We are surprised by the ending of today’s Gospel (Mt 22:1-14). The king told his servants to bring anyone they find on the roads to the marriage feast of his son. Then, when the king enters the feast, he orders his servants to toss out one of the guests for not being properly dressed.
In his Commentary on St. Matthew’s Gospel, St. Thomas Aquinas offers us some suggestions on the meaning of the parable. We can easily see that the king represents God the Father. Thomas explains that, in this account, God is king in relation to us in a human way, in our present condition.
Thomas finds the words of Deuteronomy an apt description for God’s way of being our king at present: “As an eagle incites its nestlings forth by hovering over its brood, so He spread his wings to receive them and bore them up on his wings” (Deut 32:12). Eventually, we will know God as king in Himself.
The “son” represents Christ. Thomas refers to the First Letter of John: “And we are in the one who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ” ( 1 Jn 5:20). The first to be invited to the marriage are the chosen people of Israel. The first servants are the patriarchs. The king sends a second invitation to the chosen people, through the prophets.
Thomas understands this second appeal as an “added kindness.” The invited guests are promised a meal, which reminds Thomas of the invitation in the Book of Proverbs: “Come, eat my bread and drink the wine I have mixed for you“ (Prov 9:5), meaning “spiritual reflection.” Yet, in their day, the prophets were not readily received. Thomas recalls the words of the Letter of James, “Take as an example of hardship and patience the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (Js 5:10).
According to Thomas, when the king announces that “all things are ready” for the feast he is referring to Christ’s sufferings, which opened the heavens. Some rejected the invitation out of negligence and some out of malice, even deliberately persecuting “the preachers.” Thomas recognizes that those who did not come may have had legitimate reasons but the king did not accept their excuses, “because no temporal matters ought to detain one from coming to God.”
The invitation is then extended to the others, the Gentiles. In saying, “the marriage is ready,” the king is referring to His Son taking our flesh. The king sends his servants to those of the byroads. Thomas thinks those on the “byroads” may mean those following pagan philosophies or those who are already doing good works. Thomas recalls the concluding words of Mark’s Gospel, describing the mission of the apostles: “But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs“(Mk 16:20).
Those who are brought in are the “good and bad.” Thomas thinks that this may mean those who have been bad but have become good. It may mean those who are bad but have some social virtues. Or it may simply mean that the good and the bad are mixed together.
When “the marriage is filled with guests,” the faithful are gathered. When the king enters the hall, he discovers one without the wedding garment. To the question, what is the garment? Thomas responds, “It is Christ.”
Some put on Christ through Baptism: “Whoever has been baptized has put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). Some put on Christ through charity and love: “Over all these things have love which is the bond of perfection” (Col 3:15). Paul attests that putting on Christ is “by deeds”: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14).
Thomas asserts: “To clothe yourself with the wedding garment is to clothe yourself with good actions and a holy way of being, through true charity” Thomas adds that if one of these is lacking, it is bad.
The king addresses the man as “friend,” which Thomas thinks may mean he is speaking to him by faith because he loved him or that he realizes that his love has been misplaced. The man does not respond and so it put out of the wedding feast.
The Gospel concludes that “Many are called but few are chosen.” Some, says Thomas, choose not to accept the invitation and some do not put on the wedding garment, which is Christ.
While the historical meaning of the Gospel is evident, how does it apply to us today?
Thomas thinks of four possible interpretations for the marriage. The wedding could be the Incarnation itself, when the divine nature is joined to the human nature. In this interpretation, the virgin’s womb would be the bridal chamber. Thomas admits this is probably not the meaning.
It is more likely that the bridegroom is the Incarnate Word and the bride is the Church. The Letter to the Ephesians compares the union of husband and wife with the union of Christ and the Church, concluding “This is a great mystery, I speak in reference to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:33).
Thomas recognizes that the ultimate marriage of Christ and the Church will take place at the Resurrection of the Body. The union is taking place now through faith. Nevertheless, we may be members of the Church but not actually responding to the invitation that the Father extends to us. We may have put on Christ in Baptism but not in charity.
Thomas says that the wedding may also be the union of Christ and the soul. Thomas says that the “soul participates in the glory of the Word by faith.” Thomas thinks of the words of Hosea: “I will espouse you to me forever. I will espouse you in right and justice, in love and mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity…” (Hos 2:21-22).
Personally, we may disregard the invitation that is given to us. Thomas stated that when God calls us, nothing else is more important. We are invited in our better moments, when we are “good,” but we are also invited in the moments when we feel drawn to sin. We may disregard the ways that God calls us to be united with the Son through the day. We may choose not to put on Christ by charity or our actions. Or we may choose to respond to the invitations to the union with Christ that the Father extends to us in so many different ways.
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.,
References to Thomas Aquinas are taken from Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, trans. Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., found on dhspriory.org/thomas