While his pastor was on vacation, a certain associate allowed a poor couple to have their wedding reception inside the Church. Reason: They couldn't afford the rent for the parish hall. Upon his return, some zealous parishioners who felt offended brought their concern to the pastor. Deeply infuriated, the pastor had this exchange with his associate: “How on earth would you allow people inside the Church to party, eat, drink and dance?” The associate responds: “Because they couldn’t afford $2,000 to rent the parish hall.” The parish priest goes on, “And you didn’t even have the wisdom to take the Blessed Sacrament out of the Church as this charade was going on?” The associate reminding him that what he calls the Blessed Sacrament was Jesus, said: “I needn’t take Him out; He too was part of a wedding ceremony (at Cana) where there was eating, drinking, and dancing.” Now, don’t expect Fr. Jo to grant you such a favor.
However, that God can invite us for a dinner doesn’t clearly meet our grasp. For some of us, God could invite us to prayer, Mass, confession, and the like, but not dinner where there’s eating and drinking, dancing and merriment. We’re raised with the idea that Mass is serious business, not a banquet; and the church should be preserved for appropriate events and liturgies. It therefore shatters our expectations to hear Isaiah in the first reading speak about God’s invitation to us on His Holy Mountain, where He will provide a feast of rich food and pure choice wines. Jesus echoes this same idea in the parable of the guests invited to a Wedding Banquet. Hence, there should be no remorse about our participation in the grand party called by the Lord.
Again and again, we’re reminded that the Christian assembly is a gathering of people called to a banquet, a feast, or as we call it during Mass, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7). In fact, the Church’s relationship with Jesus is understood as a “spiritual marriage” in which the Lord is the Bridegroom, and we, His bride. As such, we’re not mere invitees to the Wedding Banquet, but intrinsic part of the wedding feast. Refusing to show up tantamount to breaking an engagement to which we already consented, while still keeping the costly engagement ring. This explains why the no-show by the invited guests of the parable was perceived and treated as disloyalty.
The first acceptance of the invitation to the Wedding Banquet was made at our baptism. We went further to become sealed with the Holy Spirit when we received Confirmation, making us officers of God’s army in His militant Church. Hence, any rejection of His summons is an act of disloyalty. Those who serve in the military understand this well, and it goes to explain, too, why refusal to report for military duty is treasonous. When we sign an oath of allegiance, as we did during baptism, we surrender every aspect of our lives to the Lord. As such, we must let him rule our nights and days, workdays and rest days, including our vacations. We cannot elect to have Him as the Lord of our Sunday mornings while expelling Him in the afternoons of our life, from our socio-economic and political life, or the moral choices we make.
Today’s parable presents three possible kind of guests in which we can each fit ourselves—the absentee guests, the unready, and those prepared, present and ready for the feast. The absentee guests are those who have abandoned the faith and apostatized. If you wonder why one of the guests was kicked out for not wearing an appropriate outfit, look for the answer in the baptismal garment we received at baptism and recall the words said at the giving of the dress: “Bring this garment unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” Indeed, while many received this garment, only a few meticulously keep it unstained. Be part of that few and start by dressing appropriately for Mass.
Reflection Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo