The last four verses of today’s Gospel have caused much consternation when heard or read and this is possibly one reason why the Church allows these verses to be omitted. It seems however; that they are part of the original parable even if seen as an expansion and Matthew’s own composition, but if read bring out the whole meaning of the parable. While at first glance it seems quite unreasonable to expect someone who has been invited from the streets to have a wedding garment, it must also be noted that all others who have also been invited from the streets, except this one, are wearing the wedding garment. This is an indication that the others accepted the invitation, and after doing so, did something about it. On the other hand, the one who did not have the wedding garment was there in body but not in spirit. He was at the feast but was not partaking of it. He was present yet absent. He sought the benefits of the feast without the required response to the invitation. Thus he cannot make the appropriate response nor can he claim ignorance when he is questioned by the king. He knows what the appropriate garb is in order to remain at the banquet; and he knows well that he is not wearing the wedding garment. The notion of election here works together with, rather than against, the reality of human responsibility.
This is why it is made quite clear that there is no coercion or force on the part of the king, but the issuance of an invitation. Those invited are free to respond in any way they want, but must be prepared to face the consequences of this response. Some of the original invitees make light of the invitation and pretend as if they have not heard it. They ignore the messengers and go off to do their own thing. These are engaged not in sin but in the events of life which have taken hold of them to such an extent that they cannot even understand the privilege that they are receiving in being invited. Still others behave irrationally, by attacking and killing the messengers who bring the invitation.
Since the invitation is spurned by the original invitees, the king is forced to send new invites to those who will accept them. These are the ones who are considered the scum of society, who are found on the streets or byroads. While these fill the banquet hall and accept the invitation willingly, it is also necessary for them to show, in action, this acceptance which they have made in freedom. This they do by wearing the required wedding garments which, in this context, can be interpreted as being present in both body and mind at the wedding feast. Matthew’s Gospel interprets this as doing deeds of righteousness. The consequence of not having a wedding garment or not showing in action that one has accepted the invitation is banishment from the feast. This is not the punishment given by the king but one which the invited guest has brought on him or herself.
An invitation to a feast is also issued in the first reading from Isaiah. Those who will heed the call are invited to the mountain of the Lord, Zion. Here is the choicest of food and drink which is served in abundance. It is an invitation to feast and rejoice and an assurance that all tears will be wiped away and the people who come will be accepted. All reproach will be removed and God will reveal himself as a God who saves. This salvation will be shown in the most tangible of ways in that death itself will be destroyed.
Paul in the second reading of today tells of how because he has accepted the invitation in both words and deeds, he is completely sated. He does not hunger or thirst for anything but has been fulfilled in every single aspect of his life. The promise of Isaiah finds its meaning in the manner in which Paul lives his life. He lacks nothing. He has everything. In every single situation of life he is content.
The challenge of the readings, to each of us who are also called, is to also be regarded as those who are chosen. This is not a one time response, but a regular one since the invitation is constant. In order to be regarded as chosen, the ones called must manifest through their lives, in deeds of love and service, that the invitation to participate in the feast has been accepted. Thus, while the goods news is of an open invitation to everyone who is willing to listen leaving no one out, the fact remains that the response has to be shown through the actions of ones life. Not all who are invited are receptive to the invitation of the Lord and thus not all will bring forth the deeds of righteousness expected of the invitees. Those who are invited are expected to wear the wedding garment.