The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call the guests to the banquet, but they would not come.... He sent out others with the message 'I have prepared the dinner,everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet'. But they made light of it and went back to what they were doing or mistreated the servants. The king became infuriated and punished them all ..... He then sent out his servants into the main streets, telling them to gather everyone they found - good and bad. They did, the hall was full. When the king came into the banquet hall he noticed a man not wearing a wedding robe and asked him, 'Friend, how did you come into the banquet without a wedding robe'. The man was speechless.
This story is found - with variation - in Luke's gospel as well. We don't get all the vivid details about the second batch of guests, the people in the thoroughfare, that are in Luke's version. And it's always important to bear in mind that when an Evangelist is producing a gospel, he is writing for a distinctive audience. Matthew writes to the Jewish people. He is preoccupied with geneology, in pulling quotations and references from the prophets and applying them to Jesus.
Quite clearly here the king is THE KING - God - the one whose name is not said. The banquet is for his beloved Son - the Anointed one. Prominent Jews have been invited to this marriage - of the Messiah to his people, Israel. And those invited "made light of" the invitation. Not a good idea, especially when we're talking about a covenant. The King then turned to others and invited - did not coerce or force - others to attend the feast, the celebration. And the others accepted the invitation. In Matthew's telling, we cannot assume that the 2nd batch of invited guests are ill to do, frail, downtrodden or destitute. They accepted the invitation and came.
I have always questioned if it was customary to wear/bring your own 'wedding garment'? Was one handed to you as you entered the lobby? Would one be loaned to you if you didn't have one (the way some places will loan a tie or jacket at fancy restaurants)? Whatever the policy, everybody - accept one man - wore the appropriate attire. The king doesn't seem to be infuriated (the way he was when the first group invited blew off his hospitality). He is puzzled, curious, a bit bewildered. The offending guest makes no reply, gives no explanation or excuse. He was speechless. In the absence of a reply, he is unceremoniously thrown out.
Now, I can see Matthew is trying to make a point to his audience. There are three invitations - just as there were three attempts with the tenants and the vineyard in last week's reading-- he obviously goes for the "If at first you don't succeed.." principle. And, as in the vineyard story, he points a condemning finger at the chosen ones who reject both the message and the Messenger.
But I'd like to take this parable out of its historical context and bring it to the here and now.
We have been invited to actually join the family of the King; we are invited to His banquet, to share in his life and work, to bring the Kingdom of God to this plane of reality. We have been invited into particular relationship with the Bridegroom through Baptism and Holy Communion.
There are those of us who will 'make light of' the invitation or we will offer a reason: we have other things to do on the weekend, we have other committments during the week, we need a vacation, we need our beauty rest, we forgot to set the alarm, we'll get to that eventually, we'll try to squeeze it in, we'll contribute to the rummage sale next year, we'll think about volunteering in the soup kitchen 'some day', we'll try to say hello to a newcomer "next time", we'll come back to church when there's a different priest, we'll be more regular in attending when the kids are older..... and on and on and on.
We all want courtesy and respect. Whether we are the clerk or the supervisor, the CEO or the janitor, the flight attendant or the pilot, the student or the senior, the woman or the man. Although God does not demand respect, isn't God worth it?
Is investing in our inner life of prayer worth it? Is making certain our spiritual needs are met, our souls nourished worth it? Isn't God worth an invitation into our daily life, our daily decisions, our joys and sorrows? In our daily lives, if we disrespect or ignore others, aren't we showing disrespect to God?
Our Lord and Savior invites us to a celebration of life, to a celebration of the triumph of Love over hate, an invitation that cost him his mortal life.
The banquet is ready and waiting. Have we come prepared to attend?