“The Parable of the Wedding Feast”
Palazzo Pucci, Florence
At the height of his fame, the Florentine painter and draughtsman Sandro Botticelli was one of the most acclaimed artists in Italy. The son of a tanner he was born Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, but he was given the nickname “Botticelli” derived from his older brother’s nickname “Botticello, little barrel” alluding to his shape.
Clever beyond his years, the young Botticelli became easily bored at school. He had a sharp wit and a love of practical jokes which earned him a reputation as a restless, hyperactive and impatient child. Fortunately his precocious talent was recognised by his parents and he was withdrawn from school and sent to work as an apprentice. He began his career painting frescoes for churches in Florence.
1 “Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.’”
Over the last three weeks we have been looking at Chapter 21, a Chapter that contains two Parables. Jesus confronted the religious and political leaders of Israel by recounting stories full of significance for his listeners, and for people down the centuries.
Chapter 22 opens in the same key, with another Parable and other important teachings about paying taxes and about the resurrection.
At this point, the Gospel of Matthew includes a great number of the instructions from Jesus in a short space of time. The atmosphere unfortunately, is still of conflict and rejection.
The Gospel values and the teachings of Jesus clash with culture, and they continue to challenge the way we understand the world today.
A Drama in Four Acts (compare with Lk 14:15-24)
The first Act: the protagonist is a king who celebrates the wedding of his son. He does not send one but many servants (the Prophets). The guests instead of looking for excuses simply refuse to participate in the banquet.
The second Act: is not present in the Gospel account of Luke. In Matthew this second invitation results in greater confrontation, including the killing of some of the servants. The reaction of the king is furious: he sends his army to kill the murderers and put their city on fire.
The third Act: Luke says that the man sends his servant to invite the sick, pointing to the socially excluded and the poor. In Matthew the third invitation is to all kinds of people, highlighting the moral condition of evil and of good.
The fourth Act: this is present only in Matthew and was probably the most interesting to his Christian Community. One of the guests does not respect the dress code and is expelled from the banquet.
What does this Parable explain about the Christian Community of Saint Matthew?
1. That there are members who were not expected to be there.
2. Everybody is welcome into the Kingdom of God (the good and the bad alike).
3. Anyone who accepts the invitation needs to adapt to the values of the Gospel.
The immediate meaning
The Jews had been invited to the banquet of the Kingdom of God but having refused the invitation of the Prophets, they were left out of the banquet.
The invitation to the banquet has now been extended to peoples from all walks of life. Pagans and Jews alike are equally invited to the Christian Community. All of them are asked to repent and convert from their previous ways.
The strange verse about sending an army seems out of context to the original Parable and is perhaps an allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Roman Army.
The wider sense
We can apply the meaning of this Parable to our own life.
The divine host is the King who makes an invitation to all to participate in his royal, divine nature.
The Christian way of life is one of joy and delight. Faith in Jesus is not dull and uninteresting. Christianity is not the negation of the good pleasures and beauty of life, but rather the experience of the joys of life in the right measure, without loosing a sense of responsibility towards our neighbour and towards creation.
The Parable thus warns that we easily become distracted. We need to choose between bad and good, and most of the time between ‘good’ and ‘the best’. Many times ‘the second best’ triumphs. When we are too concerned about the busy nature of our lives we tend to forget the real value that is often hidden to the eye: the gifts that surround us, particularly our dignity and our destiny.
We have been invited to a royal wedding by the sheer grace of God. We are those gathered in from the highways and byways with no claim to a close relationship with the King. All we need is to accept the grace offered to us, the invitation to be part of the Kingdom, the rest is freely given. God is the generous giver who has made us worthy of such a blessing.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Grant me the gift of understanding.
Help me to understand the feelings of others,
The desires of others, the goals of others.
At the same time, help me to understand myself
in my actions and reactions.
Widen my vision beyond my own small world
to embrace with knowledge and
love the worlds of others.
Help me, Lord,
to always see you at work in my own life
and in the lives of others.
Bless me with insight, acceptance and love that is tempered by you,
who are all things to all men.
Help me to understand, Lord.
In the previous Parables in Chapter 21, God was described as a Father who had two sons and as a rich landowner who possessed a large vineyard. Today Jesus speaks of God as a magnanimous King who is generous to everyone, making no distinction between rich and poor (in the Gospel of Luke) or between good and bad (in the Gospel of Matthew).
In Baptism we are endowed with a divine royal dignity. We are the servants sent out into the highways and byways of life to call people from all walks of life into the Kingdom of God. We experience joy when someone (re-)discovers that this divine dignity belongs to him/her by virtue of their birth.
God has put a white cloth on us at Baptism. We want to keep that cloth white. Jesus asks for conversion, because He believes that we are able to make the decision to leave the waywardness of our hearts and return to God. God trusts in us.
We are not victims of destiny nor slaves to sin. We are free. The beauty of our freedom should be lived in joyful and gratuitous service.
Freely we have received, freely we give!