A Reflection on Mt. 22:1-14
By Fr. Serg Kabamalan, CJM
Growing up in a small, rustic village in Laguna, I learned that a wedding is always a big news, a big event that almost everyone look up to from the matandaan, where the elders talk and agree on preparations for the union; tilapia-an, where on the eve of a wedding women-power, particularly that of more mature but still socially active women, are displayed in a revelry that is also designed to help the couple raise some funds; and onto the wedding day itself where celebration reaches it peak with the wedding rites followed by a sumptuous lunch or dinner and more merry-making, singing and dancing that can last all night and into the dawn of the next day. Food aplenty would fly in all direction not only on the banquet table but also OBER DA BAKOD into the table of those who were not invited. I now understand why people put so much energy into weddings? Its because small, confined places need a venue for social interaction and integrationpromoting deep sense of belonging, camaraderie, and unity – important aspects of being a community.
That must have been certainly true for the Israelites or the Jews during biblical times who were also community-oriented as much as they were family-oriented. The importance they place in marriage can be gleaned from the way they celebrate. They do so lavishly not just with one meal, or one day but at least a week of eating, drinking, dancing and music when kinship and friendship are renewed and extendedbetween families. More than that, its religious and spiritual undertones render marriage and marriage feasts a beautiful illustration of God’s relationship with Israel gushing forth from the Holy Scriptures: from the Genesis story of creation of the first man and woman… becoming one flesh, flowing into the romantic depiction of a woman representing Israel resplendent in her wedding garment, beheld by her husband representing God who is filled with so much love in the Song of Songs, rushing into the parables such as in our first reading today from the Book of Prophet Isaiah… falling over into the violent cascades of story of betrayal of a woman again representing Israel and her infidelities with God as she engage in harlotry … and onto the beautiful story of forgiveness and reconciliation between husband and wife… God and his people…
The two parables proclaimed today are part of that rich imagery of God’s faithfulness and love for humankind, and human. Isaiah describes a beautiful, hopeful restoration of Israel in a banquet of plenty on top of “this mountain” alluding to the covenant relationship between God and his people. Quite the opposite, the Gospel speaks of a disturbing turn of events in an otherwise happy occasion but marred by the realities of violent refusal to become part of King’s generosity and joy by those originally invited, the weird opening up of the invitation to people who were ignored before and the shocking rejection of the man not wearing a wedding garment. Though both parables appear to speak of the same reality, i.e., the coming of the Kingdom of God… they seem different only because of focus that stems from the different take off points. Isaiah’s parable served its apocalyptic function, i.e. assurance and encouragement that in the face of the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews to Babylon along with the feeling of anxiety, confusion, fear and overwhelming loss, God still cares for his people and will ultimately reverse their fate. Their misfortune shall be removed, their tears wiped away, death shall be destroyed forever, reproach shall be removed. For God himself shall come. It was a messianic prophecy that will provide hope, tenacity and perseverance among God’s people.
On the other hand, the parable in Matthew was spoken as a warning especially for those who were courting damnation through indifference, refusal and outright rejection of Jesus Christ that will lead to his violent death on the cross. They would have thought that they were eliminating their troubles, re-establishing their authority over religious life of the people, restoring their sense of control. But in truth, they were inflicting pain and hurts on themselves. The harsh reality of self-destruction being done by people to themselves was held up by Christ like a mirror to them so that they might realize in what way they need to open up to God and his salvation.
The invitation that would be extended to all – both the good and the bad – is a nod to God’s love and mercy which would continue to pour out on earth, after the rejection of the Jews, to find the path of least resistance into the hearts of all men and women who would believe, accept the invitation to enjoy God’s abundant grace illustrated by the wedding banquet. But agreeing to become part of the Kingdom of God is not meant to be a passive human response. Entering the Kingdom of God must be an active, deliberate and conscious choice. Anything less than that is not acceptable. That is what the rejection of the man not wearing a wedding garment means. The garment brings to mind one’s baptism and the vows that must be lived and shared, and celebrated in the banquet of the Eucharist in an active, deliberate and conscious way.
In a way, our own celebration of the Holy Eucharist now is our participation and a foretaste of the wedding feast where the groom is Christ, and we the Church is the bride. Have we all made a positive choice to enter the wedding banquet in the Kingdom of God? Anything less than that cannot sustain us and guarantee inclusion. Belonging to the Kingdom is an urgent and ardent task. The blessedness of entering God’s foldbecomes full when we ourselves become a blessing to others.