The past three Sundays have featured intense and shocking parables about our readiness, our fruitfulness, and our decision to accept and enter the Kingdom of God or not. The Lord has used the image of a vineyard into which workers are dispatched at different times of the day but who have different attitudes about what is due to them at the end of the day; or a vineyard into which two sons are sent, one going and the other not; or a vineyard in which are numerous wicked tenants who refuse to render rightful fruits and who abuse and kill those sent to call for the harvest, even the landowner’s very own son.
The parables are shocking and speak to the great and dramatic decision to which we are all summoned: will we accept the Kingdom of God, entering into to it and accepting its terms, or not? It is a decision on which your destiny (and that of those you love) depends. And Jesus is not playing around; He lays out the drama in stark and shocking ways. Jesus is not the harmless hippie or the mild-mannered Messiah that many today have recast Him to be. He is the Great Prophet, the very Son of God and Lord who authoritatively stands before us and says, “Decide.”
This Sunday’s gospel is perhaps the most shocking and dramatic of all. The Lord Jesus issues another urgent summons to the Kingdom. As with past Sundays, there is the warning of hellish destruction in the refusal of the Kingdom. But this view must be balanced with the vision of a seeking Lord who wants to fill His banquet and will not stop urging until the end. You might say that the theme of this gospel is “Party or Perish!”
Lets look at the gospel in five stages.
I. RICH REPAST – The text says, 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. Of course the king is God the Father and the wedding feast is the wedding feast of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. On one level, the wedding feast is the invitation to faith in general. But more biblically, the wedding feast is the wedding feast of the Lamb, described in the Book of Revelation (19:7-9). Hence it is also the Liturgy of Heaven, which we share in through the Mass.
What a wonderful image of the Kingdom: a wedding feast! Most Jewish people of that time looked forward to weddings all year long. Weddings were usually timed (in an agricultural setting) between planting and harvest, when things were slower. Weddings often lasted for days and were among the most enjoyable things a Jewish person could imagine. There was feasting, family, and great joy in what God was doing. And consider the unimaginable joy and honor of being invited to a wedding hosted by a king!
Yes, these were powerful images for the ancient Jews of the Kingdom. A wedding! And the wedding of a King’s son, at that! The joy, the celebration, the feasting, the magnificence, the splendor, the beautiful bride, the handsome groom, the love, the unity; yes, the Kingdom of Heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.
Who would not want to come? And today we may well ask, “If this is Heaven, who does not want to go?” And yet, as we shall see, the invitation is rejected by many!
II. RUDE REJECTION! – The text says, 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.
Why? Here is a real twist to the story, an unexpected development. Why the rejection of the king’s offer? And in our time, why the rejection of what God offers? Are these people crazy? In effect, Jesus explains their rejection in a twofold way: worldliness and wickedness.
Some of those rejecting the invitation to the Kingdom of Heaven do so for worldly reasons. Jesus describes them as going “one to his farm, another to his business.” In other words, the things of the world, though not evil in themselves, have these people preoccupied. They are too busy to accept the invitation; their priorities and passions are elsewhere.
They think, “Weddings are nice, but money is nicer. Yes, you see, God and religion have their place, but they don’t pay the bills.” The goal of the worldly is this world and what it offers, not God or the things awaiting them in Heaven. Things like prayer, holiness, Scripture, and the Sacraments don’t provide obvious material blessings to the worldly minded. Hence, such things are low on their priority list. St Paul speaks of people whose god is their belly and who have their mind set on worldly things (cf Phil 3:19).
So off they go, one to his farm, another to his business; one to watch football, another to detail his car; one to sleep in, another to play golf; one to make money, another to spend it lavishly at the mall.
Others of those rejecting the kingdom do so out of some degree of wickedness. Jesus speaks of how they abuse those who invite them, even killing some of the servants (prophets, apostles, evangelizers). Why this anger?
Many reject the kingdom of God because it is not convenient to their moral lives. Many of them rightly understand that in order to enter the wedding feast of the Kingdom, they will be required to be “properly dressed,” and this will be seen below. But of course “proper dress” here refers not to clothes, but to holiness and righteousness, to living the moral vision of the Kingdom.
Hence the invitation to the wedding feast of the Kingdom incites anger in some, because it casts a judgment on some of their behaviors; it tweaks their consciences. A great deal of the hostility directed toward God, Scripture, Jesus, the Church, and her servants who speak God’s truth is explained by the fact that, deep down, the hostile know that what is proclaimed is true.
Or, if their minds have become very darkened and their hearts hardened by sin, they simply hate being told what to do; they hate any suggestion that what they are doing is wrong. Being told to live chastely, or to forgive, or to be more generous to the poor, or to welcome new life (even when there are deformities), or that there are priorities higher than money, sex, career, and worldly access—all of this is obnoxious to those who have become hardened in sinful choices or sinful patterns of one sort or another. Hence the world often treats God and those who speak of Him with contempt. In certain places and at certain times, some are even martyred.
Of course for many who reject the Kingdom there are multiple reasons. But Jesus focuses on these two broad categories, under which a lot of those reasons fall.
III. RESULTING RUIN. The text says, The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. As in last week’s gospel, we have here a stunning and shocking detail to the story that is, to some extent, mysterious to us. How can such a violent punishment be squared with the vision of a God who loves us?
It is not an easy thing to answer. But to respond by pretending it is not taught or that this will never happen is to reject the loving urgency with which Jesus speaks. He is not simply using scare tactics or hyperbole; He is teaching us what is true for our salvation.
