We tend to imagine wedding receptions as happy affairs. Receiving an invitation to most weddings means conviviality, feasting and joy are in our future. And if the wedding involves royalty or celebrities, it is guaranteed to include luxurious foods and wine. A party that any rational person (who also likes a good time) would want to attend.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Our Lord envisions the kingdom of heaven as a wedding banquet. Except not all guests are thrilled to receive their invitation.
A first invitation is ignored.
A second, inviting the crowd to a prepared feast, is ignored by some. But, not by all: “The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Mt 22:6-7).
Such violence seems like a surprising turn. If it’s absurd to turn down a wedding invitation, it is ludicrous to murder the servants of a king because one does not want to attend this wedding banquet.
Of course, such absurdity in parables should alert us to a veiled meaning.
In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the final moments of history are described as a banquet: “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” (25:6).
Death will be destroyed. God’s presence will dwell forever among mortals.
Our Lord evokes this image from Isaiah in his telling of the parable of the wedding guests. Rather than greet the news with joy, the invited guests kill the servants of the king.
“But the Pharisees went out and took counsel against him to put him to death” (Mt 12:14).
Some refuse to celebrate the coming of the kingdom of heaven in the person of Jesus. They seek to kill him, to end his life rather than rejoice at the wedding banquet of the Lamb.
The king responds in justice. Those who set up obstacles to the kingdom of heaven will be judged.
The king continues inviting guests to the wedding: “Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find” (Mt 22:9).
But not all the guests arrive properly dressed. Some do not wear the wedding garment, arriving unprepared to celebrate. The hospitable king judges them, too, throwing them into the outer darkness.
We’re faced here with two dimensions of the kingdom of God. Every person is invited to this banquet. Jesus Christ is the host of this banquet, calling all people to eat and drink upon the mountain of the Lord.
We must respond to this invitation with joy and haste. The wedding banquet is present among us in our celebration of the Eucharist, in our care for the poor, in our healing of the sick. The wedding feast is the very life of the Church.
But those of us baptized into Christ cannot be complacent. Life in the Church still requires radical preparation.
Life in Christ requires that we put on the wedding garment of fasting and almsgiving.
Life in Christ necessitates that we wear the wedding garment of the sacraments and personal prayer.
Life in Christ means that we are to offer every moment of our day as a sacrifice to the Father, adorning ourselves in preparation for the wedding of the beloved Son.
The wedding feast of the Son has begun.
Let us rejoice. Let us be prepared. Let us invite the whole world to join in.
Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.