The Gospel. St. Matthew 22:1
At that time: Jesus said; The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son. And he sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding, and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying: tell them which are bidden: Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise; and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth, and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants: the wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all, as many as they found, both bad and good, and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment. And he saith unto him: Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants: Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.
In my secular occupation, I learned various techniques related to the art of public speaking. One of the first rules of public speaking is to know your audience. Having an understanding of the culture and educational level of the people to whom you are speaking allows one to tailor the message in such a way as to be most meaningful to your listeners. The same principles hold true for the written word; the language, syntax, and anecdotal examples that one may use in their writing should be crafted in such a way that the readers can relate to the message according to their own experience. Today’s Gospel lesson is one such example.
The parable that St. Matthew relates to us is one that is very familiar; the parable of the marriage feast. We might recall that a very similar parable is told in the fourteenth chapter of St. Luke; a man prepares a great banquet, and he invites many people. Most, if not all decline the invitation, and the man then invites those of lower estate, to the end that his house may be full when the banquet is served.
But there are some very significant differences in the two recitations of this parable; for one, there is the way in which both conclude. St. Luke ends his version with the words; “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my banquet”; while St. Matthew closes with; “For many are called, but few are chosen”.
But more significantly, there is the way that each Evangelist constructs the story; St. Luke seems to simplify the tale, telling only of a man preparing a banquet. And so Luke’s description seems to take on a kinder and gentler tone. But St. Matthew doesn’t appear to have any desire to be either kinder or gentler.
In Matthew’s rendering, it is not merely about a man who offers the banquet, as if he were just a neighbor or some local worthy, but rather the host is a king. And the meal that is being offered is not only a formal meal, but it is a marriage feast. Furthermore, Matthew specifies the special arrangements for the meal; the king’s oxen and fatted calves have been prepared. The banquet that Matthew describes is extraordinary indeed.
Additionally, there is the response of the invited guests. While the people in St. Luke’s version all demur for seemingly practical reasons, those same folk in St. Matthew’s Gospel are dismissive, almost derisive. Worst of all, some of those “potential guests” even went so far in their contempt that they killed the kings’ messengers.
Finally, Matthew adds the story of the man who accepted the invitation, but failed to come to the banquet properly dressed for the occasion. The king confronts the man, asking how he dared show up without the appropriate attire. And when the man stands speechless, the king has him bound and thrown out of his house.
Here it is now that we recall the different audiences to which our two evangelists wrote. St. Luke’s primary audiences were Gentile, or at best Jews who had lived their entire lives in Gentile countries. But the perspective from which St. Matthew wrote, and the audience to whom he was writing, was wholly and completely Jewish.
You see, when one closely examines the Gospel of St. Matthew, it becomes clear that the goal of the Evangelist is to give proof that this Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Messiah foretold in the Jewish Scriptures. Every event that Matthew relates about Our Lord’s life, his genealogy, his miracles, his parables, his Passion, Death and Resurrection, are told in a such a way that most any half-way educated Jew would recognize in this Jesus the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies. And along with the fulfillment of those prophecies, of course, came the fulfillment of the Jewish Law.
Throughout the New Testament we hear so many references to the Law that we become almost oblivious to the significant role that the Law plays in the whole miracle of the Incarnation. The Jews of that time believed that by keeping to all the tenants of the Law that they were not only doing God’s will, but that their piety in following the letter of the Law was the path to Salvation.
But the life and teachings of Jesus threw the proverbial monkey wrench into their thinking. The Jews thought that the fulfillment of the Law lay in their every day discipline and devotion; and to a certain point, this was true. But what they failed to realize was that the true Law was actually God’s Revelation of Himself to mankind, and likewise that the true fulfillment of that Law lay in His ultimate Revelation, in the person of His Only Begotten Son. And so, when that ultimate Revelation was presented to them, they rejected it.
This rejection was not without precedent. The Old Testament is rife with the stories of various prophets and kings, anointed by God, whom the people of Israel rejected. Likewise do we read, in those same stories, of the calamities that Israel suffered because of their rejection and rebellion against God’s Commandments.
This is the analogy that St. Matthew creates and builds upon in his recounting of the parable of the marriage feast. The king, God Himself, has prepared a great feast, our Eternal Salvation, in honor of the wedding of His Son, the Marriage of Christ to his Church.
And the all the arrangements have been made; He has given us His Covenant and His Law. Further, He has sent prophets whose lives were sacrificed in preparation for that final feast. And through those same prophets, He has invited all His Chosen people to come. And those whom He invited, His Chosen people, scorned the invitation.
The tone of this parable would have resonated with Matthew’s Jewish audience. First, there is the figure of the king; a figure of power and authority whom no man would dare deny. To reject his invitation would be a grave insult.
Next there is the calling to a marriage feast; this was no ordinary banquet, but an extraordinary day in the life of an extraordinary man; to refuse the invitation would have been a grave insult.
