Here we have another story with intent or rather a parable in the form of an allegory. An allegory is a story whose details or actions illustrate or tell about something quite different. Each element of an allegory possesses its own distinct meaning, which is determined by something outside the story.
Here again the kingdom is still described as a banquet. It is a little more difficult to unpack the story both because of the method and nature of the parable. It is also less popular than many other parables because of its theme of vengeance. Those who were supposed to attend the banquet are too preoccupied to come and other unexpected guests come to enjoy the feast. The expected are absent and the unexpected are present. This theme is often repeated in the teaching of Jesus. No one should take attendance at the Messianic Banquet for granted. Unfortunately many people do; they have made a decision; they belong to the right group; they belong to the right group; they have the right schooling and they have participated in numerous religious services and charitable events, so that they can now get on with their lives.
Proclamation of the kingdom is a challenge to respond to the invitation of God. We cannot have the kingdom exclusively on our own terms. Invitation brings with it demand. It is not enough to wear the right label rather the kingdom must shape the identity so that one has a whole different set of concerns. Given the abuse, in the Church’s history, of the statement “Compel them to come in” we should make sure that no one misunderstands. This statement has nothing to do with physical force; the focus of the text is on the urgency of the invitation.
We must reflect on judgement even if we are uncomfortable about it. Couldn’t God be just nice and hold no one accountable?
“Does the concept of judgement negate the power of the promise of salvation?” Without the concept of judgement, one does not even need salvation, and any urgency about life and its importance, about justice, or even about God is, if not lost, at least greatly diminished. Grace is only grace if the outcome should have been otherwise, and the significance of life depends on accountability for life. We may not like judgement, but it is a central and necessary message of both testaments and especially of Jesus’ teaching.
What about the wedding garment. Priests often refer to the white garment (the sticharion) which they wear under their vestments as a wedding garment. At baptism the candidate is clothed in a white robe. In both instances wearing the “wedding garment” represents taking on the life of goodness and righteousness. The invitation to the banquet is sent out to the bad and the good. A mixed bag of people is invited. Those who lack a wedding garment represent those who fail to live a life full of good works. We cannot be complacent about this. The concluding sentence is most instructive. Many/all are called to the banquet of the kingdom but few/not all are chosen/destined to enter.
Fr. Brian Kelty