Thursday, October 6, 2011

Without a wedding garment - Faith without works


28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 22:1-14
My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?
Though all people are invited to the wedding banquet, only a few come. And, even from among those who do attend, at least one is cast out. Our Savior’s parable from this Sunday’s Gospel should give us pause – for he is speaking of the mystery of salvation and damnation.
Many are called, few are chosen. But what exactly does our Lord mean when he warns us that those who attempt to come to the feast without a “wedding garment” will be cast out and rejected? What is the significance of this garment, and how do we don it?

The significance of the wedding feast
As the Fathers of the Church consider this parable, they recognize that our Savior is speaking both to the end of the world and also the particular judgment of each man. The master of the house (who is God) has invited some to the feast, but when they reject him, he sends his servants to go and invite all those wandering throughout the world, both the good and the bad.
In this, we are to recognize that God first established his covenant with the people of Israel, but they ultimately rejected him (as a nation, though many individuals did accept the Christ). After the Jews stumbled, the covenant (now made new in the Son) was extended to the Gentiles, both to the good and to the bad – and thus the hall was filled with guests.
Up to this point, the parable is fairly clear. However, we then come to the question of the wedding garment – why is it that the man without the garment is rejected and thrown out into the darkness (i.e. why is he condemned to hell)?
Faith without works is dead
St. Gregory the Great explains: “The marriage is the wedding of Christ and his church, and the garment is the virtue of charity: a person who goes into the feast without a wedding garment is someone who believes in the Church but does not have charity.” (In Evan. Homil. 36)
Some, especially among certain protestants, would attempt to interpret this garment as referring to faith, but this cannot be. All those who enter into the feast have faith, and even this man who entered without the garment. This man was a member of the Church while alive on earth, but when he died and came to the particular judgment (i.e. when the king came to meet his guests), he was found to be wanting and was expelled from the Church and cast into hell.
From this we see that faith alone is not efficacious unto salvation, something more is needed. This “something more” is the wedding garment of charity. One who has faith but has not love has a dead faith which does not save. As St. James tells us, Faith without works (that is, without charity) is dead.
And so we see that the garment is not the sacrament of baptism, nor is it faith, but it is supernatural charity (given in baptism and preserved by all in the state of grace) without which no man can be saved.

NOTE: As I will be on vacation from October 3rd through the 14th, the comment box will be closed. It will be opened from the 15th.

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