28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?
The Savior invites all people to the wedding feast of the Lamb, the eternal banquet of heaven. Yet, though salvation is offered to each, yet only few accept the gift and come to the wedding. However, what is most striking about this Sunday’s parable isn’t only that many who are called refuse to be saved, but that even this one who had come was cast out into the darkness.
What is the symbolic meaning of the wedding garment which the man lacked? What is our Savior teaching us about the judgment?
Overview of the parable
In this Sunday’s Gospel, our Lord gives us a parable about the kingdom: The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.
The first portion of the parable is divided into two parts: The ingratitude of the Jews, He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come; and the opening of salvation to the gentiles, The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.
After the hall has been filled with the newly invited guests, the king came in to meet the guests. However, one guest was not dressed in a wedding garment, who was reduced to silence and then bound hand and foot and cast into the darkness outside.
We consider who this man is who is cast out from the wedding feast.
A parable of the final judgment
But when the king came in to meet the guests…
While the first portion of the parable emphasizes that fact that salvation is indeed offered to all people bad and good alike, the latter scene describes the day of judgment when each will receive the proper reward of his labors.
When the king comes into the wedding feast to greet the guests, we are meant to recognize our Savior coming on the day of his judgment. Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide speaks well, “When the king came in, that he might survey and examine them. This shall take place when God shall come to the general judgment at the end of the world, to judge, and reward or punish all mankind.” This follows the interpretation of Origen and many others.
Recognizing that this scene is a representation of the judgment, we can quickly discern what this man is lacking who had no wedding garment.
Who will be judged on the last day
In his Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, St. Thomas (on the authority of St. Gregory the Great) states the following concerning the last judgment: “There are four orders in the judgment: some will not be judged, but will judge and be saved, namely, the Apostles and apostolic men; others will be judged and be saved, as the moderately good; still others will be judged and be damned, as wicked believers; finally, some will not be judged, but will be damned, as all unbelievers.” [On Hebrews 10:31, It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.]
There are four classes of men on the day of judgment:
1. Those who will not be judged and will be saved.
2. Those who will be judged and will be saved.
3. Those who will be judged and will not be saved.
4. Those who will not be judged and will not be saved.
When we consider this parable carefully, we will see each of these classes of men.
Preliminary note about the final judgment and the particular judgment
We admit that those who die before the final judgment will have already receive the pronouncement of their eternity in the particular judgment at the moment of their death. The damned in hell and the blessed in heaven will nevertheless also undergo a general judgment in which the particular judgment is made manifest to all.
The judgment given by God at the moment of death certainly cannot change or be altered, yet the general judgment is necessary as extending the authority of God throughout all history. If in the particular judgment God reveals his sovereignty over each individual, in the general judgment this power is revealed as triumphing over all the injustices which occurred throughout the course of human history.
Not judged, and saved
Those who will not be judged but will be saved are represented by the servants in the parable of the wedding feast. They go out and call all men to salvation, they are the apostles and other great saints who are so clearly united to the king that there is no need to discuss their merits or demerits.
So excellent and holy, these greatest saints will simply be saved without any judgment of their actions, for there is no need to weigh merit and demerit with such as these.
Judged, and saved
Those who will be judged and will be saved are the guests who have come to the wedding feast. Upon the king’s arrival, they are found to be properly clothed and are welcome to remain at the feast.
These men and women have died in the state of grace and, upon the inspection of the king, are found worthy.
Not judged, and not saved
There are also those of the fourth class, who are not judged but are simply damned straight away. These are those who have no meritorious works as never having possessed the gift of faith. Without faith, man cannot please God – without sanctifying grace, no work can be of any value for eternal salvation.
These are those who refused to believe but, hardened in their perfidity, refused to come to the wedding feast. These ones are not judged by the king, but rather the king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. These ones are simply damned without any judgment, and this is made manifest on the last day.
Judged, and not saved – without a wedding garment
And now we can see whom this man without a wedding garment represents: Those who are judged, but who are damned. These are those who do have faith and who therefore are united to the Church (either visibly or, at least, invisibly), but who lack charity which gives life to the soul.
The man without a wedding garment is the believer who is in the state of mortal sin, lacking charity and good works – this is the teaching of Sts Jerome, Hilary, Gregory, and Augustine, as well as Tertullian. Such is the man who has faith, but no works; present at the wedding feast, he is yet found wanting and will be rejected by the king.
Many are called but few are chosen
Thus, we are encouraged to preserver in virtue and to accomplish good works. Ultimately, it is most necessary that we should die in the state of grace with charity in our soul. Indeed, even if a man were to have worn his wedding garment for most of his life, if he were to throw it away for some cheap momentary pleasure and to be found naked when the king should return!
O how sad a thought! To be found without charity’s garment and cast into the darkness of hell! To have traded heaven away so lightly!
And yet, the one act which will assure us of being among the few who are chosen is open to all! It is to pray! Prayer assures us of salvation! If only we pray daily for the grace to persevere to the end, and if we pray also during moments of temptation, we shall surely be saved.