This Sunday we are presented with another parable of the kingdom of God.
A king prepares a lavish banquet for his son’s wedding and sends messengers to summon those who are invited. When they refuse, he sends other servants to serve the invitation. Again, they refuse; some give excuses while others mistreat and kill the servants. The king is enraged and orders to execute the murderers and burn their city. Seeing the banquet ready but empty of guests, he sends his messengers to the streets to gather everyone they can find until the banquet hall is filled.
Like the story of the vineyard (last Sunday’s gospel), today’s parable is an allegorical story of salvation history. The reference is obvious and straightforward. The king is God, the bridegroom is Jesus, and the invitation to the feast is the call to salvation and fulness of life (eternal life). Fittingly does the prophet Isaiah (first reading) describe the feast as one which serves the finest food and choicest wine and where the veil of mourning is broken for death is destroyed forever.
The Israelites are the first to be invited to the feast by God’s servants, the prophets. When his messengers are repeatedly rejected and persecuted, God punishes Israel by handing them and their city to the hands of foreign conquerors. God then sends new messengers, the apostles, to invite all peoples to the banquet.
So far, so clear. The story however ends with a sudden twist which is quite disturbing. The king notices a guest without the proper garment and orders him to be thrown out into the darkness “where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
Our initial reaction is one of surprise, if not protest. Is not the invitation given to everyone, “bad and good alike”? How then is a guest invited from the streets thrown out because he is not in proper attire? What does this mean?
We need to bear in mind that the parable is an allegory. An allegory applies to some specific aspects of the story and not to the story as a whole. As in many of the Lord’s parables (the darnel, the dragnet…), the allegory ends with an allusion to the final judgement, when the good and the bad are sorted out.
True, the call to salvation is universal. The kingdom of God is open for all, Jews and gentiles, saints and sinners, good and bad. Remember the powerful yell that resounded in Lisbon at the World Youth Day? “Todos! Todos! Todos!” Referring to todays’ gospel, Pope Francis affirms that God invites everyone to his banquet and that “in the Church there is room everyone, todos, todos, todos…”
One does not have to be good to enter the Church. Everyone is welcomed and is invested with the grace of God’s own life. But once inside, one is expected to allow himself to be transformed by the grace received and to live a life of righteousness befitting his dignity as a child of God and member of Christ’s Body. This life of righteousness is the wedding garment required by the king of everyone who partakes in the banquet.
It is in this context that Pope Francis responded to the question of a journalist on why women and gay people are not allowed to receive “all the sacraments”, if the Church is truly open for all (todos). The question was made in reference to ordination of women and marriage of gay couples. The Pope’s answer was simple and direct, “The Church is open for all, then there are rules that regulate life within the Church. And someone who is inside is [so] in accordance with the rules…”
We thank God for calling us to share in his banquet of life – his very life. Let us live and enjoy this life fully already here without waiting for eternity. Eternal life starts here. The King’s banquet is now served.