Historically this destruction happened to ancient Israel in 70AD, forty years after Jesus’ resurrection. After having extended the invitation for a long forty years, God finally accepts the “No” of the invited guests (in this case the Ancient Jews, corporately speaking). Their “No” became definitive and led to their national ruin and the end of the temple.
It is the same for us. For as long as we live, the Lord invites us all to accept His kingdom . And if we are slow to respond, He repeats His offer again and again. But in the end, if we don’t want to have the Kingdom of God we don’t have to have it. And at death our choice is fixed. And if our answer is “No,” our ruin is sure, for outside the kingdom, now rejected, there is nothing but ruin. You and I will either accept the invitation to live in the Kingdom of God and by its values or we will reject it and make “other arrangements.” And those other arrangements are ruinous.
But be sure of this: God wants to save everyone (cf Ez 18:23, 32, 33:1; 1 Tim 2:4, among others). If Hell exists, it is only because of God’s respect for our freedom to chose. And mind you there are not a mere few who reject the Kingdom. Those who reject it live demonstrating that they do not want a thing to do with many of the values of the Kingdom of Heaven: chastity, forgiveness, love of enemies, generosity to the poor, detachment from the world, and so forth. And God will not force them to accept these things nor to be surrounded by those who live them perfectly in Heaven. They are free to make other arrangements and to build their eternal home elsewhere. And compared to Heaven, everything else is a smoldering ruin.
IV. RELENTLESS RESOLVE – The text says, 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.” When some reject the invitation, God merely widens the net. He wants his Son’s wedding feast full. Hence, God is resolved to keep inviting and extending the invitation. Here is an extravagant God, one who does not give up. If rejected, He just keeps calling.
V. REMAINING REQUIREMENT – The text says, 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. The king 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.“
And here, then, is a warning even for those of us who do accept the invitation and enter the kingdom: we must wear the proper wedding garment.
As we have already remarked, the garment here is not one of cloth but one of righteousness. And this righteousness in which we are to be clothed can come only from God. God supplies the garment. The book of Revelation says that the saints were each given a white robe to wear (Rev 6:10). The text also speaks of the Church in a corporate sense as being clothed in righteousness: Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints (Rev 19:7-8). Hence righteousness is imaged by clothing, and that clothing is given by God. At our baptism, the priest describes our white robe as an outward sign of our dignity. It is a robe that we are to bring unstained to the judgment seat of Christ. At our funeral, too, the white pall placed upon the casket recalls the white robe of righteousness given to us by God.
Scripture speaks elsewhere about our righteousness as a kind of provided clothing we “put on”:
- Rom 13:12 Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
- Rom 13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
- Eph 4:23 And be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
- Eph 6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
- Eph 6:14 Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.
- Col 3:10 You have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
- Col 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
- 1 Thess 5:8 But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
Hence, when the king comes upon a man “not properly dressed,” the man is confronted. And, saying not one word in reply, he is cast out. But recall two things. First, this is not about a dress code, it is about a code of holiness. The clothes are symbolic of righteousness. Second, remember that the garment is provided. We have no righteousness of our own but only what God gives us. Hence the refusal to wear the clothes is not about poverty or ignorance of the rules. It is an outright refusal to accept the values of the Kingdom of God and to “wear” them as a gift from God.
Scripture says of Heaven, Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful (Rev 21:27). Scripture also warns us, without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14b). And an old Spiritual says, None can walk up there, but the pure in heart. Consider that Heaven would not BE Heaven if sin and unrighteousness were allowed to commingle there.
Now only God can make us pure enough to enter Heaven and He offers this gift of purity to everyone. Yet not everyone chooses to accept the garment of righteousness He offers; not all will agree to undergo the purification necessary to enter Heaven.
The Lord concludes by saying that many are called but few are chosen. Indeed the Lord calls many (likely, all). But far fewer are chosen, for they themselves choose not to accept the offer of the Kingdom and the garment of righteousness. God thus ratifies their choice by choosing them not.
Some final notes:
Understand the urgency with which Jesus speaks and teaches. Our choices have consequences and at some point our choices become fixed. Further, at that point, God will ratify what we have chosen. Notions of judgment, fixed choices, and Hell may be obnoxious to some in the modern world, and surely these teachings are sobering and even frightening. We may have legitimate questions as to how to square Hell with God’s mercy. Nonetheless, judgment, the finality of our choices, and the reality of Hell are all still taught despite our objections or questions. And they are taught by the Lord Jesus who loves us. No one loves you more than Jesus Christ, and yet no one spoke of Hell more than Jesus Christ did.
It is as if the Lord is solemnly urging us to be sober and serious about our spiritual destiny and about the spiritual condition of those whom we love. If nothing else, hear the Lord’s urgency in this vivid parable, told in shocking detail. Realize that it is told in love and heed its message.
A final picture. In Luke 15, the Lord told the parable of the Prodigal Son. The sinful son returned to his father, who, being joyful and moved, threw a great feast. But the other son sulked and refused to enter the feast. Incredibly, his father came out and pleaded with him to enter the feast. “We must rejoice!” he said. And, strangely, the parable ends there. We are not told if the sulking son ever enters. The story does not end because you must finish it. You are the son. So is your spouse, your children, your friends. What is your answer? Will you learn to forgive and accept all the values of the Kingdom, or will you stand outside? What is your answer? What are you doing to help ensure the proper answer from your spouse, children, brothers, sisters, and friends? What is your answer? What is theirs? The Father is pleading for us to enter the feast. What is your answer?
This song 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. Heaven, (Everybody talking ’bout Heaven ain’t a goin’ there), Heaven, gonna walk all over God’s Heaven.