Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“And Jesus answered and spoke unto them again in parables and said, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a certain king, . . . .’”
We are reminded here again today that our Lord’s use of parables is intended to convey the truth of a reality beyond us. He uses earthly imagery like farmers and fields and treasure hunts and vineyards and tenant-landlord relationships and, today, a king and his subjects and a wedding feast to communicate the heavenly reality we are bound for and which we now already partake of. We take note, however, that unlike our fairy tales that often begin, “Once upon a time . . . .,” the truth spoken by our Lord is not make believe but a reality present to us. The Kingdom of Heaven exists and is. Period.
Last week, if you recall, it was a vineyard well prepared by “’a certain householder;’” this morning, it is the marriage of the son of “’a certain king.’” Last week, it was ungrateful, self-indulgent tenant-farmers who drove away the householder’s servants sent to them; today, it is ungrateful and obtuse subjects (maybe even the king’s peers) who blatantly ignore the joyous summons of the king to attend his son’s wedding feast. It was bad enough for some to make light of so singular an invitation, treating it with contempt and of little importance. But, others dared to rise up in protest, to riot and attack those sent by the king, even to murder them! All over a summons to “come and dine” at the king’s expense! Needless to say, these are extreme reactions that defy rational explanation. Indeed, there are no explanations for this vulgar and obscene response by those invited. There is at play here more than impoliteness, more than bad taste, social faux pas, or absence of simple courtesy. There is rebellion in the depths of those demented souls. Their hearts are full of coiled serpents ready to strike, as some of our ascetic Fathers would describe it. They are utterly joyless, afflicted with terminal thanklessness, and are infected with self-inflation.
So, what does the king do? Just like the householder in last Sunday’s parable of the vineyard, he dispatches his armies and puts down the rebellion and riots, the murder and the mayhem. But, as severe a judgment as this is, it is nonetheless a just and righteous response by the king. However, let’s set that aside for the moment and see what else the king did. He does what the householder did, didn’t he? Others are invited in place of those who were disinherited, if you will, by their own free will choices. He sends his servants to scour the highways and to gather in a harvest of souls ill-clad and ill-suited. They fetch both good and bad alike, all whom they find on their travels. Those outside the banquet originally are now invited to share in the king’s joy at the wedding of his son, to come dine, to eat and drink, to relish and delight in the goodness of the king. All who are found – good and bad alike – are guests of the king who makes no distinction. Here in this parable the teaching of our Lord elsewhere is solidified, “’The last shall be first, and the first shall be last. For many are called, but few are chosen’” (Mt. 20:16). Here the prophecy of our Panagia is fulfilled,
‘My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. . . He hath shown strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away’ (Lk. 1:46-55).
But, this doesn’t end the parable, does it? Unlike our fairy tales, all do not live happily ever after in the glory of the king and his kingdom. There is one soul who, for any number of reasons, is found by the king who has come to see his guests to be ill-clad still, without proper attire for so great an event. It is an insult comparable to those who had rebelled and murdered the first time around. And this soul, unbeknownst to himself or perhaps not even caring, stands on the verge of judgment. The king approaches him and asks with all due respect and dignity (in stark contrast to the disrespect of this improperly outfitted soul), “’Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.” We can well imagine the scared deer in the headlights look on the man’s face. Whatever the reason for his being ill-fitted, he was now defenseless in the presence of the king.
In the culture of that day and age like many other cultures, it would never have occurred to anyone to simply show up in casual daily attire or work clothes at so great an occasion as a marriage feast. It demanded your best and finest befitting the occasion and it respected the one who invited you. And, if you didn’t have anything presentable to don, the host would have a garment suitable for the event, much like a fine restaurant that might have a necktie or dining jacket or a shawl available. This guest, like those before him, had treated the king and his feast with the contempt of nonchalance and mediocrity. And the king threw him out, bound hand and foot, into the outer darkness outside the light of the kingdom where the “dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie” are, according to St. John the Theologian in his Revelation (Rv. 22:16). I can’t help but wonder, if the man had repented, had confessed his sin and humbled himself under the mighty hand of the king, would the king had forgiven him, absolved him of his grave error and made him right and new? Jesus doesn’t say. But, I suspect the outcome would have been very different.
