Today’s readings remind us that Heaven awaits us as a party, not a chore. Everybody has to prepare for the party if they don’t want to miss out on the fun.
In today’s First Reading Isaiah describes our future as the ultimate party where shadows and tears are banished and there’s only room for celebration. Everyone, “all peoples,” are invited to this celebration. No expense is spared on the food and the wine. Everything that could sour the party is not just put on hold; it is banished forever. It’s not just a moment to forget worries, but to leave them and the tears they cause behind forever more. The Lord is the life of the party on a deeper level than we could possibly imagine.
In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that moments of famine help us appreciate even more the moments of feast. If you want just one list of all the ups and downs of St. Paul’s missions, just read 2 Corinthians 11:21–33: prisons, beatings, shipwrecks, “in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” The Philippians were worried about his hardship, but St. Paul responds that he can live in feast or famine because it is the Lord who strengthens him. There are a few lines omitted in this dialogue, where St. Paul recalls how the Philippians supported him materially in his missionary endeavors, even at times when no other church did. Paul assures them that the Lord will provide for them whatever they need as well.
In today’s Gospel the wedding feast reminds us of Heaven, but also that although everyone is invited to the party, some in the end will not be found worthy to participate in it, and some won’t want to participate in it at all. Some had already been invited to the feast, and now servants were sent to tell them it was ready. Obviously these invitees had a closer relationship with the king: they were invited to come, and didn’t feel obliged to come. The invitees ask to be excused, but really just gave excuses not to come: they’d known when the great dinner would be held and had made other plans. Some didn’t even make excuses and just killed the messengers. They either didn’t want to go or were simply indifferent about going: that showed what they thought of their king, both as their ruler and as their friend. Something or someone else came first.
Abandoned by his friends, the king invited other members of his kingdom, but not on the basis of friendship, just on the basis of a benevolence a king owes his people. In the end he also invites his subjects who are complete strangers to him, perhaps people not even a part of his kingdom at all, “good and bad.” They benefit from the great dinner, but they cannot take the place of those the king wanted to partake of it, his invitees, those he wanted to acknowledge as his friends.
If this parable speaks to us of Heaven it’s also a reminder that God is merciful and good, but in the end we have to do our part, even a little, if we want to be saved. Salvation is not automatic. The man with no wedding garment had no answer for the king’s question: there was no excuse he could offer, and if the king was displeased, it means something was expected of that man that he didn’t do. That wedding garment symbolizes having done something to partake and appreciate the marriage feast. This poor man shows no signs of celebration whatsoever. Maybe he represents that Christian who goes through the motions all their life, but never really seeks to help himself or others to get to Heaven. We have to give Our Lord something to work with. The man with no wedding garment managed to get to the banquet hall, but he didn’t go far enough to stay.
When you talk to some people about Heaven they just roll their eyes. When you talk to some believers about Heaven, their attitude is more, “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Ask anyone on Friday afternoon how he feels about the great party coming up that weekend. He can’t wait. He is humming and tapping his feet everywhere he goes, thinking about the celebration to come. Visualize the ultimate party this weekend: not a kegger, but Heaven, celebrating in eternity with those you love. If we stop and truly contemplate Heaven how can it not bring a smile to our face and put us in a “partying” mood?
Are you going to pass up the greatest party of all time?
Readings: Isaiah 25:6–10a; Psalm 23:1–6; Philippians 4:12–14, 19–20; Matthew 22:1–14.