Continuing his dialogue with the chief priests and elders of the people in the Temple precincts, Jesus tells another poignant parable to highlight what is about to happen.
Father Koch: We need the right disposition to share in the Kingdom
In this parable Jesus employs the imagery of a wedding banquet given for the son of a king. The wedding banquet theme is always an important one as it evokes Old Testament imagery of the Kingdom of God, and it is for this specific purpose that Jesus tells this parable. Again, it is important to note that Jesus is still addressing the chief priests and elders of the people. Hence, this parable is specifically directed towards them and has a meaning that, if they paid careful attention, would certainly not be lost on them.
The king who throws the wedding banquet for his son learns to his disappointment then turned to anger that the invited guests choose not to come. When he sends out his servants to remind them of the banquet they are ignored and in some cases they are mistreated. Here Jesus is making not-so-subtle allusions to the prophets of the past. Here he might also evoke for them memories of John the Baptist, the last prophet they ignored while yet at least humoring those who listened to him.
Finally the King sends troops to destroy the city and put the murderers to death. This is again a clear reference to the destruction of Jerusalem some six hundred years prior. The people rejected the invitation of the Lord to renew the covenant and to place their trust in him. Ignoring the pleas of the prophet Jeremiah they lost the city and were forced into exile.
The king then invites people from the towns and villages to come to the feast. This is now longer a feast for the nobles and the upper class, but open to everyone. Jesus here emphasizes that the kingdom of God belongs not to the self-righteous or those who have standing within the community, but to all who are willing to take the risk and to come to the banquet.
Still in this parable there is one man who comes to the banquet but not appropriately dressed. He is removed from the banquet, bound hand and foot, to a place of banishment and suffering. This is a reminder to all us that we do not just take the invitation – however early or late – for granted.
Jesus plants the idea that the Kingdom of God is a separate reality from the Kingdom of Judah and the domain solely of the Chosen People of God through the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenantal relationships. Jesus preaches the universalization of the kingdom and the warning that those who hold solely to the past will be passed over in the Kingdom of the New Covenant.
The New Covenant is marked with Baptism and not the circumcision and legal demands of the Old Covenant. The image of this man who presents himself at the banquet absent the proper garment seems to reflect the need for the baptismal garment as the sine qua non of admission to the banquet, the Kingdom of God.
There is a clear warning against presumption, however. We for our part must keep our wedding garment fresh and ready for our call to the wedding feast. While some may believe that Baptism is itself enough, we know that it is easy to fall away from the promises made at Baptism and renewed in Confirmation. We need to be adequately prepared and appropriate in our presentation. We have come to understand this as a sign that we need to seek forgiveness of our sins, and to be properly disposed to share in the life of the kingdom.
In our time coming to share in the eternal wedding banquet makes many demands upon us. The life of faith is increasingly challenged and, given our current situation of being excused from Mass attendance, it might even be more challenging. Through a life of prayer and the constancy of a lived-faith, we can keep that wedding garment ready for the invitation from the Lord realizing that it can be all too easy to slip into bad habits and to gradually lose the faith that has been gifted to us.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.