I know I must be fussing a bit about my weight lately as my social feeds keep throwing up ads about weight loss programs. One particular product keeps appearing, which claims to be ‘Weight Watchers for Millennials’. Now, I am certainly no Millennial, but I do need to watch my weight, as my doctor reminded me during the week. And when I start getting messages from Sacred Scripture about feasts and banquets, rich foods and fine wines, I suppose I better take note!
You might recall last week that Jesus told a parable about a vineyard, which was an image for him of the Kingdom of God. Well, in today’s parable Jesus throws up another Kingdom image, this time that of a wedding feast. I’m sure you are all quite familiar with this image, yet it is not the ‘go to’ image we tend to think of when thinking of the Kingdom of Heaven. I suspect we will more readily go to images about resting and peacefulness. After all, this is by far the most common way we will comfort someone whose dear one has died: we say, may they ‘rest in peace.’ And we very commonly use the phrase in our communal prayer.
I do not in any way wish to disparage this beautiful way of imagining our eternal home – may we each, indeed, come to this promised life of repose after the toil of our lives in the Lord’s vineyard. However, the challenge of this image – which, strikingly, does not come from Jesus – is that it can portray God’s heavenly kingdom in very passive and inert terms. This is not how Jesus conveys the Kingdom of Heaven. His words, like in today’s parable, invariably portray images of activity and engagement; of celebration and social interaction; of worship and praise. The Kingdom of Heaven is a busy place of active leisure, intentional creativity and unbounded joy.
We might readily see this as a description of what our Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist anticipates. In Mass, God’s heavenly feast sits down with our earthly toil. There is work to be done to make this happen, but it is the life-giving labour of friendship building. It involves effort and it involves commitment; but it offers warmth and safety, joy and peace. As the prophecy of Isaiah so beautifully imagined God’s Kingdom in our first reading, it is where the Lord will remove our garments of grief and shrouds of mourning, and clothe us instead in garments fit for the wedding feast.
This wearing of a garment, nonetheless, is the sting in the tail of Jesus’ parable today. The wedding garment worn by the wedding guests was God’s to give, a gift of welcome and belonging, but which had been rejected by one of those invited into the wedding hall. It is as if this individual wanted the benefits without becoming involved. He (or she) wanted to be a passive consumer, rejecting the offer to be a participant, an active friend of the bridal party. While God, in his divine generosity and mercy, might throw open his Kingdom feast for all manner of invitees, it is not for gate crashers.
One more thing we should not neglect to attend to about this Kingdom of joy and light into which God is inviting us. It is a wedding we are invited to be part of, a coming together of two in a covenant of love, that there might be a union of one flesh. That union is of Jesus, the bride groom, with the Church, his bride. It is this relationship that we are to make manifest in our own lives. God’s kingdom is a wedding for now: that reconciliation might be made possible; that hope is lived out; that over time, relationships can be built in lasting friendships. The invitation is being made. Will we say yes?
Image: Paschal sacrifice Fr Lawrence Lew OP
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli27 January 2021