IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.
Within the church on earth there are Christians and there are non-Christians, or, as Christ teaches, there exist the wheat and there exist the tares, dwelling side by side (cf. Matt. 13.24-30). Such will it be until the end of the ages. Such is also the picture painted by Christ in today’s Gospel reading where there is found within the wedding banquet one who is not wearing a wedding garment.
Pope Gregory the Great, living in the sixth century, and delivering a homily on the Gospel which we have just heard, asks his parishioners, “What is this wedding garment?” “Is it faith?” as some people may respond, or “Is it baptism?” as others may answer. He says,
What do we think is meant by the wedding garment, dearly beloved? For if we say it is baptism or faith, is there anyone who has entered this marriage feast without them? A person is outside because he has not yet come to believe. What then must we understand by the wedding garment but love? That person enters the marriage feast, but without wearing a wedding garment, [that person] is present in the holy Church, and has faith, but does not have love.
Before delivering this parable, Jesus and His disciples had arrived on the previous day in Bethphage near the Mount of Olives where he sent two of his disciples to retrieve a colt, upon which He sat and He then entered Jerusalem where the crowds greeted Him saying, “Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.”(Matt. 21.9). He then went into the Temple and healed the blind and lame (Matt. 21.14). He retired to Bethany where He stayed for the night and then returned to the Temple the next morning. On His way, Jesus curses a fig tree. Upon His arrival, he speaks to the Chief Priests and Elders about what authority He has to do and teach what He does, about the parable of a man who had a vineyard, and then Jesus delivers this parable illustrating what the Kingdom of Heaven is like (Matthew 21.23).
The parable can be broken up into two parts. The first part speaks to the falling away of Israel and the inclusion of the Gentiles. The second part speaks of the New Testament Church.
In the first part, Jesus indicates the falling away of the Jews despite God’s persistent invitation, as evidenced by the two times the friends of the King are invited to his Son’s wedding. After the first invitation, we are told the guests were not willing to come. At the second invitation, the servants are sent out and they describe the great lengths the King has gone to in order to prepare a lavish wedding feast, but the guests made up excuses so as not to come while others even killed the messengers. At the third invitation, the King then invites “strangers”, meaning the Gentiles - those who live in the highways - and without prejudice, both the good and the bad, and from this assortment, it was said that the wedding hall was filled with guests.
In the second part, while the company was entertained at the wedding party, the king is socializing with the guests and finds one who does not have a wedding garment, when, upon asking about his clothing, the guest is dumbstruck and speechless. The king then has this intruder and imposter bound and thrown into the darkness and the parable ends by telling us that “many are called but few are chosen.”
I. The Falling of the Jews and the Calling of the Gentiles
With this parable we see how it is that God has tirelessly called the Jews, but they, rejecting this call, were abandoned and those who were foreign to the Law, and strangers to the Prophets were then called.
The whole of the Old Testament illustrates how God patiently, persistently and indefatigably sought to draw the Jews unto Himself. In Ezekiel 16, the Lord speaks to Ezekiel telling him to say to Jerusalem that since her birth, nobody cut her umbilical cord, or washed her or swaddled her, or pitied her or had compassion on her, but she was thrown into an open field and abandoned; but when the Lord came by, He covered her nakedness, He washed her, He anointed her, He clothed her, He entered into a covenant with her and she became His and she grew strong and multiplied, but then she deserted Him.
The Apostle Paul, in a question-and-answer format, recounts in brief this history about the Jews falling away and the inclusion of the Gentiles, writing:
But I say, [Has Israel not heard]? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.
But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.
But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.
But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people (Romans 10.18-21).
And now, in the fullness of time, the Messiah, the Son of Man, comes, to call to Himself Jew and Gentile, and in today’s parable, Christ indicates exactly this.
Concerning this “falling away” of Israel, many today see the Christian language and description of such things as being anti-Semitic, a conclusion which to most of us sounds like an obvious misunderstanding, which it is. Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), addressing this point, says,
In modern scholarly literature, antisemitism and anti-Judaism are often conflated [i.e. often used as synonyms, one for the other]. Scholars who do this insist that antisemitism and anti-Judaism are expressions of the same hatred for Jews and Judaism. In reality, they truly are different phenomena, and each needs its own proper treatment. Antisemitism as hatred for the Jews as an ethnic group (or for the larger group of Semitic peoples) should be justly rejected... But the polemic against Judaism as a religious tradition is a major theme of most of the books of the New Testament, permeating early Christian theology, and it is even reflected in liturgical texts. To simply erase it from Christian history would mean to remove an important element of Christian identity.
We would do well to recall how the Apostle Paul, vying with our forefather Moses who addressed God about the future of the Israelites, saying, “But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written,”(Ex. 32.32; NIV); [Paul] speaks of his own boundless and unlimited love for the Jews, seeing that he is even one of them. He says,
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed (i.e. ἀνάθεμα) from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. (Romans 9.1-5)
God arranged a wedding feast for His Son, and the guests were the Israelites, but they made light of their invitation and when the prophets were sent to them, they seized them, treated them spitefully and killed them. Now a people, who were not a people, are called to become the people of God.
II. The Wedding Garment of the Soul
However, we who have come to this wedding feast, with what garments do we clothe our soul?
On the day in which we were given life, we were anointed with oil that is blessed by the power, operation and descent of the Holy Spirit so that it would be an anointing of incorruption, a shield of righteousness, a renewal of soul and body, an averting of every operation of the devil, to the removal of all evils; we were baptized into the water that is hallowed by the power, operation and descent of the Holy Spirit in order that that water would be a water of redemption, a water of sanctification, a cleansing of flesh and spirit, a loosing of bonds, a forgiveness of sins, an illumination of soul, a laver of regeneration, a renewal of the spirit, a gift of sonship, a garment of incorruption, a fountain of life; and then we were chrismated with the Holy Myron on the forehead, the eyes, the nostrils, the mouth, the ears, the breast, the hands, and the feet - the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now, friends, with what garments do we clothe our soul?
“Pay attention to this, all of you who, having taken part in the sacraments and being called to marriage, [you who] clothe your soul with unclean deeds!” says St. John Chrysostom. “Hear where you are called from: from the crossroads! What were you? