There are invitations and then there are invitations. Some invitations you are very happy to receive. You look forward to them. You know it is going to be a great party, see people you like, and you anticipate you will have a great time.
Other invitations are not so welcome. The boss invites you to a cocktail party. You can’t refuse, but you are not crazy about going either. The people are boring, the food is off your diet, the chit-chat is inane, and it is the same time as your favorite TV program. Or you receive an invitation to a wedding of someone you don’t really care for, but you have to get a present, get dressed, go, etc, etc.
Our Gospel today is about an invitation. The invitation is sent out by a king who is giving a wedding feast for his son. This is not the kind of invitation one can easily turn down. When the king invites you, you better have a pretty good reason for not accepting. This is more like a summons or a command performance. It would be like the Bishop inviting me to the chancery office for a chat. I can’t just say, “Oh, no, I’d rather not.” It doesn’t work that way.
Our Gospel comes from the 22nd chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. There are only 28 chapters total. So things are quickly coming to a climax. The hostility and opposition to Jesus on the part of the Chief Priests and the Pharisees has broken out into the open. There is no covering over it or making it look nice. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we celebrate every year on Palm Sunday, has already occurred in the previous chapter. So in this Gospel we are now in the early days of Holy Week, and the events that lead to Jesus’ arrest, condemnation and crucifixion are building quickly to a head.
I think that is partly why the reactions of the people in the story are so extreme, so violent. Some of the invited guests not only declined, but “laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.” That seems a pretty extreme manner to refuse a wedding invitation. Likewise, the King’s reaction is way over the top: “The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” Perhaps Jesus is reflecting the extreme tension and hostility that He was then living through. This invitation is a serious event, in fact a matter of life and death: indeed of eternal life and eternal death! It requires a serious response.
In any case the Gospel is about invitations. There is a lesson here for us in how we respond to God’s invitation. Because the same temptation exists for us.
The Gospel tells us that “Some” of those invited “ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.” This implies that they were too busy, too distracted by worldly cares to respond to the King’s invitation. It is interesting that the New Revised Standard Version translates this verse as “But they made light of it and went away….” They did not take the invitation seriously. It seemed to them of little import. What did it have to do with the “real life” of farms and businesses?
My friends, you and I have been greatly blessed. Because we too have been invited to the wedding feast of the King’s Son. Each of us by our Baptism have been called to that heavenly banquet. But it requires of us attention and effort. The temptation is to become distracted by our farms and our businesses, by all the cares and activities of this world, and so totally lose sight of our true destination. We can make light of God’s call to us, think it all a fairy tale, not want to be bothered by the effort to live the life of God’s Kingdom, and ignore it.
This is what the strange part at the end of the parable is about with the person without the wedding garment. Our Baptismal robe, symbol of our new identity, is also our wedding garment. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” St. Paul tells us (Gal 3:27). That new identity in Christ must be lived out. We can enter the wedding feast only clothed in a life of living like Christ, in service, in obedience, in love.
We are invited into the great feast of heaven, the eschatological banquet of the fullness of life. It is not a something to make light of. It is something we must take care not to get distracted from. Jesus tells us “Many are invited”. Indeed, in some way everyone is invited. “but few” – He says – “are chosen.” The invitation and being chosen are not automatic. It demands an authentic response from us.
Accepting that invitation whole-heartedly, with all our strength and all our being, is our life’s work. It is the fullness of all we yearn and long for. It is LOVE, in capital letters.