I have nothing to wear! I need to buy a new outfit! Sound familiar? This is a refrain we might hear when our kids say with the start of a new school year upon us. Or we might hear this when adults are invited to an important social gathering like a charity banquet or a wedding and reception. We want to make a good impression. We don’t want to look out of date or wear old clothes. Even if we don’t buy something new, we’ll make sure that what we do wear is cleaned and ironed or pressed. We want to make a good impression. If it is our own wedding or we are hosting or headlining an important event, we’ll want to make not just a good impression but we will want to make great impression! A bang, a splash! That’s why brides often wear elaborate gowns and grooms wear nice suits or tuxedos. Usually the wedding party is expected to wear special dresses and tuxes. There is an expectation that invited guests will also dress their best for this special occasion.
Having this in mind, we can understand better the context of today’s Gospel reading from the 14th Sunday of Matthew (22:1-14). Now more often than not, we don’t get to hear this parable told by Christ because of our Orthodox lectionary. If Pascha, the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection falls a little later in the Spring, then there are not enough Sundays before the cycle of the Elevation of the Precious Cross is upon us in September like it will be next Sunday. Thankfully, we do have the opportunity to reflect on it today.
As Jesus tells the parable we hear Him state from the beginning that it is an illustration of the kingdom of heaven (v.2). It is important and meaningful for those who believe in God and want to do His will. He starts with a king who gives a wedding feast for his son (v.2) and sends out his servants with invitations (v.3). How did the invited guests respond? They refused to come (v.3) and made light of the invite (v.5) offering excuses about having other things to do (v.5). Some invitees even treated the servants shamefully and killed them (v.6). So, the king of course was angry and punished those invitees (v.7) and sent his servants to invite others, anyone who would come, as many as they could find (v.9). The servants did so and the wedding hall was filled with guests, both good and bad (v.10).
No let’s stop for a minute and think. Most of us would never think of refusing a invite to a relative or friend’s wedding? We would only decline if we had something previously planned that we could not get out of. What if the person inviting us was a very wealthy person, a famous celebrity or an influential politician and we were invited because he/she were a work associate or we had some other tie to him/her? Would we refuse the invitation? Would we look for an excuse? Maybe we might if we really despised them, but overall not very likely. In modern times we don’t have a person knocking on our door to personally deliver a wedding invite. We usually receive a printed one in the mail. Often that invite is put in a special place, maybe we post it in a prominent place to remind us not to make plans or show others that we’ve been invited to something special. We hardly ever refuse the invitation or tear it up and throw it in the garbage. And in the rare instance that we do not desire to share in the celebration, we certainly do not write on the rsvp “Sorry, but I don’t really like you, or you’re not that important to me, or I’ve got to do some house chores that day.” Instead, we courteously and thankfully say something nice with well wishes.
Ok, everything makes sense so far but remember this a parable of the kingdom of heaven. This is not about your nieces wedding. Thus, there are three levels upon which this wedding feast can be understood. The first is the feast that family shares each time they sit down for a meal together. This is a communal event in which not only food is shared but life itself. Hopefully it is a daily practice but many of us forego it by allowing our busy body lives to encroach upon this sacred feast. And perhaps some of us overlook its sacred nature when we bypass a thanksgiving prayer to the Lord before we begin to eat. We must fill our selves with spiritual food to understand the proper role of physical food in our life. Starting with prayer transforms the nature of the family meal from purely a social event to a communal event with Lord and each other.
Secondly, the parable of the wedding feast can be understood on the level of the Eucharistic banquet of the Divine Liturgy that is celebrated every Sunday. God the Father invites us though His servants, the priests, to celebrate the Messianic wedding banquet of His Son Jesus Christ. The Last Supper of Jesus with His disciples in Jerusalem is an eternal event that we participate in every Sunday and every Divine Liturgy. The liturgy is not theater, it is not a drama or a play or a reenactment. It is a meeting of heaven and earth when we worship the Holy Trinity receiving the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. When we enter the church and prayerfully participate in the liturgy, we enter into eternity. On the third level, the parable relates to us the final consummation of the age. When Christ returns the second time and the Parousia, all the dead will be raised into the heavenly kingdom. The earth and everything we know will pass away and there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). What we receive in part at every Divine Liturgy of our earthly life, we will receive in glorious fulfillment of God’s heavenly kingdom for all eternity.
So, knowing the incredible importance of the invitation we receive from God through His servants each and every week, why do we act like the invited guests in today’s parable? Why do we refuse to come, why do we make excuses, why do we treat the invitation and God’s servants even with disdain at times? Well it simply is either because we do not truly know what we are missing or we have decided that there are other things in our life more important than God.
Now, some might be saying, “Hey, Fr. Rick, I’m here today and I’m usually at liturgy every Sunday. So take it easy on me, cut me a little slack.” Well, first of all, remember that I am just a servant. I am just delivering the invitation and the message. Second of all, I am glad you are here today and every Sunday. But you are only half way there. 11 "But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless. Attending and participating in the Divine Liturgy are important but more important is how you dress. I’m not talking about if men are wearing suits and women are wearing dresses. I’m not talking about if you are wearing shorts or jeans or a t-shirt. Although, I always tell people that they should dress their best for Divine Liturgy, please give it the same importance as any other wedding feast we might go to. No, the wedding robe that Jesus is referring to in the parable is something different because we can be dressed to the nines, we can look very nice and pretty or handsome but still not be wearing the wedding robe of an invited guest.
When each one of us was baptized, right after we put on a baptismal gown or new white clothes. This signifies that our human nature has been redeemed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We chant the hymn, “All those who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia!” (Galatians 3:27) Our sins are forgiven and we receive the Holy Spirit to be empowered to live the new life in Christ--life of continual repentance and seeking to live a righteous life. In other words, baptism and chrismation are not magical. They do not automatically make us holy, nor save us. We must put on Christ every day, through compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience, forgiveness and love.
When the priest brings out the Holy Chalice, full of the Body and Blood of Christ, he does not say, “Come as you are!” Rather, he proclaims, “With the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near!” This means we must put off the old human nature stained by the devil and put on the new human nature bestowed in Christ. “Put to death…what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire…covetousness…anger…malice…slander…foul talk” (Colossians 3:5-9).
As we close today, let us remember the words of the Pre-Communion Prayer: “Into the company of Your saints how shall I the unworthy dare to enter? For if dare to enter into your bridal chamber, my clothing will denounce me for it is not a wedding garment. And bound, I shall be cast out by the angels. Cleanse O Lord the defilement of my soul and same.” Amen!