The prophecy of Isaiah in our first reading was about God preparing a banquet for all people (Isa 25:6-10), a banquet of fine wine. While it could refer to the feast at the end of time in heaven, it could also be seen referring to what God did for us in Jesus through the Church. As more and more Gentiles entered the Church the Lord removed the veil covering all peoples. Isaiah’s word from God was that in the future not just the Jews would be the Chosen People but all peoples would be chosen and invited to God’s banquet. At this banquet prepared for all peoples Isaiah saw a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. This prophecy of fine wine was fulfilled in the very first miracle of Jesus at the wedding in Cana when Jesus changed the water into wine (John 2:1-11). When Jesus performed the miracle at Cana it meant the Old Testament prophecies about the future Messiah were now beginning to be fulfilled and after Pentecost all peoples would be welcomed into the Church to taste this wine.
The parable of the royal banquet is a parable about the Kingdom of God and about the people who will eventually belong to it. It is also the first of three parables that challenge the legitimacy of the Jewish leadership. The parables all contrast the true Israel with the attitudes and lives of the Pharisees, demonstrating the claims of the Pharisees as false. In addition, the Parable of the Royal Banquet and the Wedding Garment is Jesus’ interpretation of the History of Salvation. It is also one of the three parables of judgment or “rejection parables” that Jesus told in the Temple of Jerusalem during the last week of his public life, addressing the “chief priests and elders of the people”, i.e., their religious and civic leaders. This parable was delivered by Jesus; on his last visit to the Temple on what we know as the Tuesday of Holy Week. The encounter was part of the Master’s last confrontation with those who saw Jesus as their enemy, before they had him arrested. The actual parable is the disturbing story of a King Who celebrated the wedding feast of His Son. When the important guests who had been invited refused to come, He brought street people in to take their places. Here, Jesus combines the parable of the marriage feast with another rabbinic parable, the parable of the wedding garment.
Last week we have seen the parable of the landlord and the wicked tenants, this too, is an allegory unfolding the whole of salvation history. The parable was intended to be a fitting reply to the accusation that Jesus was unfit to teach because He was mingling with the publicans and sinners. It also answers the question of Jesus’ authority to teach in the Temple of Jerusalem. Jesus hints in the parable that he is befriending the sinners and preaching the Good News of God’s salvation to them because the scribes and Pharisees have rejected him and his message, while the sinners have accepted him wholeheartedly. That is why he compares God to a King who gives orders to invite the ordinary folk from the waysides as guests for his son’s royal banquet. Jesus also declares that the source of his authority is God his Father Who has sent His Son to preach the Good News of Salvation. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells this parable in reply to the statement made by one of his listeners: “Blessed are those who are invited to take part in the Messianic Banquet in Heaven.” This parable is based on the Jewish marriage customs of Jesus’ day and contains both a local and a universal lesson.
The universal call and rejection of the Jews: The “good and bad” (v. 10), in the parable constitute the mixed memberships of the Church: the sinners and the righteous. The people in the highways and the byways stand for the sinners and the Gentiles, who never expected an invitation into the Kingdom. Since this parable was directed to the chief priests and elders, Jesus contrasts their rigid observance of the Law with the open-hearted generosity expressed by the King: “Invite everyone you find.” This is obviously more than a story about a king and a banquet. It is the story of Salvation History in which God sent prophets and Christian evangelists with Good News. The first-invited are now rejected, but strangers are accepted. In other words, the Gentiles have replaced the Jews who refused to respond to Yahweh’s call. This was the way that first-century Christians looked at the Jewish rejection of Jesus.
Even though Isaiah’s prophecy about all being invited to taste the wine in the banquet (Isa 25:6) of the Church open to all people is now fulfilled, there is a warning at the end of the parable in the Gospel. The king noticed someone at the wedding banquet not wearing the wedding garment and ordered him to be thrown out (Matt 22:11-14). We can understand this to mean that the man was not living a good life, he was not living like one invited by God to his banquet. In the Book of Revelation we are told that the Bride of the Lamb, the Church, wears a clean white linen garment which is the righteous deeds of the holy ones (Rev 19:8). Yes we are all invited to the feast in the kingdom of heaven but we are to come to the feast properly dressed, living good lives that show we are worthy to be invited to that feast.
He demands the bridal dress, which is charity and love. “All of us are invited to be Lord’s guests, to enter with faith in his banquet, but we must wear and guard the bridal dress, charity, and live a deep love for God and the neighbor” (Pope Francis). This dress is symbolically woven of two woods, one is vertical and the other is horizontal: the love for God and the love for the neighbor. All of us are invited to be Lord’s dining companions and to enter through faith in his banquet, but we must wear and guard the bridal dress: charity, which is the measure of our faith. We cannot separate prayer, the encounter with God in the Sacraments, from the proximity to the neighbor and above all to his suffering.
We need to be grateful to Christ for the invitation to the Heavenly banquet: From the moment of our Baptism, we have been invited to the Heavenly banquet and provided with the wedding garment of sanctifying grace. These are great privileges and blessings freely given to us by a loving God. But the same obstacles, which prevented the Pharisees from entering the Kingdom, can equally prevent us too. They are pride, love of this world, its wealth and its pleasures. Hence, we must be prepared to make the right decisions, which will help us to remain faithful to the commandments of God and offer ourselves in love and service to Jesus and to his people. That is how we will make our wedding garment clean and bright every day. The parable ends on a slightly pessimistic note: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” It is a sad fact that, although everyone is called to experience the love of God, relatively few will really try to follow His teachings. The Eucharist that we celebrate is a banquet in which he feeds us with his own body and blood to give us life. A day is going to come when we will join him to celebrate the heavenly Eucharist, in which we will see him face to face.