The Parable of the Marriage Feast: A Reflection by Maggie Taurone

Pieter Aertsen (Dutch, c. 1507 – 1575)
The Parable of the Marriage Feast

I’d like to start with some history of Jewish weddings.  In Jewish society, the parents of the betrothed generally drew up the marriage contract. The bride and groom would meet, perhaps for the first time, when this contract was signed. The couple was considered married at this point, but they would separate until the actual time of the ceremony. The bride would remain with her parents, and the groom would leave to prepare their home. This could take quite a while. When the home was all was ready, the groom would return for his bride without notice. The marriage ceremony would then take place, and the wedding banquet would follow.

Let’s look at the pieces of the parable of the Marriage Feast as an allegory of salvation history culminating in Jesus.  The king is God who prepares a heavenly banquet for his son (Jesus).  The servants are the Old Testament prophets called to summon Israel.   Because some of the invited guests ignored the prophets and others killed them, God will destroy their city, Jerusalem and send other servants as apostles to invite Gentiles, good and bad, to the celebration.  Those lacking proper attire are cast into the darkness of eternal punishment.  The parable highlights God’s impartial treatment of all who are called – Jews and Gentiles.  He rewards and punishes on the basis of one’s acceptance or rejection of his call.

The marriage feast itself is an image of rejoicing and communion with God.  The background is probably where the salvation of God’s people is portrayed as a joyful banquet.  Its fulfillment takes shape on two levels:  1) The Holy Eucharist is Christ’s banquet of sacramental food and drink.  2)  Ultimate communion with Christ takes place in heaven with the unending union of God and his saints.

The wedding garment here is a symbol of a righteous deed that accompanies faith.  These deeds are outlined in Matthew as almsgiving, prayer, fasting, and works of mercy.

The story falls into two parts, the first talks about the invitations and the reactions of the invitees.  The second is a judgement scene.  Jesus dwells the longest on the second invitation and the events that follow it.  Here, the “king” becomes enraged.  This could be seen as an indictment of the religious leaders who rejected Jesus and an allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

To summarize the point of the Parable of the Wedding Feast, God sent His Son into the world, and the very people who should have celebrated His coming rejected Him, bringing judgment upon themselves. As a result, the kingdom of heaven was opened up to anyone who will set aside his own righteousness and, by faith, accept the righteousness God provides in Christ. Those who spurn the gift of salvation and cling instead to their own “good” works will spend eternity in hell.

How many of us have fretted over our attire for an upcoming wedding or other “significant” event?  The king’s concern over one guest’s attire is surprising and interesting.  The salutation of “friend” seems to be a foreshadowing of unpleasant things to come for the wedding guest.   We’ve heard this greeting before when the landowner used it to address the worker who labors the longest and complains; friend is also the term Jesus uses for Judas at the betrayal by a kiss in the garden. Experience tells us that the improperly dressed man is in trouble.  Is the improper clothing really about the clothing or does it represent something else?  Could it be a metaphor for a person’s lifestyle and how s/he lives as a Christian?  Can you imagine being thrown out of a wedding for your outfit?  The embarrassment would be unbearable; never mind if we were thrown into the darkness where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

I have personally always enjoyed attending a wedding, especially a family wedding.  As it is said about the Irish, we only see each other at wakes and weddings. A wedding should be a time of great joy when all who know and love the bride and groom attend to show their support and bestow their blessings upon the happy couple.  Relationships are rekindled and family members catch each other up on the events of their lives.  In addition, my most basic vision of heaven is a banquet when we arrive; we are united with our loved ones who have gone before us.

I would like to focus on the part of the story that pertains to the guest’s attire.  Let’s think about the process of getting dressed, especially for a special event.  At this age, it generally starts with shapewear.  I want to hide the flaws and make “trouble spots” less noticeable.  Then comes the dress.  Again, a good chunk of time goes into buying the “right” outfit, accessorizing it, and picking shoes that won’t make your feet throb 10 minutes into the event.  Lastly, hair and makeup.  (Likewise, character building occurs one piece, one action at a time.)  Why do we go to so much trouble to get the right look?  What if, as in this gospel, our attire is deemed inappropriate?  What was the guest in the gospel “missing” in his attire?  Was the guest trying to make a statement about the wedding feast by consciously not dressing appropriately?  Today, this would seem like an overreaction.  It seems to me that in this age anything goes for attire at most occasions.  Should it have been known to the guest what his attire should have been?  Did it say “fine linen only” on the invitation?  (Fine linen during this time represented the “righteous acts of the saints”.)  Was it a financial or a personal choice on the guest’s part?  Is ours’ and the guest’s clothing an analogy to demonstrate how we put on behaviors that are pleasing to God?

Let’s think about recent Royal Weddings.  Millions of people set alarms to watch the weddings live.  Was there the same sense of awe around the wedding in today’s gospel?  If so, why did so many invitees decline the invitation?  The fact that the king persisted in inviting guests seems unprecedented.  People were given a choice.  Are we not given a choice to enter into the heavenly banquet?  What is our reaction?  Do we receive multiple invitations?  God’s calling is not a light matter; it should be seen as precious, beautiful, and a once-in-a-lifetime invitation.  Do we treat it as such?

When dressing for a special occasion, we can change our mind about our attire.  We may find out that a friend or family member is wearing a gown and we’ve chosen a cocktail dress.  Is character change possible?  Yes, but it’s not as easy.  First, we have to decide that we need to change.  It’s been my experience that change for me only occurs after my heart has been touched.  It’s usually after a significant event and it results in more of a lasting change.  I have to have the desire to change for any hope to change my “attire”.

The parable concludes with a statement from Christ that “many are called, but few are chosen“.   The word “chosen” here applies to those who not only receive a call, but willingly choose to come, being sure they are dressed in the right garment, and remain committed to the Kingdom of God. To them the Kingdom means everything. They are willing pay any price, make any sacrifice, and remain committed for life to God and His values.  Are we?      

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