August 20, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus’ parables: The king’s wedding feast

John F. Fink(Twelfth in a series of columns)

Several of Jesus’ parables concerned weddings and those who participate in them.

Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 22:1-14) reports on the parable of the wedding feast. Luke (Lk 14:15-24) has the same story, with a few different details, but he doesn’t say that the feast involves a wedding. However, the wedding part isn’t important. It is the feast that matters.

Jesus wasn’t the first person to compare heaven with a feast. Seven centuries earlier, the prophet Isaiah included this passage: “The Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and pure, choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (Is 25:6).

Jesus used the analogy earlier in his ministry when he said, “Many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8:11).

And in the epilogue of the final book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, we have another allusion to a wedding: “The Spirit and the bride [that is, the Church] say, ‘Come’ ” (Rv 22:17).

In this parable, Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven can be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. However, those invited refused to come. Some simply ignored the invitation, but some got violent, even killing the servants who were sent to invite them to the feast. (A bit drastic, don’t you think?) So the king retaliated and destroyed the murderers. Then he told his servants to go out into the streets and bring in anyone they could find.

So far so good. We can understand that Jesus was referring to the way the Jews treated the prophets. It is similar to the parable of the tenants, which Jesus told just before this parable. God is the king, Jesus is the king’s son, the Jews are those originally invited to the feast, and we are the people gathered from the streets. The Pharisees understood that the previous parable, which involved the killing of a landowner’s servants, referred to them, and they knew that this one did, too.

But what has that to do with us? First, our invitation to the heavenly banquet is clearly undeserved, like those brought in from the streets. It’s a gift from God. But, besides that, there’s the fact that Jesus didn’t end his parable with the servants bringing in guests from the streets.

He said that, when the king went in to meet the guests, he found a man not dressed for a wedding, “not dressed in a wedding garment” (Mt 22:11). So he had his servants bind the man’s hands and feet and cast him outside.

That is where the parable affects us. The wedding garment represents the repentance and change of heart and mind that Jesus preached must be a condition for entrance into the kingdom of heaven, and this must be continued in a life of good deeds. The lesson is that anyone who lacks the wedding garment of contrition and good deeds will suffer final condemnation. †

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