In the first Reading from Prophet Isaiah, (Is 25:6-10), God promised that a messianic banquet will be hosted on Mount Zion, (on this mountain), to which people from every nation shall be invited. It shall be “a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines, of food rich and juicy, of fine strained wines.” The Lord also stipulated that the proposed messianic banquet would transform people’s understanding of death. Death would no longer be seen as a punishment, but a transition to eternal life as we pray in the preface for the dead, “indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.”
The Gospel, (Mt 22:1-14), continues with the theme of banquet. Jesus used a parable about a king who hosted “a feast for his son’s wedding” to illustrate the nature of the Kingdom of God. While reading or listening to this story, we must not lose sight that it is a parable that needs to be interpreted. As per the narration, a king invited some guests to his son’s wedding banquet. He killed oxen and fattened cattle to prepare a lavish meal. When the banquet time came by, he sent out sets of servants to remind the invitees that the banquet was set. All those who had been invited gave various apologies for their inability to honour their invitation. Some of them maltreated and killed some of the king’s servants. The king in anger dispatched his troops to retaliate for the maltreatment and killing of his servants.
He then ordered his servants to go to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone they could find to the wedding since the invitees had proved themselves unworthy to sit at the banquet table. The servants followed assiduously the instruction of the king, and the banquet hall was filled with guests. However, when the king came into the banquet chamber to greet the guests, he spotted a man who was not wearing a wedding garment, the king ordered that he should be punished for not wearing a wedding garment.
The interpretation of the above Gospel has some similarities with the theme of the vineyard found in the first Reading and Gospel of the previous Sunday. In last week’s Gospel, the landowner sent out sets of servants and his son to collect his proceeds from the tenants. The vineyard represented Israelites in the Old Testament but the Church and her members in the New Testament. The servants referred to the prophets in the Old Testament and the apostles and disciples in the New Testament. The son depicts Jesus Christ.
Based on the first Reading, we realise that the banquet envisaged in the Gospel is not an earthly meal, but an eternal banquet in the Kingdom of God to which the people of Israel and the non-Jews, (Gentiles), were the first and the second invitees respectively. The host of the banquet is Jesus Christ and the servants sent out refers to the prophets in the Old Testament and the apostles and disciples in the New Testament.
One may wonder why the king ordered that the guest without a wedding garment should be excluded from the banquet since he was not given advance notice to prepare for the feast. We must recall as I have stated above that this story is a parable which needs to be interpreted. I have already demonstrated that this meal is not one of our many earthly meals, but a messianic dinner hosted by Jesus Christ to which everyone is invited.
God calls us in spite of our state in life. He calls us as we are. Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, neither do I condemn you but go and sin no more. God expects that his grace in us will transform us and make us better human beings – people who choose good and shun evil. The grace of God in us should lead us to seek help for our addictions, to become agents of peace and reconciliation, to be keepers rather than breakers of God’s Commandments and the Commandments of the Church. Hence, there will be reckoning for those who refuse to be transformed by the grace of God.
Another way of interpreting the punishment meted out to the guest without the wedding garment is that we must always be ready because we do not know at what day or time death might come knocking. We should ensure that our souls are ready to meet with God any time God communicates to us that our earthly dwelling has come to an end.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp