Year A: Twenty-Eighth Sunday Ordinary Time
The Parable of the Wedding Feast
Jesus again in reply spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’ Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. When the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
- Do you believe that everyone is invited to the kingdom? What do you think constitutes a refusal of the invitation? Explain.
- In what ways do you “show up”… to observe your faith, (the wedding) but not participate in it (the banquet)? Are there invitations you might be missing?
- The Kingdom of Heaven is a state of consciousness and action. What new conscious action has your faith–practice been leading you toward recently? (acts of justice, service, compassion or mercy)
- How can we grow in our ability and desire to recognize and respond to the invitations that are all around us?
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
Jesus continues to call the chief priests and elders to conversion by telling them a story in which guests who are invited to a wedding feast refuse to come. The king sends his servants out a second time to invite guests to the feast. Some ignore the invitation, but others “laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.” In response the king “destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” Once more the king sends out his servants to gather “all they found, bad and good alike.” When the king comes to greet his guests, he notices one who is not dressed properly. He says, “My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?” The guest doesn’t say a word. He is completely unresponsive. That guest is thrown out “where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
The chief priests and elders are compared to the invited guests who not only neglected to come to the banquet when all was ready but abused and even killed the one sent to extend the invitation. Jesus is once again warning these religious leaders that in rejecting him they are also rejecting an invitation to the kingdom of God.
By the time Matthew includes this parable in his Gospel (AD 85) Jesus has been killed, Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Romans (AD 70), and Gentiles have been invited into the kingdom. All of these events have helped shape the parable in its present form. Matthew is most probably referring to the destruction of Jerusalem when he says that the king was enraged and burned the city. The invitation to the banquet is now open to everyone, including Gentiles: “… invite to the feast whomever you find.”
Many people, when reading the parable of the wedding feast, make an unconscious mistake in interpretation that can lead to serious error. Instead of interpreting the story as a parable, as we have done, they interpret the story as an allegory and assume that the king stands for God. They then have the image of a God who kills and destroys, who throws people out where there is “wailing and grinding of teeth,” rather than a God who saves. The basis of this mistake is a misunderstanding of literary form. Many parables, if interpreted as allegories, lead to similar mistakes. This parable is teaching the chief priests and elders that they must respond to Jesus and his invitation if they want to enter the kingdom. It is not addressing the question, “What is God like?”
As Jesus concludes his parable, he emphasizes the necessity of a proper response to the invitation to the kingdom by describing the king’s interaction with the guest who is not dressed properly. The king doesn’t throw him out immediately. Rather, he calls him “friend,’ and asks why he is not properly dressed. The guest does not respond in any way: “But he was reduced to silence.” The failure to dress properly functions as a symbol for the failure to respond properly. The fact that everyone is invited does not mean that everyone will enter the kingdom of God. The chief priests and elders are invited, but they will not enter the kingdom. A proper response is necessary, and they will not respond. Instead, as we will read next week, they will continue to plot how to trap Jesus.
Marrying The Son
‘Marrying the son” is a symbol for the Christian adventure of spiritual development. The Church carries the mystery of Jesus Christ. When one enters the Church through baptism, one enters into the mystery of Jesus Christ. But to enter into the mystery is not the same as marrying it, as being in full communion with it.
In the baptismal rite for children, the parents of the child are asked if they understand “the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith … to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor”; the godparents are questioned about their readiness “to help the parents … in their duty” Thus entry into the Church implies growing into the teachings of Christ. The often timid “yes” of godparents is an indication that this growth process might not be central to their experience. After the ceremony they might be at a loss about what their “yes” entails. As important as baptism is, even adult baptism, it is only a first step.
This same emphasis on spiritual development can be approached from the idea of inherited faith. Within Christian religious traditions faith is presented as the gift of someone else. It comes from past generations, going all the way back to the apostles and Christ. It is given to each new generation in codified forms: Scripture, creeds, liturgies, dogmas, spiritual practices, etc. But, if the maxim “faith seeks understandis correct, the gift comes wrapped, and it must be opened by each ” new Christian.” This act of reception—seeking understanding—entails mindfulness, a struggle to understand and live what this faith is all about. Faith may belong to the community and the tradition, but it is always appropriated or ignored by individuals. Matthew points this out with his usual blunt options of destruction and salvation.
Hearing may be a beginning, but just hearing is a fatal end. Hearing must be followed by understanding, and understanding must lead to action. As Jesus states in John’s Gospel: “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:17)
Where does this leave us? What does this mean for people who call themselves Christian? Is the Church a two-tier system: those who take the teaching seriously and struggle with it and those who hear the words and glaze over? And if so, can these two types of Christians be institutionalized so clergy and religious are the serious ones and laity the mere hearers? Or does the division cut across all the organizational groups? There are clergy, religious, and laity who take it seriously and clergy, religious, and laity who do not let it into their conventional minds and their predictable behaviors. Church analysis has often separated sheep and goats, the serious and the lax, the seekers and the sitters, the good and the fallen away, the cognoscendi (the well informed) and the ignorant, etc.
However, I believe that the imperative of Christian revelation to “marry the son” should not lead to a division of people but to a respect for timing. People go deeper into their inherited faith at different times. Some are attracted in their youth, some in the middle years, still others in old age. Some come looking for succor after failure; some come in gratitude after success. Many come after death has knocked on their door and taken someone who ate at their table.
It is too facile to say that eventually all will put on the wedding garment. But it is too cynical to say that some certainly will not. We are all Christians, but the timetables of our lives are quite distinct and individual. If home is a place that when you have to go there they have to take you in, the Christian community is a place that when you are ready for more you are always welcomed.
For me, the open invitation in the story is more crucial pastorally than the wedding garment. I am sure Matthew, great lover of dual out-comes that he is, would not agree. All are invited, good and bad alike. But good and bad are not final states; they are temporary designations. Once inside, you might come to learn that the Son finds you desirable. Even though you did not come with a wedding garment, the groom has one for you. He has chosen it with great love.
A story that began as a judgment against the leadership of Israel ends as a cautionary tale to Christians. Just belonging to the Church is not enough. Hearing the call is a first step, but it is not the final condition. Each Christian is chosen as a bride for Christ, chosen to have intercourse with the revelation of God and be filled by God’s grace. That means going beyond silent attendance. Hearing the call is easy; marrying the son is difficult.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle A, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc. www.paulistpress.com
Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.