Opening the Word: Many are invited, few are chosen

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The man without a wedding garment. An etching by Jan Luyken. Public domain

The parables of Jesus Timothy P O'Malley , to the attentive listener, are often haunting. The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding feast that a king throws for his son. The king issues an invitation to the wedding of the year, but none of the invited guests want to come. Not only do they refuse the summons, but they also kill the servants who came to deliver the invitation.

The parable moves on quickly from this act of violence, a reference to the death of the prophets, to Jesus himself and the apostles. The king then widens the circle of invitees, combing the highways and the byways for guests. The king makes no distinction between good and bad guests — all are invited.

October 11 – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 25:6-10
Ps 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Phil 4:12-14, 19-20
Mt 22:1-14

Jesus is drawing on the rich image of the wedding banquet in the prophet Isaiah. The wedding feast that will unfold on the mountain of the Lord includes guests from all the nations. There will be wine and food. All that divides the nations will be destroyed. Every people and nation will be united in their adoration of the living God.

The kingdom of heaven, according to Jesus, is this wedding feast. But just as you hear the harps begin to play, Jesus interrupts. Yes, everyone is invited to the wedding feast — both good and bad. But Our Lord describes a guest who has not arrived with a wedding garment. He has come unprepared.

The king confronts him. The man could have said anything, offered any excuse. But he remains silent before the accusation. It is a bitter silence, a suppression of speech on the part of a guest who refuses to speak a word of gratitude for the invitation or lament for his transgression.

The king responds by offering a final judgment, throwing him into the outer darkness. The parable concludes with Jesus speaking these chilling words: “Many are invited, but few are chosen” (Mt 22:14).

The universality of the kingdom of heaven is not just something to rejoice in but a responsibility for those who have been invited to the wedding banquet. Christianity is not the religion for “nice people” who do “good things.” Rather, it is the response of men and women to the surprising invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb.

The invitation exceeds our capacity to respond. What an act of love revealed upon the cross! What love bestowed to us in the Blessed Sacrament! How can we be grateful enough for what we have received from Our Lord?

Many are invited. Let us not suppose that accepting the invitation is enough. Every woman and man is invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb. What is needed on our part is preparation. We must put on our wedding garment of holiness, of righteousness and justice.

Dear friends, Jesus speaks to us through this parable today, because the time to wear the wedding garment is now. The king is coming to examine the good and bad guests of this feast. There will be a judgment for each one of us.

If Catholicism has become boring to us — old hat, a series of pious rites we perform Sunday after Sunday — it is time to clean and repair the wedding garment of our desire for God.

It is not enough just to be among those at the wedding. Our sanctification requires us to give up the bitter silence of ingratitude and speaks words of lament and praise to the triune God.

The wedding feast is here. Prepare your garment.

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

Timothy P. O'Malley

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.