The Gospel from Thursday’s Mass contains one of the most shocking parables Jesus ever told. It is the Parable of the Wedding Banquet a King gives for his Son. Most know it well, but in case you want to review it, the full text of the Gospel is here: Parable of the Wedding Feast
It does not take a degree in biblical theology to understand that the Parable is an allegory. The “King” is God the Father, the “Son” is Jesus, and the Wedding feast is the Great Wedding Feast of the Lamb further described in Revelation:
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteousness of God’s holy people.) Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:6-9)
The invited guests are the Jewish people of that time who, when the feast is ready, ignore or reject it for various reasons. There are concerns for land (I just bought a farm), profit (another owns a business), and third group who, for indeterminate reasons lay hold the the King’s servants (who represent the prophets), to beat and even kill them.
And in this rejection is illustrated, not just the Jews of history, but also the long human history of ignoring or rejecting God in favor of worldliness (the land), profit (the business) and hostility to the truth, (the beating and killing of the profits).
And yet, the rejection, while not unique to Jews, does focus on their historical rejection. For the parable calls them the “invited guests.”
Further, upon their rejection comes the horrible detail, told by Jesus himself, that the King (God the Father) was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. (Matt 22:6).
This detail shocks many modern readers especially for we have bought into a watered down notion of the holiness of God, and the significance of human choice for or against God. Our common modern vision of the Father is of a kind of doting older man (such as George Burns, or Morgan Freeman) who exists more to get us out of trouble and offer friendly advice, than to summon us to holiness, obedience and a critical choice.
But take note! This detail of the King burning their city is told by Jesus. And as we shall see in Sunday’s Gospel about the wide and narrow road, he is not playing around either. However we want to rework God, and render him harmless, however we want to try and hold opposed God’s love and justice, however we want to render human choice insignificant, the biblical text will have none of it. The bottom line fact is that no one loves you more than Jesus Christ, and yet no one warned of judgement and Hell more than Jesus Christ.
If this parable shocks, it is meant to. It is a call to sobriety in the face of the four most critical truths of our life: death, judgment, heaven and hell. In effect, this parable teaches that we will either enter the wedding feast and celebrate with the Father, or we will be caught up in the conflagration when the Lord comes to judge this world by fire (e.g. 2 Pet 3:7; Malachi 4:1; 2 Thess 1:7).
The choice is ours, but the judgement is certain to come:
God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
no more water but the fire next time! (Negro Spiritual)
The only safe place to be is in the wedding feast of the Jesus the Lamb, who saves us from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10).
Add to this shock the fact that the parable was actually fulfilled in 70 AD (as a kind of precursor of the final end of the age) when, after forty years of pleading with the Jewish people to come to Christ, a fiery destruction came on Jerusalem. Rejecting the Lord’s warnings (cf Matthew 24, 25; Mark 13; Luke 21), rejecting the call of the early Apostles and Church, and picking a pointless war with the Romans, the Jewish nation was utterly defeated. Jerusalem was sacked and burned, killing over 1.2 million Jews.
Jesus with weeping had warned:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. (Matt 23:37)
The next shocking part of the parable comes in the second half. The enraged King (The Father) orders his servants to go into the streets and gather everyone they can. And in this detail is an allegory for the going unto the Gentiles and the Great Commission.
And thanks be to God the response is good and the banquet is filled. But then comes the second shock:
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. Then 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.”
Here too, we moderns with our soft notions, wince. Perhaps part of our trouble with these verses is that we may think that the newly invited guests were dragged in, right off the street with no chance to change clothes. But there is nothing in the text to suggest they had no time to don their wedding clothes. The other guests all seem clothed properly. But the focus shifts to one man, not properly dressed.
Whatever the debated cultural parameters of the story, the theological parameters are more clear. The wedding garment is provided by the King (the Father), who clothes us in righteousness at our baptism. as we saw in the quote above from Revelation:
For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteousness of God’s holy people. (Rev 19:8)
Yes, here is the baptismal gown, the robe of righteousness, which God gives to the baptized who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb! In the baptismal rite the celebrant says to the newly baptized, pointing to their white garment:
You have clothed yourself in Christ. Receive this baptismal garment and bring it unstained to the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that you may have everlasting life. (# 578)
Hence, in the parable, the man is not clothed properly not because he is poor or was pulled in off the street. He is not clothed properly because he has cast aside the garment he was given. Now again recall the garment is no mere cloth. It is an allegory for righteousness. And this righteousness is received and must be cherished. Without it, we cannot endure or remain in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, which is heaven.
And thus ends one of the most shocking parables Jesus ever told. (We will examine the “many are called, few are chosen” aspect of the text this Sunday). And though the parameters of this parable do shock, Jesus speaks them with an urgent love to bring forth godly repentance from us and to stir an evangelical urgency in us to reach others before “Great and Terrible Day of the Lord” comes (cf Joel 2:31; Mal 4:5 inter al). On that day there will be only two places: safe in the wedding feast with the Lord, or outside in a fiery judgement that is coming on this world.
An old spiritual says, God’s gonna set this world on Fire one of these days. Another old spiritual says, I got a robe, you got a robe, all God’s children got a robe. When I get to heaven gonna put on my robe and go wear it all over God’s heaven! Everybody talkin’ bout heaven ain’t a goin’ there!
Make sure you’ve got your robe and keep it washed in the blood of the Lamb.