So after two weeks of vineyard stories that we all seemed to enjoy, it occurred to me that we don’t see that many wine bars any more, despite them being all the rage a few years ago. Nowadays things seem to lean toward bourbon and beer bars and farm-to-table restaurants, which around here is great, seeing that we actually live close enough to farms that we can put their stuff on our tables. In many farm-to-table establishments you get to see young skinny men wearing beards and plaid flannel shirts like lumberjacks, but if you’re built like I am and have a beard and a flannel shirt you probably actually are a lumberjack. One of the nice things about these new places is they tend to be a bit more relaxed about their clientele than some of the old wine places, and they are much more relaxed than the 90’s club scene with the velvet ropes and bouncers. When my friend Matt opened a club in Sea Bright years back, the line would stretch down the block as the black-clad doormen would size up the bright young things that hoped to gain entry. I always felt bad when I saw a guy get rejected (it was always guys; girls always got in), rejected usually because he wasn’t wearing the proper garments.
Which leads us to our Gospel for today, in case you were worried that I was just reminiscing. Jesus gives us yet another parable about the Kingdom of God, this time likening it to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son. The king was an early adopter of the farm-to-table stuff, he told his servants to tell the guests, “Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready on the table; come to the marriage feast.”
The invited guests were not among the particularly polite; they rejected the invitation and even roughed up and killed the messengers that the king sent to invite them. The king destroyed those not-so-particularly-polite people and then sent other servants to round up whomever they found, even the street people hanging out on the corners, to gather them in for the feast. But then the king found our unfortunate friend who got past the black-clad doormen despite not wearing the right garments (maybe he was wearing an Eagles jersey), and there was the requisite weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Unlike some other parables, this one is not difficult to figure out. The banquet is heaven (the wedding feast of Christ and His Church), and the king stand for God, of course, and messengers are the prophets, all of whom were not well-received by the king’s own people. The riff-raff, whether we like it or not, is us, the welcomed-if-not-chosen people, and though in the end everyone got an invite, not everyone took even 5minutes to get ready for the party.
As an aside, when I was in seminary we had to read a sermon on this parable for an homiletics class, a sermon in which the writer was upset with the king for being so mean to the poor man who wasn’t wearing his wedding garment, and so she was upset with God for being a little too choosy about who gets to go to heaven. She was upset that the king had so mistreated this poor man he had just called in off the street. She missed the point.
The king’s banquet was neither a surprise nor a forced event. Not unlike the scene in the Princess Bride when the whole kingdom shows up to see Buttercup before she marries Prince Humperdinck, all the king’s people knew that his son was getting married; when the people were invited off the streets, there’s no indication that they were forced to attend, nor is there any indication that they weren’t given the opportunity to stop by the house and grab a clean shirt. The man who managed to get into the banquet despite his dirty shirt didn’t look like that by accident or because he had nothing else to wear; he just wanted some free food and didn’t care if the king liked his look or not.
The invitation that God gives us to take part in His present, eternal, and really killer farm-to-table banquet is and has been before the whole world for all time. Everyone is invited but not everyone will respond in the affirmative. Everyone will know, in this life or the next, what to wear, so to speak; how to prepare our souls through baptism, in repentance, in the grace and merit received in the Eucharist, in accepting, maybe even over and over again, the invitation God has sent us through Christ.
This is the lesson of the parable of the wedding banquet, at least for today. Can we offend God and get thrown out of the party? Absolutely, but we have to work really, really hard to do that. Will God keep inviting us to the party until the end of time? Absolutely, and best part of this party is that we get to invite our friends to come with us.