The Parable of the marriage feast: sermon on the nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

“The king entered, that he might look upon the guests.”

This parable is told not to the disciples, or to the multitude, but to the senior priests and the Pharisees of Jerusalem, who have already decided in council to put Christ to death. Our Lord, it would seem, is both showing them that He is aware of their plans, and also making a last appeal to their consciences. Even though He knows that they will kill the Son of Man as it is written, He still has a perfect charity toward them, and a great desire to save their souls, and so He teaches them through a parable that their behaviour is as irrational and dangerous to themselves, as would be the behaviour of the subjects of an earthly king who killed the messengers inviting them to a royal wedding.

This parable is similar to a parable in St Luke, chapter fourteen: but there, the feast is described as a cena, that is, an evening meal. Here, in St Matthew, it is a prandium, that is, the meal in the middle of the day. Why is there a difference? I think that the feast in St Luke represents Heaven. No one is said to be cast out from that feast, just as no one will be cast out from Heaven. It is called a cena because, as the psalmist says, “Man goes forth to his work, to labour until evening falls,” and Heaven is a reward for those who labour well. This feast in St Matthew, by contrast, is not a cena but a prandium. It comes in the middle of the day; it represents the Christian life on earth, which we live out in the midst of our daily occupations, and especially, the Holy Eucharist which sustains it. And, alas, it is possible to be cast out from this feast, as the man without the wedding-garment discovers.

Our Lord tells the chief priests and the Pharisees that God the Father is jealous of the honour of His incarnate Son. If they kill the Bridegroom, then they will experience the Father’s zeal. And since they were acting not simply as private persons, but as the official representatives of the people when they ignored the warning and killed Him anyway, the Father’s justice will come upon the capital itself, Jerusalem. The king, when he heard, was angry; and sending his armies, he destroyed those murderers and burned the city. It is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Notice that the Roman armies are referred to as “his” (that is, God’s) armies. Our Lord could have said simply that the king sent “an” army, but instead He says “his”: whether we look in the Latin or the Greek of the New Testament, the word is there. This may seem surprising, since the armies of Rome in the year 70 were still pagan. Why then are they called God’s?

Ever since the emperor Caesar Augustus set in motion the events that led to the birth of our Saviour in Bethlehem, by issuing his decree for a census of the whole world, there has been a mysterious connection between Rome and salvation. Some of the early Christian writers declare that the faithful are bound to pray for the well-being of the emperor, not just in the way that we must pray for the well-being of anyone in authority, but also because great evils would come upon the world when the empire falls. Many ancient writers also interpret the words of St Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 about the one who restrains (or that which restrains) the man of sin; that is, the one who prevents the coming of antichrist, as a reference to the Roman emperor and the empire. And it is interesting to notice how, as the empire was suppressed, anti-Christian forces have increased. Thus, in Constantinople, the Roman empire fell in 1453; within a life-time, Protestantism, the most destructive of all heresies so far, broke out. In the west, the title of holy Roman Emperor continued until just after 1800, with the coming of Napoleon; in the century that followed, secularism swept across the world. The last emperor of the old line (though no longer using the title “Roman”) was Blessed Karl of Austria, who was forcibly removed in 1918; since then, we have seen natural law itself almost removed from the hearts of men, or at least, from the legislatures of the world.

In the days of Christendom, there were many good rulers who helped to vindicate the honour of Christ and of the Church. They passed good laws which prevented public sinners or heretics from violating the sacraments. Nowadays, there are no more such rulers, or hardly any. Yet God the Father does not therefore cease to vindicate the honour of His Son. In the first place, He speaks to the conscience of each one, warning each one to desist from sin, especially from the sins which dishonour Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. This appears in the parable: The king entered, that he might look upon the guests. The king speaks to one guest in a way which is kindly but grave. He offers him a paternal warning: “My friend, how enteredst thou hither, not having a wedding gown?” That is, how can it be that you present yourself outwardly as a Catholic, going to Mass and receiving the Body of My Son, but you live like a pagan, without the robe of My grace?

Why is it that he speaks to only one, when at the end of the parable our Lord tells us, “Many are called, but few are chosen”? It might seem that many need to be warned, not just one. I think it is because God speaks to each person individually; when a Catholic is living a sacrilegious life, then whether or not any preacher warns him in a Sunday sermon, the Holy Ghost warns him quietly in his conscience, giving him actual graces by which he could admit to himself the truth of his situation and repent.

The king does not condemn his guest straightaway, since God does not will the death of a sinner, but rather that he turn from his sin and live. He gives him a chance to speak, that is, to admit his guilt and ask for pardon. God makes it so easy to recover the robe of grace! The attendants are there, waiting to assist, as priests often wait in their confessionals. But the man is silent, whether from fear or from contempt.

And so, if all else fails, the most terrible way in which the Father will vindicate the Son, and will honour the passion which Jesus endured for sinners, is to pass a sentence of condemnation. “Bind his hands and feet, and send him into the outer darkness.” In hell, the sinner’s hands are said to be bound, since he cannot do good work there; and his feet are bound, because he can no longer return to the right way. 

But finally, even during this life, God the Father vindicates His Son, especially when it is a question of sins against the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. St Paul tells the Corinthians that it is because of such sins committed in the churches of Corinth that “Many of you are sick, and some have died.” Some people have suggested that the recent, unprecedented restrictions on public Masses here and abroad may be a providential “response” to the problem of widespread sacrilegious communions. One would need to be a prophet to say such a thing with certainty, but we can say that in regard to the Blessed Sacrament, the words of Jesus will come true: “To those who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance; but for those who have not, even what they have will be taken from them”; that is, for those in the Church who do not have faith and love, the Sacrament of Christ’s body will be one day taken from them; to those who receive His body with faith and love, the clear vision of His glory will one day be given; and then they will have abundance and their heart’s desire.