On this mountain the Lord of hosts
will provide for all peoples
a feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all people,
the web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever. (Is 25:6-10)
The king 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. (Mt 22:1-14)
Today Christ compares the kingdom of God to a wedding banquet. The image of the banquet is an important one to the New Testament, which is taken up, as we can see from the first reading, from the Old Testament. Throughout the Gospels Christ refers to himself as the bridegroom and the Church as the bride. This, in turn, is an echo of the prophet Hosea who describes Israel as the bride and the Lord God as the bridegroom.
Marital imagery resonates with the whole of the faith. The wedding rite describes the love of husband and wife as “an image of the love of Christ for his Church” and the love of married persons is the closest concrete image we have of the love of the Trinity: a love of persons that unites perfectly as one even as the persons joined retain their personal identities. The Incarnation, God becoming man in Christ, is a kind of marriage of God and human nature, and through human nature, the entire natural order.
And within the life of grace and conversion that is made possible by the Incarnation, Christ seeks to effect a marriage within each of us, to heal and restore the unity of body and soul within each of us, and by this healing and restoration to prepare us for communion with God and neighbor. Thus the image of the wedding banquet has a personal significance as well. And this healing prepares us for a participation in the larger banquet. Once the integrity of our humanity has been restored by grace and the life of discipleship we are prepared for friendship. Our personal restoration is a preparation for us to participate in the communal restoration of humanity.
In our time and place humanity is more need of this than ever. It seems to me, anyway, and I don’t claim to have any special expertise in recognizing cultural problems, nor do I claim to have any privileged experience that helps me reach this sort of conclusion better than others, but it seems to me that people today have a hard time arriving at the sort of personal integration and interpersonal fellowship that is signified by the wedding banquet.
There are so many who have do not seem capable of being with others in friendship, and who yet are incapable of being alone. I realize this is a sweeping generalization, and while I have no time to get into too many details of precisely what I mean, I will offer only that social media corresponds in a particularly close way to what I have in mind. On social media one is not exactly alone, nor is one truly with other people. And it is not coincidental, I submit, that we hear so much of the bullying that takes place there.
While not itself evil – I confess to having a Facebook page! – the nature of social media provides a ideal home for the sort of malice that motivates bullying. The vengeful are obsessed with the people they bully and malign, but are simultaneously incapable of living in peace with them. Hostility isolates them from their victims, but in their isolation they are preoccupied with those they despise. The feelings of superiority they enjoy as they attack their victims blind them to fact that they are exiling themselves to a kind of infernal middle ground where they have access to neither the peace of fellowship and nor of solitude. For the proud, the envious, the wrathful, the lustful, the vain, every movement towards communion ends up frustrated and spoiled. Every movement outward sends one back upon oneself. Every movement inward is distracted by obsessions. I think this is the significance of the man in today’s Gospel who before he is thrown from the wedding banquet is bound “hands and feet.”
Most other forms of media follow this same pattern. The sight of persons walking down the street wearing headphones is a familiar one to everyone. And I don’t think anyone will deny that the seven deadly sins get a generous hearing in our popular culture. When we break it all down into its component parts we end up with something pretty toxic: people isolating themselves under the cover of keeping company with their favorite artists, feeding eagerly on messages and sentiments that if internalized, make one even less fit for real human fellowship. And when real human interaction becomes frustrating, where do people often turn for consolation and encouragement? – to the very entertainment that has hollowed their capacity for friendship in the first place.
When we are baptized we are “clothed in Christ.” This is the wedding garment that we are to keep clean. This is the wedding garment that marks us as fit to participate in the wedding banquet. By practicing the virtues of solitude – prayer, devotion, meditation – we are brought close to a Word that is very different from the one presented to us by the world around us. It is a word that heals and restores us, that unbinds us, and renders us capable of communion and fellowship. It prepares us to receive the Lord’s generosity and to share it with others, and seats us at his wedding banquet.