Additionally, there are the preparations made for the feast; we may assume that a king possessed the very best of everything. And so for a king to sacrifice the finest of his oxen and fatlings means that the food served at the banquet will be very special indeed. To reject the invitation to such a meal would have been a grave insult.
Further, the king sends his special servants to invite all to this extraordinary event. But even though these servants were the kings own, the invited people still reject him; worse, they treat the king’s special servants with disdain and kill them. This is another grave insult.
All of these analogies, a king, a marriage, a special banquet and the rejection by the people, were things that Matthew’s audience would have recognized and related to. All of these offences were violations of the Law that no pious Jew would ever have admitted to committing. But the fact was that they had indeed committed those offences; and like those people in the parable who had suffered the wrath of the king, so to would the Jews who had rejected God’s invitation and killed his prophet’s, suffer His Wrath. And less than forty years after Our Lord told this parable, the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans. This was Matthew’s not so kind-and-gentle message.
But lest we think that this message was directed only at the Jews, let me remind you of the last section of Matthew’s version of this parable; the man who came to dinner without the proper apparel. Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment? This part of the story, in particular, pertains both to Matthew’s Jewish audience and to us today.
First of all, for a pious Jew of Matthew’s time, it would have been scandalous to show up at a marriage feast without the proper clothing. It would have been unthinkable to have done so at a feast given by a king. Again, no proper Jew would ever admit to having done such a thing.
But, of course, Our Lord convicts certain of them of just such a thing. Oh sure, this group didn’t make light of the invitation; they didn’t dismiss it or ignore it. They certainly didn’t kill the messengers. But they treated the king disrespectfully and contemptuously nonetheless by failing to consider the banquet itself to be something special. Oh, they come, to be sure: they maintained the Law, avoided committing too many sins, made all their sacrifices at the proper times, and even tried to treat people nice. But in their hearts, they were very nonchalant about it. And believe me, when it comes to the Faith, the last thing you want to be is nonchalant. In Matthew’s recounting of this parable, the nonchalant offender is tied up and tossed out on his ear into the night. This is the part that speaks to us as well.
You see, it can become all too easy for us to become nonchalant about the Faith. The man in the parable thought it would be enough simply to show up at the banquet; apparently never giving it a thought that THIS WAS A MARRIAGE FEAST! IT WAS SPECIAL! THIS IS NO “COME AS YOU ARE” PARTY! YOU DON’T COME IN THE SAME CLOTHES YOU WOULD WEAR TO THE CAMEL MARKET! YOU ARE TO COME DRESSED IN YOUR BEST!
The same thing pertains to us, except for that camel market thing. When we come here to Church, we are NOT “JUST” coming to Church! We are accepting God’s invitation to His Son’s Marriage Feast. When we come to the altar rail, we are NOT “just receiving communion”, we are partaking of that special food, that best food, that God Himself has prepared for us; the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of His Son, the Lamb of God. Knowing all this, how could we possibly be nonchalant about it? How could we not come dressed in anything less that our “Sunday Best”?
But of course you know that I am not just talking about clothes here. No, I am talking about our Faith. When we come here to this place, to God’s Church, we must do so with all the reverence and respect that this place deserves. Further, we must approach our worship not only in the right frame of mind, but the right frame of heart as well. We must approach the worship of God and the profession of our Faith firm in the knowledge that this place and this time is special indeed. We must come here with fervent gratitude to our King for the banquet that he has prepared for us and that He has blessed us with His invitation. We must put on our Sunday Best, not only on the outside, but on the inside as well. We cannot afford to be nonchalant about this. After all, Our Lord has warned us about this repeatedly; “I would have you either hot or cold; for if you are lukewarm, I will spew you from my mouth”. “Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness”.
So, some of you might be wondering, “what does all of this have to do with knowing your audience”? Well, actually, that whole thing was a bit of a trick, because I made it seem as if the Jews, and later we here today, were actually Matthew’s audience. But that is only half-right; Oh, the audience I’ve identified are the right ones, but the identity of the presenter is where I’ve “mislead” a bit. You see, St. Matthew is just the scribe; Our Lord is the true author of this and all the other parables. And does here anyone think that Christ doesn’t know his audience?
Our King has prepared a marriage feast and he has seen fit to invite us. He has prepared His very best for us; to nourish and strengthen us. He has told us time and again how special we are to Him by sending his special messengers, His prophets, to bid us to this great feast. And in accepting this glorious invitation, we also accept the responsibility to bring ourselves to this feast properly prepared to worship Him and to give our thanks to Him for this great gift. That is the message that we should take from the Gospel today; that is the message that has been crafted for us, no matter who we are or were we come from or what school we went to. That is the message sent to us by Our Lord who knows each and every one of us, his audience, completely. For many are called, but few are chosen.