Have you ever been invited to a party which was celebrating something special? Wedding? Birthday? Anniversary? And would there be any problem if you didn’t go?
The Gospel for the Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 22:1-14) shows Jesus dealing with a somewhat analogous situation. Again he is speaking principally to the chief priests and the elders of the people. Once more he teaches his lesson by way of a parable.
A “parable” is a story in which people, places, and things have another meaning. For instance, Jesus begins by saying, “The kingdom of heaven IS LIKE a king who gave a wedding party for his son…” Here the analogue begins.
Most likely, the “kingdom of heaven” refers to God’s law which deals with treating others with dignity, justice, compassion, understanding and forgiveness. There is to be order in human relationships. The “king” quite likely is God. The “wedding feast” could easily refer to the completed work of Jesus on earth (passion, death, resurrection, examples, and teachings. This continues the notion of the “kingdom of God”) Obviously, the “Son” is Jesus.
The parable continues. “The king sent his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come…” The invited guests are the people of Israel. The invitation was made as the Sinai covenant, where Moses was the spokesperson and, on behalf of God, told the Israelites, “Now, therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.” (Exodus 19:5)
This is a bi-lateral covenant. That is to say, if the people kept the covenant (primarily the ten commandments), then God would give them protection. The decision was Israel’s whether to be God’s people or not.
The “servants” were the prophets. In reading the Old Testament we know that Israel did not always choose to keep the requirements of the Sinai covenant.
So the king sent out another set of servants to invite the uninvited to the wedding feast. Those who could, came. But a rather curious event occurred at the feast itself. The king spotted an individual without a wedding garment, something presupposed at an occasion like this. But the fellow simply walked in off the streets and, presumably, had no occasion to obtain a wedding garment. Why was the king so rough on him?
Remember that this is a parable, which means that items here represent something else. Those listening to Jesus have a pretty good sense of Israel’s history, so it was not too difficult to establish the analogies.
Most likely, the “wedding garment” was the necessary form of identifying that someone wearing one belonged at the wedding feast. And as Jesus began the parable by saying, “The kingdom of God is like a wedding feast…” we suspect that the wedding garment carries on the notion of compassion, justice, forgiveness, and respect for others as the Sinai covenant and Jesus’ life and teachings requested.
What the Gospel reading can teach us is that our Baptism made us disciples of Jesus which means that we have the obligation to proclaim his life and teachings to others. Our Baptism is our invitation to the “wedding feast,” and we have the choice of either accepting it or not. And if we accept the invitation, we must not forget our “wedding garment” which is the promotion of peace, justice, and compassion.