28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, Oct 12, 2014, Isa 25:6-10a, Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6, Phil 4:12-14, 19-20, Matt 22:1-14
THE Kingdom of Heaven is often presented as a sumptuous feast. Imagine a table full of the choicest fare, pleasant music in the background and all the guests thoroughly enjoying themselves. The image of the banquet is prominent in today’s liturgy. But wait a minute, here comes the King and he doesn’t look too happy. He goes up to one chap and asks, “How did you get in here, my friend, without a wedding garment?” And the man was silent. 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.” It all sounds a bit dramatic. All because he wasn’t wearing a wedding garment. So the million dollar question is this – what is the wedding garment?
In interpreting the symbol of the wedding garment we can look at various meanings or senses of the Sacred Scripture. The literal sense tells us the man was not wearing the kittel, the white robe used to celebrate weddings. The allegorical sense recognizes the symbolic value of the wedding garment such that it could represent baptism. The moral sense would suggest that the man had not acted justly. The anagogical sense places the parable in an eschatological context such as the last judgment and eternal life. A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses: The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith; The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny. [Editor’s note: Anagoge, also anagogy, is a mystical interpretation of a word, passage or text, esp. scriptural exegesis that detects allusions to heaven or the afterlife.–American Heritage Dictionary]
So what is the meaning of the wedding garment? Taking the various senses we can view the parable in the context of the here and now and also in the context of the Last Judgment. The man was lacking something which the others had, something important, which meant he was thrown out of the banquet. He was excluded from the Kingdom. What was he lacking?
We are not the first to ask this question. The Catholic Church has a great cloud of witnesses who have pondered the meaning of the sacred text long before us.
Saint Gregory the Great, who lived in the 6th century, wrote: “What should we understand then by the wedding garment, if not charity? Each of you who lives in the Church and believes in God has already entered the wedding banquet. But the one who does not take care of the grace of charity is the one who has come without the wedding garment. Please consider whether you have come to this wedding feast with the wedding garment. Examine your thoughts attentively. Weigh your hearts very carefully and see whether you don’t hate anyone, if there is no envy that inflames you against the happiness of another, if you are not thinking of damaging anyone with secret malice. See the king enters the wedding hall and observes the clothing of our heart. And to him whom he does not find clothed in charity, he says angrily: ‘Friend, how were you able to enter here without the wedding garment?’ It is worth noting dearest brothers that he calls this one friend and yet condemns him as if he has called him both friend and enemy at the same time. A friend in faith, an enemy in works. ‘And he was silent.’ that is — and one could not speak of this without pain — in the last severe judgment, all possible excuse will be gone because he who rebukes from outside will also be the voice of conscience who accuses the soul from within.”
The importance of charity is again highlighted in the document of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium: “He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity.” (Lumen Gentium 14). It is not enough to be simply a member of the Church. We need to persevere in charity. Jesus does not want only adorers or admirers – he seeks imitators. He wants us to enjoy the banquet of each day to the full.
Let us pray that in front of our Lord, the just judge, this day and at the end of our days we will not be found lacking in that which lasts forever, charity.