An invitation never to be refused
28th Sunday in OT

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

Weddings are happy occasions. More so in barrios where all the people join the feast regardless of age, gender, social status and religion. The feast is a celebration not only of the families of the bride and groom but of the entire barrio. It becomes a time for renewing friendships, showing generosity and thanksgiving for blessings received.

It is in this kind of context that Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven with a wedding banquet for a king's son (Mt. 22:1-14). When all the preparations have been made, the king sends his servants to inform those invited to come. Obviously, the king expects a full house. But those invited refuse to come. So he again sends his servants this time to plead that they come since everything is ready. But they still will not come.

The king is the figure of God. The wedding feast is the Jewish image of the life to come: "On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines" (Is. 25:6). The king's first invitation speaks of God's gracious call of the Jews to be His Chosen People. To them, God has sent his prophets to proclaim that one day, His Son would come to establish God's Kingdom -- a Kingdom of truth, justice, freedom, love and peace.

The king's second invitation underlies God's patience with His Chosen People -- He still hopes for a change of heart in them. But for one reason or another, they still refuse to come. For some, nothing is more important than their "farm" and "business" -- their personal interests and ambitions. Others seize the servants, mistreat and even kill them so as to be rid of those who remind them of the king's desire. When the King sent his son, they not only refused to listen to his message but also had him killed. The king is naturally enraged. So he sends his army to destroy them.

But God will not be denied His banquet. Since the people of Israel refused to come, God sends His servants to the "highways and by-ways" to invite "whomever you find" - Isaiah's "all peoples" above. Thus "the hall was filled with guests." This act of the king signifies the taking away of the exclusive "right" of the Chosen People to the Kingdom of God and is instead handed over to the Gentiles.

The parable reflects our relationship with God as a community and as individuals. He invites us to love Him above everything else, to complete fidelity in Him. But often, we ignore or even refuse His invitation. Why? Because we often consider our "farms" and "businesses" -- our personal interests and ambitions--as more important than God's invitation. In their pursuit, we put aside Jesus and His message to us.

The parable also warns us against our "holier than thou" attitude. We tend to consider ourselves better than others -- as the Pharisees and Scribes did -- and thus look down on them. We want our good works appreciated but we are stingy with our encouragement when others do the same. How easily we forget that unlike the Chosen People, we just happened to be in "the highways and byways" when the king's servants invited us! In short, our being Christians is not due to our merit but because of God's gracious invitation in love.

Such attitudes can lead us away from God, from union with Him. One writer has said: "Each of us are called to be saints. There is nothing more tragic than if we do not become saints." To be united with God forever, to become a saint, even with just a small "s", should be our life's only goal and nothing should ever make us deviate from it.

To attain this goal, God wants that during our earthly life we make love -- for God and for neighbor -- the foundation of our lives. This is what the second part of the parable (a second parable really) means when the one "without a wedding garment" was cast "into the darkness outside." Oriental courtesy demands that a wedding guest must wear the proper wedding attire. In the parable, this symbolizes a life that has produced fruits worthy of repentance and love. Thus any Christian who has not done so face the same fate as the one without the wedding garment.

This is really just going back to the basics: God's Kingdom is anchored on love that bears fruits -- love for God manifested in our love and concern for one another. Difficult? Definitely. But God gives us the strength to do so. We have the example of St. Paul (Phil. 4:12-14, 19-20) who after going through all kinds of trials and sufferings said, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Thus with God's help, there is nothing we cannot do.

If we make love for God and neighbor rather than our interests and ambitions as our life's primary goal then we will be ready with our wedding garment when God asks us to come to the wedding feast of His Son.