In the familiar short story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” an emperor is so vain and so preoccupied with the beauty of his garments, that when two shady individuals decide to take advantage of his vanity by pretending to prepare garments for him that only others can see, he is made a fool for being at a parade without any clothes on.
The story may be a fable, but on a deeper level we too must be on guard that we are not caught like the emperor when we stand before God at the end of our lives, avoiding the presumption that our ticket to heaven is stamped, but rather daily preparing for the banquet that awaits us.
This week in our Gospel, we are told that a king and his son are hosting a wedding banquet. Many people are invited to the banquet but some refuse to come. When messengers go out a second time, they are given excuses from people why they cannot come, and some even do violence to the messengers. Finally, servants of the king go into the streets to find people to come to the wedding, the “bad and good” alike. One person though has no wedding garment. When asked why he is unprepared, he is reduced to silence, and thrown out of the feast.
It seems like a rather cold thing to do. After all, this person gets invited to a party with relatively short notice. And who could expect him to actually have a wedding garment ready?
To understand this, we need to understand what is meant by “wedding-garment.” In the time when this parable was written, whatever state of life you were in carried with it certain obligations, and among these were wedding customs which applied to everyone, no matter what. If you were invited to a wedding, you were required to come properly dressed, and there were no exceptions. The man is unprepared.
The people in the story are symbolic of the people in the world. The king symbolizes the Father; the son of the king represents Jesus. Some in the world react with violence to the message; others with indifference.
From this Gospel, we have a couple of challenges.
The first is that we must be vigilant to be on guard to have the opinion that based on our status, we are entitled to an invitation to the banquet. Much like the people in the vineyard last week, just being there does not mean all is ours forever. Sometimes, we can get high on our horse and look down on others. We can become judgmental; looking down on some for their past, or for whom they associate with, or think that we can peer into their souls. We can then have a lofty opinion of ourselves and think we are entitled to heaven because we are “better” than others because we say more prayers, go to Mass every week, or are knowledgable with respect to what the Church teaches. It can be very easy to overlook gossip, a condescending attitude, or a “holier than thou” mentality. Small wonder Jesus is so often critical of Pharisees, those who were good at knowing the rules but not focused on interior conversion.
That interior conversion and daily call to holiness is the challenge of our Gospel as well. We never know when we will stand before God. The term “God fearing” can be confusing. We should not fear God because He will punish us; rather the fear is the fear of letting Him down. Daily we should strive to grow in holiness by asking ourselves “how can I become a better person today?” Much like a tailor working to make beautiful garments, we do the same thing with grace. Grace is the invitation that is given to us to go to the banquet, but it requires a response. We have to acknowledge what God has done for us and daily strive to return that love.
Indeed, the joy for us in heaven is beyond anything we can comprehend. As our first reading tells us, “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let is be glad and rejoice…” Let’s make sure we are prepared for the banquet by being mindful that all are invited to it, and reminding ourselves that the materials for the garment are given to us by God, and working on the proper response takes daily preparation.