Posted by Thaddaeus
Matthew 22: 1-14
Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.”‘ Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Background: These are some of the last words of Jesus shortly before His passion and death. Jesus continues to call the Pharisees and religious leaders to conversion. By the time Matthew writes this parable of Jesus in 85 AD, Jesus has died, Jerusalem has been burned by the Romans and the Gentiles have been invited into the kingdom. On one level the parable emphasizes that the Jews who refused to believe in Jesus will be excluded from the kingdom. Matthew is also emphasizing to his Church followers that the same goes for them. That is, we are not saved though baptism alone. The wedding garment is charity. Those who have been baptized in faith, but are lacking in works of charity, will suffer the same fate as those Jews who rejected Jesus. Faith and works go hand in hand. Jesus’ warning that, “Many are invited, but few are chosen” for eternal life is the essence of the Church’s teaching about merit.
The Parable of the Wedding Feast: Merit is a difficult and misunderstood theological concept. The Church teaching is that we cannot merit salvation. The means of salvation is Jesus’ death and resurrection. He died for us that we might have eternal life through baptism. However, salvation and eternal life are not mutually exclusive terms. In the present Church there are ones who are not faithful as symbolized by the man not dressed in a wedding garment. Ones who have faith in the Church, but not charity. The wedding garment is the grace of the Holy Spirit. The main focus of the parable is the response or lack of response of the invited guests. It underlines the importance living holy lives worthy of the kingdom we are called to through the sacraments of the Church. The wedding garment is a symbol of our righteous deeds after we have been shown God’s mercy. Deeds that are in response to God’s mercy.