We Must Change!
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) | Fr Thomas Skeats highlights the most challenging part of a strange and shocking parable.
It is quite usual in our culture for a bride to arrive late for her wedding. Often, the closer the bride lives to the church, the longer she delays. But if for some reason the bride were to fail to turn up at all, it might seem an exaggerated response, even in the part of London where I live, for the bridegroom’s father to go out and burn down the bride’s house and slaughter her family. Yet, in the Parable of the Wedding Feast, this is precisely the reaction of the bridegroom’s father when the invited guests refuse to attend his son’s wedding. He sends out his troops to destroy them and to burn their city.
What are we to conclude, then, when we discover that this parable is really a story of God’s relationship with humanity – that the king is, in fact, God the Father, that the Son is Jesus Christ, and the invited guests are those called to become part of God’s family? Should we conclude, along with Richard Dawkins, that God is ‘a vindictive, bloodthirsty, megalomaniacal, capriciously malevolent bully?’
There is another way of looking at this parable which avoids this conclusion. The parable is a reflection on salvation history. God invites Israel into a personal relationship with himself. But not only does Israel continually fail to respond to this invitation, it even mistreats and even kills God’s prophets who are sent to remind Israel of its calling. This is the prelude to a general invitation sent out to the whole of humanity. God wants each person to be the bridegroom of his Son, to be part of his kingdom, and he is determined to persist in this plan even in the face of humanity’s rebelliousness.
If scripture speaks metaphorically of God’s ‘anger’ this must be understood as an expression of his determination to put this world right. God is unchanging love, and nothing – not even human sin and disobedience – can thwart his desire to bring to fulfilment the beautiful vision in Isaiah of a great feast. God will host this feast for humanity where truth, justice, and holiness will reign unhindered. God’s justice will not allow the forces of evil to triumph.
So this parable is a reassuring parable. It reminds us that God will not allow his plan to be obstructed. The forces of evil will be bound and destroyed even if the path to achieve this looks messy and painful. I am reminded of the very messy depiction of the Way of the Cross by Matisse in the Dominican chapel at Vence which makes the same point. As one contemporary theologian has written ‘in a universe that has become twisted and off-kilter, beset by division, hatred, and fear, the establishment of real love and justice will come only at the price of suffering.’ This is perhaps what the disquieting imagery of this parable is trying to express.
The instruction given by the king to his servants to invite to the feast whoever they find in the streets is a vivid illustration of God’s universal offer of grace. God calls each person into a relationship of friendship with him. But this invitation must find a receptive heart. God offers us his grace not to affirm us in our lifestyle choices if these are not right for us, but to change us. Hence his ‘anger’ at the guest who had failed to change his clothes for the wedding feast. If we are to respond appropriately to God’s generous invitation to be part of his kingdom, we must change, we must clothe ourselves in Christ in the words of St. Paul, and put on the garments of love, compassion, truth, and peace. This is perhaps the most challenging part of this strange and shocking parable.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a window in the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington DC.