builds when the people first invited simply don't respond. The king's reponse to them in the story replays the whole history of God's working with the Chosen People and Jesus' listeners knew it immediately. Now comes the really good news: "Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find." All along it was God's plan to offer salvation and the joys of the Kingdom of heaven, not only to a chosen few, but to everyone! The victory Jesus will win over sin and death is universal. It is for all people.
Then the story takes a surprising twist. One of the invited guests doesn't have a wedding garment. (It is clear from the story, the person is without a wedding garment out of ingratitude and lack of serious respect for the king. It is not that the guest couldn't afford one.) While the invitation is universal - that is, it is free and unmerited - there is also a universal call to holiness. We are called to receive the gifted invitation by living our lives as grateful guests. We are invited to be with Jesus by being like him. We are called to come to the banquet ready to celebrate because we have been ready and open to giving our lives in imitation of the one who invited us.
We can imagine Jesus telling this story today. How often does it seem that we who have been invited to be part of the kingdom of heaven, simply take it for granted, as if all this gifted relationship with Jesus is about is our salvation. We seem quite satisfied to know that we are saved. We can unconsciously act as though, "well, if I don't do anything seriously wrong, I'm in. What more do I need to worry about?"
In this gospel it is clear that our holiness has to "surpass that of the scribes and pharisees." (Mt. 5:20) Jesus wants us to know that it is "mercy that I desire, not sacrifice." (Mt. 9:13) And, one of his final parables will tell us that our judgement - the decision about whether we ultimately will enter the Kingdom of heaven - depends upon whether we care for the "least of my brothers and sisters" - feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and imprisioned. (Mt. 25)
Today, let's ask for the grace to receive the invitation worthily. Let us respond more and more fully to Jesus' invitation to love as we have been loved. Let us see, feel, act upon the invitation to eternal life by dying to ourselves a bit more today, particularly in each of our relationships. Let's forget about our own wounds and become healers of others' wounds. Let us open our hearts to hear the cries of all those who are poor and on the margins of our societies. Let us ask ourselves how we can respond, what role we can take, how we can make a difference. Today, let's put on a wedding garment, committing ourselves, and witnessing to everyone, that we are ready for the banquet of heaven.
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