Beloved, the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God is like this. That’s what our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ says. Israel was displaced or disinherited when they rejected the Son of God the King sent to them. Indeed, as St. Paul declares, they crucified the Lord of Glory (1 Cr. 2:8). Not only did they crucify their true and rightful King, but they brutalized His servants sent repeatedly to them to announce the great Marriage Supper of the Son of God the King. “’O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,’” Jesus laments at the very thought,
‘the one who kills the Prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; . . . .’ (Mt. 23:37-39; Lk. 13:34-35).
“’But you were not willing!’” How profound an indictment against those beloved by God Who had chosen them from among the many and loved them with so great a love. But they were not willing! Are we? Are we willing, both good and bad alike, who now stand in their place or will we follow after them, repeating history? God invites us, good and bad, to the Marriage Supper of His Son, to the feast of the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world for the life of the world (1 Pe. 1:13-21; Rv. 13:8). In fact, St. Paul tells us in Corinthians that we are betrothed to one Husband to be presented “as a chaste virgin to Christ.” But he fears for us and for our salvation that “the serpent who deceived Eve by his craftiness” may deceive even us, “so that your minds,” he says, ‘may be corrupted from the simplicity [purity] that is in Christ” (2 Cr. 11:2-3). In another setting, the Apostle calls us – the Church – the Bride of Christ Who is the Bridegroom (Ep. 5:22-33). He has loved His wife – us – with a love immeasurable, laying down His very life for us sinners! And, we, in turn, are to are to love Him as a bride her bridegroom, submitting to our Lord in good faith.
However, do we not run the risk like some of those in the parable, of putting God’s summons to come to the Feast set before us here in the Eucharist which, as the Church has always understood, to be the Banquet of the King’s Son, the Marriage feast of the Lamb, as of secondary importance? Do we not run the risk of making that which is the Mystery of Mysteries common place so that the things of life take priority while the very things of Eternal Life take a backseat? “’But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his farm, and another to his merchandise.’” What is it about the Lord’s Day and the Feast par excellence of the Kingdom we see as non-obligatory and uncompelling so much so that we permit other things to take its place and capture our time and our attention? Is Sunday – the Day of the Lord’s Kingdom Meal – is Sunday optional for us Christians? Can anything else substitute for its greatness and grace in our lives? When Jesus says to us, “’[S]eek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,’” what do we think He meant except that His Kingdom trumps the kingdom of this world, even the kingdom of our lives (Mt. 6:33; Lk. 12:31)? It is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit we have been called to and given and are being given and will be given if we hold fast in the fear of God and stay the course in faith, hope, and love (Lk. 12:32-34). “’Tell them that are bidden, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; . . . Come unto the marriage.”’”
What is different about this parable today, compared to last week’s, is the garment. It is the garment that matters and whether or not we are willingly clothed with the garment necessary for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Hopefully, we understand that we have no garment suitable to bring with us to the wedding feast. Nothing in our closets, either spiritual or otherwise, will do, so great is the occasion before us. In our pre-Communion prayers, we confess and acknowledge our severe inadequacy and inability to properly dress ourselves: “If I dare to approach Thee among the worthy, my garment will accuse me, for it does not befit Thy Supper, and so I will secure the condemnation of my very sinful soul” (Troparion). We need a garment fit for the Kingdom, worthy of the Kingdom Feast. We need a garment of the King and His Kingdom.
And what is that garment? For some of our holy Fathers, it is the very garment bestowed upon us and to us in our Baptism, that is, when we put on Christ Who is the garment of salvation and our robe of righteousness (Is. 61:10; Ga. 3:27). We are instructed to bring this robe unstained to the Judgment. For others, it is as the Apostle says in that scene from Revelation of the Marriage of the Lamb. “’His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints’” (Rv. 14:13; 19:7-8). And, finally, for still some others, the garment is the robe of love. For it is love that hides or covers a multitude of sins, says Sacred Scripture (Pr. 10:12; 1 Pe. 4:8).
For my money, it is all of the above for none are apart from the others in the life of the Christian. There is no need for us to “pay your money and make your choice” as one of my old college profs was wont to say when faced with such choices. For those called to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb live by faith in the Son of God Who saved them in love, and He, in turn, lives in them and through them with “faith working through love” (Hk. 2:4; Ga. 2:20; 5:6; 1 Pe. 2:15-16).
“Therefore, brethren,” says St. Peter,
be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Pe. 1:10-11).
“’Blessed are those who are called to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb!’” (Rv. 19:9).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
2 Cr. 1:21-2:4Mt. 22:1-14