It's NOT about wearing dressy clothes to Sunday Mass
How rude! It’s one thing to ask guests who are misbehaving to leave, but to have them cast out into the darkness – and not just any old darkness but darkness where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth, is hardly the sign of a polite host. And to throw someone out just because he isn’t properly dressed, well, that seems somewhat ungracious, to say the least.
Once again we have a Gospel designed – divinely designed at that – to tick everybody off. The Lord wasn’t looking to tell a nice story so that, at the end, everyone would come up and say to Him: “How nice!” He was hoping to – and succeeded in – provoking everyone. But the story started out more gently; we might even have sympathized a bit with the King who had to deal with rude guests who didn’t want to come to the banquet he was preparing for his son’s wedding.
We can only imagine (and how important the gift of imagination is to the spiritual life) how affronted and insulted the King felt. Our own reaction to learning that people whom we have invited to an important event in our lives don’t want to come varies from disappointment to rage. My one brief experience with leading a pilgrimage uncovered the fact that someone showing up even five minutes late for our group’s appointed departure time could make me livid; I have no small sympathy for the King.
In such situations we can be – as I believe the King was – not simply insulted; there is something deeper. When invited guests decline an invitation we realize that they will not be able to share in something wonderful which has been prepared for them. It is (at least on our better days) for that reason that we are saddened, because an experience which is beautiful and valuable will have passed them by, those about whom we care (since we invited them).
And the King, wanting the joy of his son’s wedding feast to be experienced (and this is love: that what is good and beautiful increase and multiply; that more and more share in it), so putting aside his (justified) rage and his sadness – or moved by it – he sends out the servants to the same people who have just offended him – and invites them again, even pleads with them, to come to the feast. This is graciousness indeed and a desire that they experience the good, the joy, he has prepared.
Their behavior (whose behavior? Theirs? Ours?) is appalling, not just saying no and using self-serving reasons (my farm, my business, my money, my greed) but even killing those who had brought them this kind invitation.
Well, here the King does go a bit beyond what Emily Post might have suggested as a tasteful response to the ungracious behavior of potential guests – he has them killed and their city burned. But, really, hadn’t they brought it on themselves? Didn’t they have an obligation to go to the Feast, as the King’s citizen and as those whom he loved? Did they not – do we not – have an obligation to joy?
Well, he sends the servants out again – those who hadn’t been killed – and tells them to bring in everybody, anyone, the good and the bad alike. How very fortunate, for me at least, since my initial invitation must have been lost in the mail. Now, some might object that the King was lowering his standards, letting all sorts of hoi polloi in. But those fine people who had originally been invited weren’t really as fine as they thought; whatever it was about their standing, their wealth, their position which got them the honor of the original invitation might also have been what made them so arrogant in turning it down. So the King is looking for those who might actually be humble enough to graciously accept his invitation.