Jesus again in reply spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’ Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. 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. Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14)
There are some places or events that follow a strict dress code. I’ve been to country clubs and nice restaurants where men are required to wear a jacket of some sort, either a suit or a blazer. I’ve been to churches in Italy that don’t allow visitors inside of the church unless they are wearing pants or long skirts, there are no shorts allowed.
Sometimes these places will help out underdressed visitors by supplying them with a suit jacket from a closet full of extra jackets, or a long cloth that can be wrapped around the waist like a skirt. But I’ve also seen people get completely rejected at the front door. At these various places, people can show up, but if they are underdressed then they simply won’t be let in
In the parable about a wedding feast, an invitation to the wedding feast was initially given to a select few, that is to Israel. The prophets were sent to encourage the Israelites to properly participate in a covenantal relationship with God. But eventually the invitation was sent out to everybody. The apostles were sent to teach and to baptize all nations, inviting Jew and Gentile alike, the good and the bad, to participate in a new covenant where humanity and divinity are perfectly united as one: a marriage between God and man whereby the two become one flesh. But in the parable, it wasn’t enough just to be invited to the wedding or to show up. The people who responded to the invitation also had to wear the right attire.
Notice the different responses of the people who received the invitation. Some people, “refused to come.” Some people had better things to do, they “ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.” Some people answered the invitation, but they were sorely underdressed.“When the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’” Only those who answered the invitation and were properly dressed were admitted to the wedding feast.
We sometimes invite people to our special events out of a sense of guilt or obligation. We invite Uncle Ricky or Aunt Maggie but we hope that they don’t actually show up. God’s invitations are not like our invitations. Everyone he invites, he desperately desires to show up.
But so often, our responses mirror that of the people in the parable. Some people invited to be a part of God’s kingdom have chosen to ignore God’s invitation altogether, they reject the gospel message of love and forgiveness. Some of us don’t partake of the wedding feast because we’ve prioritized other things before God. Maybe we don’t have a farm or a business, but we say to ourselves, “I’ve got more important things to do on a Sunday. I’ve got work to catch up on, I don’t have time for Mass. The kids have a sports tournament this weekend, we’ll get to church next weekend.” And some of us answer the invitation but we aren’t properly dressed.
What is this wedding garment that is necessary for admission to the wedding feast?
Revelation 19:7-8 states: “The wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready. She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment. (The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.)”
The wedding garment is righteous deeds, acts of love, corporal and spiritual works of mercy. No Christian should be without them. Pope St. Gregory the Great explained the parable in this way:
“The marriage is the wedding between Christ (the bridegroom) and His Church (the bride), and the garment is the virtue of charity: a person who goes into the feast without a wedding garment is someone who believes in the Church but does not have charity.”
Notice in the parable that the man without a wedding garment was “reduced to silence.” He had no excuse whatsoever. So often when I receive invitations to weddings, the invitations list the appropriate attire, saying that the event is casual, semi-formal, or formal. If someone is underdressed for the event there is no excuse, the dress code was made clear on the invitation.
Jesus had made very clear that love is of the utmost importance in the Kingdom of God. In his invitation to all of us to come and follow him, he makes clear that a cross is involved, that sacrifice and loving deeds are necessary elements in the life of a true disciple. We know what the dress code is, it’s been made very clear. If we don’t have loving deeds to accompany our life of faith, we will have no excuse at the time of our judgment. We’ll be like the man who was “reduced to silence.”
We’ve all received an invitation to the wedding feast. By participating in the Mass, we receive a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. But Jesus warns us that not all who have been called will be chosen for eternal life. The hall may be “filled with guests”, the church may be full of people, but are we all properly clothed? St. Paul encouraged the faithful to live in a manner worthy of the “call”, or the invitation, that they had received from God. (Ephesians 4:1-2) To answer the invitation, to be baptized and to show up to Mass, these things are only part of the Christian life. We are also informed that we must be clothed in the right garment. That we live lives filled with loving deeds offered to God and to our neighbor.