28th Sunday of the Year
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son…” Matt 22:2
There is nothing perhaps more universal in human societies than the celebration of a marriage banquet with a feast, entertainment and the close company of relatives and friends. Wedding banquets are enjoyed by virtually everyone in every culture.
How interesting it is then that Jesus would describe the Kingdom of Heaven by using a parable about a great wedding banquet given by a king for his son. That basic setting of the parable teaches us that Heaven really is, in fact, the greatest of wedding feasts, provided by God for His Son, Jesus, and for us. Successful and happy wedding banquets in this world are joyful and exhilarating, provide great food, great company, music, and conversation. What, then, must this eternal, heavenly wedding feast be like that is the setting for the eternal happiness of the Angels and Saints? Obviously, it can’t be less joyful or less exhilarating, or less happy than the greatest earthly wedding feast. It has to provide joy, happiness, and exhilaration raised to the nth degree, an experience of “life” that we can only begin to imagine here on earth, as St. Paul teaches in I. Cor 2:9, assuming that we have known the joy, happiness and exhilaration of such a great feast here on earth.
St. Paul comments on this unparalleled joy and happiness of the Heavenly wedding banquet this way: “no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceive the things God has prepared for those who love him” (I. Cor 2:9) All this, and it’s unending as well, never flagging, never less joyful or happy.
Well, then, in the parable we might ask who are the main players in this wedding banquet? It is the father, and then the son, of course, for whom the banquet is given and how then does this apply to the Heavenly feast of beatitude? Obviously the one who provides the eternal banquet is the Father and He provides it for His Eternal Son who has become man. But who is the Bride, we might ask? This fact is not mentioned explicitly but is perhaps suggested by the invitation to the guests and their vicious rejection of the invitation.
The parable being understood in the context of Kingdom, the invited can also be seen to be identified with the bride of the Heavenly Kingdom, that is, we are the bride, that is, the Church is the invited and the Bride of Christ. The parable teaches that in Heaven, the Church will be the invited and the bride of Christ, but it will consist only of the saints who have proven faithful to the Bridegroom here on earth. In another perspective, there are no guests in the end at this wedding feast, but only the Bride and Groom. But, there are indeed countless persons present, the invited who have accepted and come, and the Bride is finally constituted by all the faithful who are judged worthy of the Bridegroom and His Kingdom.
Human Marriage was, from the beginning, intended by God to be a natural sign of the eternal union between God and man in the person of Jesus Christ and ultimately a sacramental sign of the union between Christ and His Church. That is precisely why Jesus eleavted natural marriage into a Christian marriage, which becomes a true sacrament of grace, for in truth all grace comes to this world from the union between Christ and His Church. Moreover, Genesis says that by virtue of marriage man and woman become one flesh. And that mystery reaches unheard of depths when Jesus becomes one flesh with the Church, that is, when she becomes His Bride through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The guest becomes the bride and the union is eternal.
Going a bit further, the mystery of the union between Christ and His Church, the mystery of becoming their one flesh, can be seen again in the food of the Banquet. In the first readingtoday, Isaiah speaks of the messianic banquet as “A feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” [25:6] In addition he prophecies that this great banquet will not be limited to Israel, for Isaiah adds that On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide [this feast] for all peoples. Finally, what must this eternal rich food and choice wine actually be that will be given on the mountain? For that answer we turn to St. Paul who teaches us that this food and wine are something spiritual, for Paul says in his Letter to the Romans (14:17) “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” That rich food is the Triune God.
And that truth interestingly brings us back to earth. For we know that there is already a sacrificial banquet of the Church that is deeply spiritual in nature, providing the rich food of Christ’s body and the choicest wine of Christ’s blood. The Eucharist we celebrate, then, has to be understood correctly as the beginning of the eternal wedding feast of Heaven, and thus the Heavenly eternal wedding feast that we have been looking at actually begins already here on earth and then reaches its fullness only in Heaven. There it will be unending, eternal, endless joy and happiness; no going back into the world. Here it is only beginning, a foretaste, a promise of what is to come, so long as we remain part of the feast here on earth.
The Church, then, in her Eucharistic banquet is not only the Bride of Christ but the new Zion, the new mountain of God from which and through which God is in fact already fulfilling this promise to prepare a feast for His Son and to bring guests from all the nations to that feast of salvation, and make them His Bride. Thus, the Eucharist is wonderfully the beginning of the great heavenly banquet, offering to God joyful adoration and to man the richest food and wine, which is the sacred body and blood of Jesus the Bridegroom.
Once you truly believe in this magnificent work of God and begin to live this truth at the banquet of the Eucharist, you begin to understand why for Paul, in today’s second reading, nothing is really necessary for his own happiness except Christ. Sure we need food and clothing because we are not spirits without bodies, but even these things are nothing in comparison to the blessing we have already received in Christ, nothing compared to our faith which enables us to receive Christ in our hearts, and in our very bodies through the Eucharist.
But returning to the parable, the only thing that we need fear is that we might grow bored by the banquet of the Eucharist, lose our interest in the Bread of Life and end up rejecting the invitation of the Father to that heavenly feast because our business or our leisure or our rest seems more important than the wedding feast. How many Catholics have done just that today, abandoned the Eucharist, then abandoned the Church which is the Bride of Christ?
The parable is a warning that we must not grow careless and allow ourselves to grow cold, to become lax and find ourselves unprepared to enjoy the heavenly banquet due to our care-less attitude toward participation in the Eucharistic banquet here on earth. Recall here Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins, where the five lazy and careless servants are late for the banquet and find themselves locked out. Whenever I hear that parable I always think of how it might apply partially to people who are frequently careless about getting to Church on time. What does it say about their love for the Bridegroom when they show up late or leave early week after week? Perhaps it says the motive is not love so much but just a sense of duty, like attending a funeral or wedding of someone we don’t particularly care about, but feel a duty to attend. Is this the way we will show up at that final Heavenly banquet? Does not such carelessness eventually destroy one’s love for the Bridegroom and the Bride?
Nor must be become presumptuous like the man at the end of the parable who shows up, but is not dressed rightly for the banquet. Some Fathers interpreted this wedding garment, correctly I think, as the Baptismal grace which is symbolized by the white garment placed over the newly Baptized. One cannot even enter the Heavenly banquet without this Baptismal garment of grace, and it is presumptuous to think we can enter the eternal wedding feast without Grace. It is indeed an insult to the King and to the Bride and Groom.
There is no greater privilege that we receive in this life than our calling to participate in the Holy Eucharist, not simply as a guest, but as part of the Bride, part of the Church. Should we not be doing this with great love and purity of heart, and not simply out of a sense of duty? Love is the real power of the wedding feast of Jesus. Surely nothing is more important for our salvation than the Eucharistic Banquet each week. This act of worship is truly a feast of sacrificial love, a feast of great interior and hopefully exterior joy, at least for those who truly believe in the One Who invites us and Who makes us His Bride, His children, His Church.