domenica 15 ottobre 2017

«Non fuerunt digni»

We have just finished reading the last of the three parables told by Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem against the religious leaders of the people—chief priests, elders and Pharisees. This time Jesus does not speak of a vineyard, but of a wedding feast. Even in this case, it is not a new image; it was already used in the old testament to portray final salvation. We have heard, in the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaking of a banquet prepared by God for all peoples. Now Jesus takes up the same metaphor as a symbol of the kingdom of heaven.

Even though the setting has changed, we find in the parable of the wedding feast several elements we had already found in the parable of the tenants: the son; the servants (some of them are killed); the treatment reserved to the tenants or to the invited guests (in both cases they are punished with death; furthermore, in today’s parable, their city is burned); in either parable the owner of the vineyard and the king turn to others: there, the vineyard was leased to other tenants; here, other people are invited to the feast. These details suggest that the meaning of the two parables is, more or less, the same.

Today’s story is also considered by scholars an allegory more than a parable, because each detail in it has its own meaning: the king stands for God; the wedding feast for his son is the coming of Jesus into the world, to announce the kingdom of God and bring salvation; the servants, sent repeatedly, are the prophets and the apostles; the invited guests are the Jews, who had been called first to salvation, but then, at the crucial moment, back off; the burning of the city most probably refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70; those called from the roads represent sinners and pagans. So, the meaning of the parable should be quite clear: as Jesus had said at the end of the parable of the tenants, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given” to another people. I would like just to point out that the invited guests, who were supposed to be respectable people, actually, according to the words of the king, “were not worthy to come” (non fuerunt digni). On the other hand, those who are called subsequently are “bad and good alike.” This is exactly the situation of the Church, made up both of sinners and saints. If you remember, we had read two parables about this point: the parable of the weeds (which grow together with the wheat) and the parable of the net thrown into the sea (which collects fish of every kind). The separation between the good and the wicked does not take place now, but is postponed until the end of the age.

The parable could finish here; and in the parallel passage by Luke it does end at this point. But, in Matthew, it has a different conclusion. According to some scholars the last verses of today’s selection would be another parable attached to the first one. It is possible, even because they do not speak anymore of the Jews, who had been excluded from the feast, but of those called later; they refer no more to Jesus’ time, but to the final judgment. These verses are very important, because they remind us that it is not enough to be called to the banquet; there is need of being worthy of that invitation. To enter the feast, we have to wear the wedding garment. To put it plainly, if we want to be saved, we cannot think that faith is enough (faith is our acceptance of God’s invitation); there is also need of good works (this is the meaning of the wedding garment). In other words, we have to live in a way consistent with the faith we profess, observing the commandments, especially the new commandment of charity. We would deceive ourselves if we think that, since God is good and wills everyone to be saved, hence all will be saved. Jesus makes it clear that “many are invited, but few are chosen.” If it is true that all are called to salvation and put in a position to be saved, it is not true that all will automatically be saved. Salvation also depends on us. If we do not put on the wedding garment, we will suffer the same fate as those who rejected God’s invitation.