Behind the dramatic scenes of today’s gospel story, there are indeed lessons for us. Buts first let us rid ourselves of the distracting events of the parable’s conclusion. Let us put aside any sympathy for the ‘poor’ man who didn’t have a garment to wear into the wedding feast that, to be fair, he hadn’t expected to be asked to, and who then finds himself getting thrust out into the cold!
Listening to the parable, simply as it reads for us, could well lead to one being excused for thinking this is an unjust outcome!
However from what I can read, the practice was for the host to provide the garments for his guests. In this case then we do not have a situation of someone not owning appropriate clothes for the feast, but we see an example of a man who refused to wear the garment provided. Thus he is guilty not of being unprepared but rather of choosing to act in a rebellious fashion and one that was a direct insult to his host. And so to emphasise this point in his parable Jesus tells us he remained silent (he had no excuse or mitigating circumstances from which he might have appealed). And in the fashion of a good story-teller, Jesus further highlights the man’s rude behaviour by ending his parable with this man being thrown out of the feast.
So let us go back to the beginning.
The parable brings to life the ancient and foundational promise of God – seen in the first reading. God promises the people that:
I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you.
Jesus re-imagines this action of God in terms of a great feast, with God as a King inviting repeatedly people to enter into this feast. But in the telling Jesus also notes that so often God’s promised salvation is rejected by the very ones it is offered to.
Thus from our scriptures today one can take heart that our life in God is an invitation, it is a free gift and is never forced upon us; and in even when people reject all that God offers, God is undeterred. The offer is made again and again.
However the parable does emphasise one point. While overwhelmingly a gift, our participation in the kingdom does also entail some responsibility and action on our part. As with our famous guest (above), the invitation also calls for some response on our part. God’s loving presence is not thrust upon us unwillingly, we possess the capacity to respond to God and we are invited to enter into a living relationship with God. Even if our very capacity to respond to God’s initiatives in our lives is God’s gift too (much like the wedding garment freely provided), we are still invited to respond. And God makes it so simple – as simple as putting on the garment already provided – we only have to follow the promptings of God’s own Spirit (already dwelling within us)!
Today’s gospel parable might send us a reminder too – as John the evangelist so wonderfully presents in his gospel – that the saving work of Jesus can be present and powerfully active from the very beginnings of our family life (as the wedding feast of Cana symbolises), and that like a wedding feast God’s presence to us is pure joy and a cause for celebration.
Let us live our Christian lives in this same spirit of joy and gratitude for the God who is close to us.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia. He currently serves on the General Council and is stationed in Rome.