Matthew 22:1-14
A Free Gift That Costs Everything
by Rev. Steven G. Oetjen

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people in parables, saying, The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.  He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come.  A second time he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those invited: "Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast."'  Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.  The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.  The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 

Then he said to his servants, '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.'  The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.  But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.  He said to him, 'My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?  But he was reduced to silence.  Then the king said to his attendants, 'Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'  Many are invited, but few are chosen."

Is Salvation given to us as a free gift, or does it require something of us?  The answer is yes to both.  This might not be easy to understand, and it is often confused because of polemics with various protestants, but the parable in this Sunday's Gospel helps illustrate it.

In the first part of the parable, the king invites the guests to the wedding feast.  When that invitation is rejected, the king extends it to anyone and everyone who can be found, "Bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests."  there is first an invitation, rejected by some and accepted by others, but to all of them the king is offering a free gift.  The banquet is prepared - come.  They did not do anything to earn the invitation, they may simply accept it or reject it.

Then comes the second part of the parable, which may catch us off guard.  While the hall is filled with guests, one of them is found to be unsuitable dressed.  When the king sees him, he says, "My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?"  And so, he is cast out into outer darkness.  The invitation may have been free and unmerited, but this would-be guest neglected to realize that something was also expected of him if he would ultimately enter into the feast.

This is a reality about our salvation that is hard to grasp - how can it be a free gift and yet also require something of us?  This mysterious reality about the kingdom is what Christ teaches us through his parables.  The catechism puts it this way: "Through his parables he invites people to the feast of the kingdom, but he also asks for a radical choice: to gain the kingdom, one must give everything" (546).

The two "stages" of the parable mirror two distinct stages of the spiritual life, before and after justification.  Justification is the grace that cleanses and turns us away from sin and fills us with "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" (Rom 3:22), putting us in right relationship with God.  This is a free gift, unmerited by us, a fact that should be obvious for those of us who were baptized as infants.  It is absolutely clear that we did nothing to merit the salvation given to us in that initial moment of justification.  We were only infants - how could we have done anything to merit the grace we received?  But the same is true of anyone baptized as an adult.  All sins are remitted, and the soul is filled with the indwelling presence of God.  How could we do anything to merit that?  It is an "invitation" that we can accept or reject, but not one that we could have earned.

But justification is really only the beginning.  Then follows the life of Christian discipleship, the life of grace. From this point forward, as God dwells in the innermost part of the soul, he is at work in us and he cooperates with us in bringing about our growth in holiness. This corresponds to that second stage of the parable, in which something is expected of us.  We have been given the wedding garment at our baptism, but do we keep it unstained?  Do we dirty it, or even lose it altogether?  Living the Christian life is not a simple one-and-done "yes."  It requires a "yes" each and every day, as the God who now dwells in your soul cooperates wit you in bringing about your holiness.

You can think of your particular vocation as well.  God called - a call that you did not merit - and you responded.  Now you have to live it out every day.  Discalced Carmelite Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene writes, "It is well to remember that the problem of corresponding to a vocation is not one that can be resolved once and for all on the day that we embrace a particular state of life; it's a question that arises every day, because each day our vocation calls for a new response, a fresh adherence adapted to the circumstances and grace of the moment.  A vocation attains to its full realization only by our continual fidelity to God's invitations.  These invitations follow one another without interruption and reveal to the attentive soul ever new horizons, presenting new duties, new opportunities for generosity, and new aspects of perfection and immolation.  The parable ends with this grave sentence: 'Many are called but few are chosen.'  Why are only a few chosen?  Because there are few who know how to correspond day by day; with the grace of their vocation; because there are few who know how to accept all the consequences and demands of the divine call, and who always answer yes to the solicitations of grace."