Thought for the week - 15 October 2023
It is quite usual in our culture for a bride to arrive late for her wedding. Often, the closer the bride lives to the church, the longer she delays. But if for some reason the bride were to fail to turn up at all, it might seem an exaggerated response, even in the part of London where I used to live, for the bridegroom’s father to go out and burn down the bride’s house and slaughter her family. Yet, in the Parable of the Wedding Feast, this is precisely the reaction of the bridegroom’s father when the invited guests refuse to attend his son’s wedding. He sends out his troops to destroy them and to burn their city and then to give out the food to the poor and to strangers – I wonder which of these actions strikes us as being the last likely though? One is about anger and disappointment, which are our constant bedfellows in this rather apocalyptic world which we inhabit but have little control over, and one is about a surrender to radical love, which we can choose and have every control over, but rarely choose.
We all know the skin deep meaning of today’s Gospel, the King and his Son are God the Father and Jesus of course and the wedding is God’s invitation to us all to join Him, to follow His way and to enter into His communion, as wedding guests eat and drink and share in the joy of the family, into which, by marriage, many of them are now conjoined. Those sent out to announce the wedding are the prophets, and many of those who heard the parable first hand will themselves have been baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan river, so it may have been a little close to the bone for them. Just like many of the prophets working for the Church in our day, these messengers were also badly treated by the people to whom they were sent.
So anyhow, now we are familiar with the dramatis personae, we are left with a couple of issues. First of all, the people themselves – we accept that the original invitees are those who turned away from the words of the prophets and maybe even those listening who, once baptised by John, quickly tired of his teachings and went back to their old ways. The next invitees, those who are found at the crossroads and in the streets ‘good and bad alike’ as we are told, maybe we can associate with them a little easier, as Gentile Christians. Maybe these are the people who took the message they heard to heart, having been invited in by those they had more in common with, and indeed there is a mission incumbent upon us to invite people in more, and to shar with them the joy of the wedding feast. Once having accepted the call to follow God, however, we cannot stop there just resting on our laurels, saying, “I have been invited by God to the Kingdom of Heaven. And that’s it!” Because once we enter into a relationship with God, we are called to go ever deeper into relationship with Him, and that implies that we do not and cannot sit still, doing nothing at all.
There is also the issue of the ‘wedding garment’ and that needs a little unpacking, maybe literally! When this parable was first heard, there were certain obligations of custom and right behaviour laid upon people, and wedding customs that applied to everyone, regardless of position or status and there is a man at the feats who is found by the Father (God), who has not bothered to observe the customs and has decided not to follow the obligations laid upon him as a guest. I would draw a parallel here with the first miracle of Jesus in that wine is not provided at the wedding at Cana until the water jars used for the ablutions are filled up. There is no miracle until the covenant between man and the Father is observed and begun again – in other words, there are certain obligations laid upon us as children of God, no matter what.
The King and His Son have put themselves out for their guests – literally on the Cross, and that implies that we should put ourselves out for Him. Not doing so, and not even explaining or apologising shows a lack of faith and a lack of love and a lack of desire for what God offers on our part. In other words, not only have we been called, but also (as a result of our actions and our initial faith) we are being chosen by God to share in his eternal wedding feast in heaven. This is not so different to the parable of the scattering of the seed, and it shows us the difference in another way between fertile soil and rocky ground. The wedding garment for us, that we must put on I suggest, is that of carefully preparing the soil – teaching our children and friends about Christ and offering a place of love and nurture where we act like and look like those who are going to the wedding feast of the Kingdom, dressed in our wedding clothes of love and justice, and knowing we have a place in that place with the God we love and who we know loves us.