This is always struck me as a strange gospel, perhaps it has You, too. Guests refuse invitations, and then there is the search for anybody and everybody to come to the wedding feast. At the end of the story, a person invited at the last minute who is not properly dressed, and is thrown into the fire. What does all of this mean? How do we make sense of this parable?
Any time we hear parables it is important for us to remember that often there are deeper meanings at work. On the one hand it is pretty easy to assume that what is being discussed here has something to do with a look at the history of the Jewish people. And it certainly is easy to see parallels between the history as we know it in terms of the acceptance of Jesus, and the story that we hear today. But to settle only for this level, is to miss the point for us today.
To be sure, it is easy to cast aside those were invited and did not attend as those who don’t accept Jesus. It might cause us some difficulty or consternation if we recognize that there are times when we are the very people who refuse the invitation of God. We are the ones who sometimes have so many other things going on but we fail to see the invitation to experience the rich banquet that is a relationship with God.
It seems to me that today’s gospel is teaching us something about what it means to accept the invitation of our own vocation. First, there are important lessons about what is required of us to accept this invitation. Acceptance of our vocation is not passive. It is not enough for us to say, “I’m a good person.” Nor, is it enough for us to simply avoid doing bad things most of the time. There is nothing passive about our vocation and its acceptance.
Second, acceptance of our vocation requires us to prepare. What is the preparation for the acceptance of our vocation? Staying when the analogy of a wedding that Jesus uses in today’s story, I just think about what is required to get ready for a wedding. Usually, we have to respond to the invitation. Often we are required to consider what we are going to wear, and what gift we are going to bring. There could be the matter about how we are going to get the wedding reception. In all things, we must remember that to get the wedding feast requires to do some advance planning.
Once there, it is important to remember that when we go to the wedding feast, we go because of the one who is invited us. There is some connection or some relationship that is been built over time, that makes it important for us to want to respond to the invitation. In another way, there is a reason why we were invited to the wedding feast.
It seems to me that today’s Gospel is attempting to teach us to avoid those excuses we use the keep us from a deeper prayer life. We can think we are too busy, or that we have to take care of other people, or that our jobs take precedence because of the salary that it provides for us to care for our families. It can simply be that we are lazy, or that we rather would do other things to avoid the intimacy that prayer invites us to have with the Lord Jesus. Whatever, it is much like the people in today’s Gospel. Even though God repeatedly invites us to a deeper prayer life, we can find that we have excuses that keep us from accepting this deeper invitation to growth in prayer with the Lord Jesus.
The end of the Gospel, which is actually unique to Matthew’s telling of the story since Luke does not include this person poorly dressed for a wedding feast, reminds us that even when we are receiving the invitation because God has gone to the highways and the byways to find those to enter the kingdom of God, things are still required of us for appropriate acceptance. It simply is not enough to think that we can slide in the last minute. Rather, Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that accepting the Lord Jesus into our lives means being open to the necessity for conversion. We must change our lives if we are to be open to the Lord Jesus.
The one not properly dressed is one who believes that there can be acceptance of Jesus without a change of heart. The proper attire for Christians is that clothing that we put on when we repent from our sins and except the Lord Jesus. Paul reminds us when we are baptized we “put on” Christ. It’s when we open ourselves to the grace of our baptism, and accept a unique vocation that God has given us. To be sure, the wedding feast which we are invited is beyond our wildest dreams. We simply cannot imagine how wonderful is the banquet to which we are invited. Knowing about God’s grace and the beauty of his invitation to the rich banquet requires the appropriate response that we might cooperate with that grace to enter into the new life that is God’s kingdom.