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The Wedding Feast, the Lamb, and the Kingdom

On the Readings for Sunday, October 11, 2020

Detail from "The Ghent Altarpiece: Adoration of the Lamb" by Jan van Eyck (circa 1390 –1441) [Wikipedia Commons]

• Isa 25:6-10a
• Psa 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
• Phil 4:12-14, 19-20
• Matt 22:1-14

It is impossible to overstate the importance of marriage as both an institution and a metaphor in the Bible. Marriage is depicted as a sacred bond in which a man and woman enter into a covenantal, nuptial bond and the “two of them become one body” (Gen 2:24). The relationship between God and his people is often depicted as a marriage, especially in the writings of the Old Testament prophets. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “Seeing God’s covenant with Israel in the image of exclusive and faithful married love, the prophets prepared the Chosen People’s conscience for a deepened understanding of the unity and indissolubility of marriage” (par 1611).

Many of the prophets—especially Isaiah and Ezekiel—wrote of a future time when God would finally free his people from oppression and suffering, and culminate his covenantal love in a joyful marriage feast. Today’s Old Testament reading is from a section known as “the apocalypse of Isaiah” (Isa 24-27), which describes the coming of God to destroy the enemies of his people and deliver, once and for all, Israel from the forces of evil. Isaiah described a “feast of rich food and choice wines” on Mount Zion in which “all peoples” partake; nations are united and all sorrow has ceased. This is the same wedding feast described by John the Revelator in his Apocalypse: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready (Rev 19:7ff).

However, in between the Old Testament prophecies and the future fulfillment there is the here and now. Yes, the kingdom is here, but has not yet been fulfilled and completed; the King has come, but has yet to come again in glory for all the world to see and acknowledge as King of kings (Rev 19:11-21).

The kingdom, Jesus told the chief priests and elders, is like a king who “gave a wedding feast for his son.” This invitation was not just a matter of social interest for Jews, but of immense responsibility. Those invited to such a marriage feast made certain their calendar was clear and that they attended. Failure to do so was not just a grave insult, but grounds for severe punishment. It was common for two invitations to be sent: the first to let guests know of the approaching marriage; the second on the cusp of the celebration, which would usually last a full week.

The guests in the parable, however, were indifferent or, even worse, hostile to the servants delivering the invitation. Those who were indifferent, wrote St. Gregory the Great, were caught up in worldly activities. “One person is concerned with earthly toil”, he wrote, “another devoted to the business of this world. Neither takes notice of the mystery of the Lord’s incarnation.” And, he adds, “They are unwilling to live in accordance with it.” The first guests are the people of Israel, blessed with the witness of the prophets, yet mostly unmoved by their message, if not openly antagonistic to it. The angry king—who is, of course, God—destroyed their city, a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70.

The invitation to the marriage feast is then extended to whomever the servants can find, a reference to the apostles preaching to the Gentiles. The new Israel, the Church, is aptly described as containing “bad and good alike”. But those who think all goes well at this point are in for a surprise. The king angrily questions a guest who is without a “wedding garment”, and then casts the speechless man into “the darkness outside”. Indifference, again, is a problem, but the deeper issue is that of unworthiness.

Many are called, but it is those who are faithful, filled with charity, “holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27; cf Matt 7:21), who are chosen. The marriage supper of the Lamb awaits, but we must be clothed with “righteous deeds” (Rev 9:8).

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the October 9, 2011, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1207 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.

1 Comment

  1. In the Gospel : Matthew 22:1-14
    God is like a king who invites us to a banquet. Many refused their invitation so his slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so, the wedding hall was filled with guests.

    ‘The anonymous guest, someone from “the main highways,” perhaps homeless, almost certainly destitute, where was such a one to come on a festive robe?

    If we transfer this statement onto the spiritual plane, it could be said the homeless and destitute are those who have lost their home (Church) and are ensnared in evil situations and need spiritual help now, in the present moment.

    I was about twelve years old when I first recollected hearing this parable, but could not understand how not having a wedding garment could result in such harsh dealings with the individual concerned, which caused me a great deal of distress and anxiety at the time, as I took the parable given by Jesus at face value, thinking possible he had no way of providing himself with one and so I could not understand this cruelty.

    About fifty years later I read somewhere on the internet, of the Jewish custom at the beginning of the first century AD, of the Father of the groom providing wedding garments free of charge for the invited guests, so I now realise that those who originally heard this parable would have known instantly that the custom of the day was that the wedding garment was provided ‘free’ of charge, and had to be worn no matter how well one’s own apparel may be, dignitaries, etc. would conform to this custom as did those with poor apparel, not to do so would be an affront to the Bridegroom.
    This garment also created equality (mutual respect) amongst the guests.

    I now believe that the name of this garment is humility; we can deduce this because we are told that one of the guests had no garment, to those hearing this parable they would have instantly concluded that he was arrogant, by refusing to wear the free customary garment of compliance offered to him.
    He wanted to be accepted on his own terms, as he was, in his own/self-image (ego). He was gagged, (his opinion no longer able to contradict (offend) God), his stance so offensive that he was bound hand and foot and thrown into the darkness never to be able to repeat the same action again.

    This reflection has drawn me back to the original time when I first heard the parable. It appears that my prayer and anxiety at the time, concerning the individual who had been thrown out, gagged, bound hand and foot, into the darkness, had now been answered, as I now understood the parable. Also I had been given the means, The True Image of Divine Mercy an image of Broken Man, to play my part to draw anyone who cannot take part in His Wedding Feast (Holy Communion) to come in from the darkness unfettered, dressed in humility and partake of His table.

    The core of the ongoing challenge in all of the gospels is one of spiritual enlightenment, as in “repent” ~ to change direction (the transformation of the human heart). This can only come about in wearing the wedding garment of humility, before our Father in heaven.

    “The wedding garment is sanctifying grace”, (C.f. Rite of Baptism)
    while only humility can ensure that we remain dressed in it.

    Please consider continuing this refection on humility (St. Bernard – Humility is a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself.” See link

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

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