Perhaps some of you remember Buddy the dog. I am happy to report that he is doing well and thriving in his new home with my sister and her husband. I remember when he was here last year around this time how voracious his appetite was. That has not changed; if anything, it is even more voracious. One time I gave him a hot dog which I thought we would enjoy and savor for, I don’t know, maybe 10 seconds. He swallowed it whole! There was no savoring at all, just the fastest possible consumption, and then he looked at me clearly wanting more.
I suppose that’s one of the differences between animals and humans, at least in theory: when it comes to food, animals (especially dogs) just want to consume everything as fast as possible, while humans like to – or at least are able to – savor food and enjoy it over a nice long meal. Extravagant meals are a big part of just about every big celebration. Think especially of weddings, which are almost always followed by a big meal to which tens or hundreds of guests are invited (at least pre-Covid).
Big meals, including a wedding feast, show up in our first reading and our Gospel this Sunday. And both of these meals are given by the Lord himself. He invites to them, in the first reading from Isaiah, “all peoples”, and in our Gospel, first only “invited guests” and then basically anyone and everyone. And both of these meals are metaphors for heaven.
The meal the Lord provides in Isaiah is clearly a depiction of heaven: God has destroyed death forever; he has wiped the tears from all faces; he has destroyed the veil that veils all peoples. In heaven, there will be no more death, no more sorrow. The veil in this reading that the Lord removes is a burial shroud: the Lord banishes death and raises from the dead all those who have died holy deaths in Him. What a consoling reading this is, especially during our tense, anxious times. This reading is often read at funerals and is meant to give consolation to all those who mourn the loss of a loved one who has been claimed by death, and to remind them that this separation will only be temporary. It is a reminder to us that death does not have to be the end and, if we strive to follow the Lord as best we can everyday, it does not even need to be feared.
And in our Gospel, Jesus continues teaching in parables, as he has been in our Gospel readings for several weeks now. He first tells the chief priests and the elders that the parable is about the kingdom of heaven. God the Father is the king in our parable, and Jesus himself the son whose wedding banquet is being celebrated. The first guests invited did not respond well to the invitation: either by ignoring or, even worse, mistreating or killing the king’s messengers. So the king then ordered his servants to go out and invite “whomever you find.” And everyone they found – “bad and good alike” – came to the wedding feast.
So the kingdom of heaven Jesus refers to in this parable is not just a future event but something that is happening even now, because both the bad and the good are invited and are present. God is inviting us to join him at his Son’s banquet even now, not just when we die. So, the banquet has already begun, and we are already invited. But how do we respond to the invitation? Sometimes we might ignore it because we’re too busy or too occupied with other things. The good news is that, since you’re here today, presumably you are responding to the Lord’s invitation, at least to some degree. But I’ll talk more about that in a moment. Or sometimes, perhaps we don’t even want the invitation and are hostile to it. Maybe we are angry with God or angry with the Church, or we don’t like or accept this or that Church teaching, so we reject the invitation.
But in our parable, eventually the king has filled his banquet hall with guests, “the bad and the good alike”. It is this phrase that indicates that the kingdom of heaven is not just a future reality but a present one. God invites every one of us to the wedding feast, but as we learn in the parable, not everyone gets to stay. The king sees that one of the guests has not come in a wedding garment; in other words, he has not bothered to wear good clothes for the event but has showed up maybe in dirty work clothes. When the king questions him about it, the guest has nothing to say. And then he is thrown out “into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” This is clearly a terrifying outcome for this guest, who did not come prepared for the wedding feast.
God invites all of us to the wedding feast. And in Scripture, a wedding feast is always a metaphor for heaven. We are free to accept or decline His invitation. But if we accept the invitation, we’re not finished yet. Showing up is important; we have to at least show up, but it’s not all we have to do. We also have to prepare ourselves; we have to get ourselves ready.
Every now and then, some pop star will come out with a song about how perfect we are, how beautiful we are in every way, etc etc. Nope, we’re not perfect. We’re not beautiful in every single way. Yes, each one of us does have an inherent beauty and dignity because God made us in his image and likeness. But that beauty and dignity are disfigured by sin, selfishness, pride, lust, all the other vices. Saying that we’re perfect is not true, and repeated enough times, it turns people into narcissists who think they can do no wrong.
But fortunately, God doesn’t call the perfect. He calls each one of us right now, as we are. But he wants us to answer his call and he does expect us to change, or at least strive to change. He wants us to cast off our old garments – our old way of life that keeps us away from Him – and to put on the new garment of righteousness through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, works of charity and mercy. Jesus told the woman caught in adultery that he did not condemn her, but then he added, “Go and sin no more.” He offered her the gift of his love and forgiveness, but then expected her to change her life.
The kingdom of heaven began here on earth when God became man. And we are invited to be a part of that kingdom. We are invited to a place at the wedding feast. Today at Mass, and at every Mass, we get a little taste of that feast, when we hear the Word of God and most especially when we receive Jesus’ Body and Blood. But it’s important that we prepare ourselves for Mass by striving to live justly throughout the week, by praying each day, by coming to confession first if we have a serious sin on our soul. And as we do this, day in, day out, week in, week out, we will be preparing ourselves for the fullness of the wedding feast on that day when we at last meet the Lord face to face.
Do you think you are not up to the task? Do you feel like you have too many bad habits and sinful tendencies which are so deeply ingrained that you don’t know how to change them? Then heed the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me,” and, “God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” It is really God’s grace that does the work in us, that replaces the old garment with the new. St. Therese once wrote, “The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God…. In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works…. I wish to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.”
Perhaps you feel that you can only come to the Lord empty-handed. Then you are in good company, for the saints themselves recognized their own poverty of spirit. Bring to the Lord your empty hands, but hands that are open to receive the food and the drink that He desires to give you.