Today’s Gospel can be shocking on first reading and provides a perfect example of why we need guidance in reading Scriptures. Matthew 22.15-22 seems, on the surface, to provide all the reinforcement one might need to justify an almost vengeful reading of God’s nature. When those invited refuse the invitation, the King gets so angry that he sends his army to destroy those who have refused him. Then, having brought in those found in the highways and the byways, he picks on one poor man who has not dressed up and gets him thrown out. How, you might ask, can the poor man be all dressed up when he wasn’t even expecting to be invited to a wedding?
St Jerome, as so often, guides our feet to where they should be. He tells us, in his commentary on Matthew that the ‘wedding garments’ are ‘the Lord’s commands and the works that are fulfilled from the Law and the Gospel.’ If we have responded to God’s invitation then we have signed up to having ourselves changed – we have put on the ‘new Adam’ (or indeed the ‘new Eve’). The King asks the man why he has not done this and the man does not answer. He wishes to accept God’s invitation on his own terms, not God’s.
We see here the true meaning – and how correct it is. Initially God chose the Jews, but many of those rejected him, and so the invitation was thrown out to us all. In Christ there is no more ‘Jew’ nor ‘Gentile’, though we see from Acts how hard many of the Jewish religious establishment found it to accept Paul’s message. But so many of us are ‘too busy’ to take up the invitation. We have more important things to do; and even when some of us take it up, we think to do so on our own terms. We’re busy people. God loves us, but leaves us, as any father will, to make our own choice about whether that love is reciprocated.
St Augustine is clear that the proper wedding garment is the charity that is the fruit of our faith: ‘the garment required is in the heart, not on the body.’ (Sermon 90:4; 90:6) As St Paul tells us, we can do all manner of good things, but if we do not have ‘charity’ then they are of no avail. It is we who are rejecting God, not the other way around. We are warned here of the consequences of our actions, or rather, inactions.
The Good News is that there is time for us to change. The bad news is all around us, namely that so few of us do that. But before we get all censorious and risk being self-righteouss, let each one of us search her heart and ask what we have done and are doing to witness to the truth that is in us? Does the way we behave, does the way our church behave, suggest to others that the invitation is worth taking up? Are we, indeed, dressed in the ‘wedding garment’ or have we turned up on our own terms, expecting to be accepted on our terms?