Through the parable of the Royal Wedding Banquet we hear the thrilling invitation of Jesus: Come to my feast! Put on your glorious attire! Enter into my joy! This is God’s invitation to us to enter eternal life; to clothe ourselves in the incomparable dignity of divine Sonship; to join the communion of all the Angels and Saints in heaven, eternally rejoicing. And yet: this parable does not make us feel at all comfortable, and it’s not meant to; any more than it was meant to make the Scribes and Pharisees feel comfortable. For the weight of this story falls not so much on the invitation, as on the refusal of those invited. It ends uncompromisingly, on a note of harsh condemnation: Bind him hand and foot and throw him into the outer darkness.
The original audience, both of Jesus and of St. Matthew, would have been very alert to the overtones in the parable of the Messianic Banquet. We heard a classic depiction of that in today’s first reading from the Prophet Isaiah (25:6-10). The Jews were expecting that this divinely prepared banquet would celebrate the final wedding between God and Israel, brought about precisely by the Messiah. So there is great irony here. Jesus the true Messiah is issuing on God’s behalf his final invitation to those whose whole history was a preparation for that moment: only to have the invitation rudely refused. In fact, the feast to which Jesus invites all who will hear him is even more wonderful than the Jews of old could have known. For in Jesus, at the moment of the Incarnation, God made himself one with humanity. This union, or marriage between God and man, would be sealed and consummated by the outpoured blood of Jesus on the Cross. We should never cease to be astonished at this manifestation of divine generosity, largesse, goodness, abundance, gift, invitation. That God would go so far, do so much, for us sinners, and then fling open so wide the gates of heaven for us to enter! Yes, this is wonderful indeed! Only: we have to accept the invitation.
Unbelieving Israel, as a nation, rejected Jesus. They were certainly punished when the Romans came, according to the prophetic words of the parable, and burnt their town. So the invitation went out to the gentiles instead. Yet, just in case we should start to feel smug and superior, at the end of the parable the most notable representative of the gentiles is the man without a wedding garment.
Let us assume, in terms of the story, although we are not told so, that such wedding garments were issued free of charge at the door. There is then no injustice. This man simply could not be bothered to put his on. What is this garment? We are free to interpret it as we please, but the ancient commentators most commonly took it as a symbol of either humility or charity.
The great feature of the first invited guests was their pride. As they saw it, they had no need of the King. His invitation fell below their notice; even beneath their contempt. They did not see much need, either, to keep the law, whether of God or of man. Yet God in Christ came to us in humility. If we would receive him, we can only do so in answering humility; acknowledging both our total unworthiness and our total need.
Alternatively: God is love. If we have no love in us; or if we knowingly exclude his love, then we can have no part in his life or his joy. Because of our own willed state of rebellion, we will encounter God’s love only as burning rejection.
To consider the parable now as it speaks to our own generation in our own land and time: we may well feel very uneasy indeed. Look around at the state of our post-Christian society. Look at the mass apostasy of whole generations of former Christians. Or look at so many who still call themselves Christian, but who have compromised or sold out whatever aspects of their faith seem currently inconvenient or unpopular. The invitation to the feast has gone out: but like the former Jews, people of today have shown themselves not interested. They have better things to do. They don’t want to know. And if pressed, they are willing to commit murder, rather than accept the invitation.
Today, as it chances, is the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila. Carmelites keep it as a Solemnity, but because of Sunday today we don’t keep it at all. Please let me mention, nevertheless, that in St. Teresa’s day, as in ours, a mass apostasy in Europe was in progress. Also: contemporary exploration of the New World was showing that countless millions were living and dying with no knowledge even of the name of Jesus. As for the Church herself: both worldliness and alien currents of thought seemed to be shaking her to her foundations.
St. Teresa was a middle aged woman, quite without resources: yet she set about addressing this situation. And with the help of God’s grace, and a few companions, she somehow succeeded in restoring authenticity and credibility to the Church. We could almost even say that she saved the Church.
St. Teresa’s formula was ardent devotion to the person of Jesus Christ; real, living love for Him, in his Sacred Humanity; intense and direct relationship with Him; union with Him, even to the point of mystical marriage. As a matter of fact, this is what all Christians are called to: not to respectability, or conventional morality, or to social welfare politics, but to union with God in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
St. Teresa founded convents which have remained to this day fertile sources of intercession and holiness and prayer and divine charity, in the heart of the Church and of the world. Through them St. Teresa continues to point us towards the heights and depths of contemplative prayer. Through her writings also she continues to bear witness that God is real, and that we can know him and love him. She cries urgently that the salvation of the world, and our own salvation are at stake. And she teaches us, from her own experience, that we are indeed able to bear all things in this life, for the sake of Him who has so loved us.