“My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?”
My oldest sister has two daughters. These two nieces have always been very different, and their wedding receptions were also. The older niece’s reception was held in a large hotel ballroom, and was very formal in its decorations and dinner. The younger niece held her wedding reception on a farm, under a huge open-air gazebo. The decorations were informal, and the meal was BBQ.
In today’s Gospel passage we hear of a wedding feast hosted by a king. As we’d expect, the feast reflects his personality. We’re given hints of how lavish it was. Yet this earthly king symbolizes God the Father. Just as the king’s feast is a feast fit for a king, so the feast that it symbolizes is a feast befitting God: an infinite feast. In other words, the feast in the parable symbolizes Heaven itself. Jesus preaches this parable to help those listening imagine what Heaven is like.
In describing “the kingdom of Heaven”, the parable first explains Heaven’s seating capacity, if you’ll pardon the expression. God wants everybody there. Not everybody may end up there, but if not, that’s contrary to what God wants.
Yet we also need to focus on an even more important feature of the wedding feast before reflecting on the action of the parable. The wedding feast is the king’s in the sense that he’s the one who gave it. But the wedding feast is given in honor of the king’s son. This son symbolizes Jesus, of course.
So what does this tell us about the Kingdom of Heaven? We might turn to the Book of Revelation, where St. John the Evangelist describes Heaven as the wedding feast of the Lamb of God.
The multitudes in Heaven sing eternal praise to the Lamb who was slain. We ourselves refer to this right before Holy Communion. The priest elevates the Sacred Host and declares: “Behold, the Lamb of God…. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” Our response acknowledges that our need of forgiveness is our ticket to entering this wedding supper: sacramentally at Holy Mass, and—hopefully—in Heaven forever.
If you and I make it to Heaven, we will spend the rest of eternity praising the Lamb who was slain so that our sins could be washed in the blood of the Lamb. In other words, God offering us forgiveness is His invitation to share in the wedding feast of Heaven.
With this as background, what are we to make of the violence in the parable? The violence flies in two directions. The second is on the part of the king, who acts in retribution. Jesus issues a warning to us here that His Father is not just some sort of teddy bear, but rather a Just Judge. On a practical level, though, the first form of violence is more important for us to reflect on.
The parable’s invited guests symbolize all of mankind, who have heard God’s desire that “all peoples” and “all nations” enter into the wedding feast of Heaven, but who may enter only through confession of their sins. We need to understand the parable’s invited guests as including ourselves.
Yet we also need to ask ourselves who the servants are, and how we can understand the violence done to them. Those who deliver to us God’s invitation to repentance may be other persons: for example, a spouse, a parent, a priest, an employer, a neighbor, a grandparent, or a friend. Unfortunately, we want spouses who compliment us, priests who tickle our ears from the pulpit, and friends who will tell us about the faults of others, rather than our own.
We may not be accustomed to think of Heaven as a wedding banquet. Most of us are accustomed to think of Heaven as the fulfillment of our own greatest wishes, hopes and desires. Nonetheless, there’s one important truth that is left out of today’s parable. Jesus didn’t leave it out because He was a poor teacher. Rather, you and I are slow learners.
Here’s the important piece. You and I are the bride at this wedding feast. We are not only invited guests, but we are invited to espouse our selves to the King’s Son! Although we’re familiar with the idea that the Church is the Bride of Christ, we may not be used to reflecting on ourselves as being espoused to Jesus Christ. But consider that truth in the light of today’s parable. Jesus died for His bride. His invitation is to accept His death—the price of our forgiveness—as the means of union with Him. Through this union, He invites us into the eternal wedding feast of Heaven.