Get Dressed for Eternity!

Father John A. Kiley

With all due respect, St. Matthew seems to be writing with two different quills in this coming Sunday’s Gospel passage about a royal wedding feast. The nuptial banquet was guaranteed to be a splendid spread: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.” When the local nobility declined his regal invitation, the king extended his largesse to everyone in the realm: “Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.” The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.
The bountiful generosity of the matrimonial meal and the extended liberality of the guest list might bring to the pious mind the words of Isaiah read in this Sunday’s first reading: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” So the Gospel passage makes welcome “all they found, bad and good alike” and Isaiah’s prophecy foresees a lavish repast “provided for all peoples.” Even this Sunday’s psalm response concludes on a most kindly note: “Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.” So parable and prophecy and psalm all seem to agree: everyone is invited to heaven.
The salvation won by Jesus Christ on the Cross is indeed made available to everyone. The universality of salvation is integral to the Christian Creeds: “for us men and for our salvation.” Every man and woman has the blissful prospect of eternal happiness. But there is no reassurance that every man or woman will take advantage of Jesus’ saving sacrifice. And that is where segment II of the royal wedding parable thickens the plot. Some Scripture scholars have considered that the Gospel writer was dealing with two separate parables here. The one highlights God’s largesse in inviting all mankind, worthy or unworthy, to the eternal banquet of heavenly happiness. The other cautions believers that a wedding garment (uniquely stitched with eternal truth and communal love) is required to sit at the wedding feast of the Lamb, enjoying the Royal Presence forever. The spiritually naked, alas, will be cast into the outer darkness to wail and growl for eternity.
St. Matthew had already raised the ominous possibility of eternal damnation when he advised the Roman centurion whose servant had been healed: “I say to you, 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, but the children of the kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” Again, the ambivalence of many coming from the east and the west (universality) and the children being driven out (unworthiness) are well worth pondering. Which final scene will today’s reader face? And just in case the opulent banquet imagery has obscured the reader’s appreciation of a final judgment, St. Matthew portentously adds, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
The contemporary world has absolutely no time for judgment. “Who are you to judge me,” the errant believer counters when advised of some unacceptable conduct. Even so-called average Catholics are touchy when reminded that the world’s standards are not Christian standards. A repeated failure to attend Mass, an indifference toward religious education, a shrugging off of errant political views, a broad acceptance of sexual misconduct, a watching of low level entertainments: these missteps have all become part and parcel of daily living for many “invited” to the banquet.
But if the “invited” truly expect to remain among the “chosen,” then they should take quite seriously the directions of St. Paul who writes to the Ephesians in bold sartorial metaphor: “Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
The invitation to eternal life has been broadly announced; the response should not be left on the coat rack — get dressed for eternity!