The theme of a wedding feast is prominent in the readings of today. Christ uses it as a visual depiction to communicate the kingdom message in the gospel. Hence, I will focus this reflection on the meaning of the wedding garment, drawing implications from both the gospel and the first reading from the prophet Isaiah.
What does the scripture say and what do we make out of it?
In the gospel, the invited guests are cruel and ungrateful. First, they reject the invitation, then kill the servants. The king is enraged and takes revenge against the city, particularly destroying the murderers. He finally opens the invitation to everyone. His party begins and he identifies a miserable guest not dressed in a wedding garment. The action of this king towards this man raises some questions. Hence, “The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’’ The man has no answer, prompting a harsh treatment from the king. He orders the attendants to bind this man and cast him outside to suffer in the darkness.
What exactly is wrong with this king? Is he acting out of vengeance? Is this projection or displacement of emotions, thereby taking his anger out on the poor guest? Does that depict poor judgment? If he has opened the invitation to everyone and to whomever, why treat this guest with such meanness? And what makes this miserable-undressed man different from the other guests in the room? Does culpability reside on the side of the king or with the man without a wedding garment?
Let’s start with invitation.
Isaiah’s declaration sets the tone which shows that the Lord is the king presented in the gospel parable. The prophet declares, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (Is. 25:6). The invitation is open and unlimited. People from every nation are invited to the Lord’s feast on the mountain.
However, even though everyone is invited to this feast, there is still an expectation that attendants should dress properly. If we take a mental image at the sight of a wedding atmosphere, a corporate form of dressing is usually recommended. Imagine having a guest in rags at your daughter/son’s wedding. There is the tendency that the person will be spotted as an outlier. In the context of faith, the gospel passage recommends an appropriate attire, in this case, a wedding garment. The Book of Revelation helps to identify the nature of this wedding garment when John writes, “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes” (Rev. 7:9). Will you let someone stay at your wedding if they showed up dirty and unkempt?
We can look at responsibility here in relation to consequence for action. The king sends his messengers out to notify the invited guests. They pay him back in negative coins, refuse to attend, manufacture excuses to absent from the party. Everyone goes on with their business. In addition, the messengers are killed. These invitees depict high level of irresponsibility by their action which can be interpreted on two levels: spiritually (faith response) and socially irresponsible.
The lack of a positive response to the invitation exposes failure of commitment to the faith. God invites everyone to his banquet of love and service. In most cases, even for the baptized, some show lack of concern. Others provide excuses of work, family, and other commitments that are unrelated to the practice of their faith. Yet, the extreme group treats the messengers of the gospel with wickedness. No wonder the prevalent cases of Christian persecution in varying degrees. Christians are attacked, some abducted, others denied and made to suffer for being believers. Christians are God’s messengers once they bear the gospel and live out their prophetic calling. Should the king keep quiet seeing his messengers degraded and killed?
We can also liken this king to those in leadership positions and their responses against evil in the society. The king’s reaction in the gospel is swift and severe. He dispatches an army to destroy the city of the irresponsible guests who become tyrants to the messengers. What if we have such decisive leaders today, leaders who rise up to protect the lives of innocent people against criminals, kidnappers, terrorists, and bandits, especially against those persecuted for their faith? The moral and ethical justification against those who become threats to innocent lives is this, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched end” (Matt. 21:41). We need leaders in power, who will be decisive against evil, leaders who will encourage responsibility for action and who will promote justice against perpetrators of evil. I'll leave you to explore several instances of evil and lack of failure of leadership inseveral places today. The lack of consequence for evil is a key reason for proliferation of crime against humanity. When evil is not held accountable, the rightous suffer.
What does this responsibility mean?
Let’s invoke the Church’s teachings based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Here, we can assess the action of the king in the gospel in the light of moral judgment and that of the cruel guests in the light of obstinacy versus contrition. The Catechism states:
1451. Among the penitent's acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again” (Council of Trent, Denzinger-Schönmetzer [DS] 1676).
1452. When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called “perfect” (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible. (See DS 1677.)
Is the king right or wrong in acting swiftly, punishing the guests, as seen in the gospel?
The issue with the irresponsible guests is a question of obstinacy. When a person commits a grave sin (as seen in the killing of the servants), even though there could still be an opportunity to repent, that very action is incompatible with having God’s grace in his soul. The individual’s action, therefore, destroys the capacity to love God supernaturally. Those cruel men are incapable of exercising charity (CCC 1855.), also called “mortal” because it renders their souls spiritually dead.
However, should they repent, that means they take responsibility for their actions. They can still be welcome back to the feast which is open for everyone. It is called perfect contrition which entails an exercise of charity. What mortal sin does is to leave the person permanently separated from God. A person is moved to repentance because God moves him to act. Those guys in the gospel are killed, meaning, they are dead to God’s love in their souls. They refuse to cooperate with God’s invitation to repent. They remain obstinate by choosing not to repent.
The issue of acceptance or admission into the feast addresses mostly the action of the king in relation to the man without the wedding garment. Having addressed the earlier problem, the king opens the invitation to everyone, asking the servants to go out to the main roads and the streets to invite everyone. His intention is to fill the hall with guests, no matter where they come from. Why isn’t the man allowed to partake of the feast? Whereas the wedding garment literally an image of esthetics, it shows a deeper connection with the question of responsibility highlighted above. Criminals who remain obstinate or create scandals in the society have no place in the feast because it is their choice.
The message from today’s gospel is that each of us is invited to God's feast. Each of us has a responsibility to wear our wedding garment. And that leaders should act decisively. In the church, the faith must be protected by those in authority. Like the biblical king, church leaders should defend the faith against abuse in order to protect the sanctity of the church and its members. The action of the king in the gospel isn’t popular, yet it does not nullify its moral relevance.
The man without wedding garment shows refusal to conversion. The wedding garment is a sign of repentance and participation in the church, yet he intentionally ignores it and comes in different. Being improperly dressed means deciding to stand outside, turning the heart against the church’s teaching. It means threatening the faith of those working hard to maintain their wedding garment, in this case, living out their faith and God's commandments. Although the kingdom is open and the invitation is for everyone, only those properly dressed are meant to participate in the feast. The Lord’s feast is holy, the wines are juicy, the food pure, so also its treatment should be accorded dignity and respect.
As the Lord invites us to the feast, so he expects us to respond to his invitation. We must wear our wedding garments.
Readings: 1st- Is. 25:6-10; 2nd- Phil. 4:12-14, 19-20; Gospel- Matt. 22:1-14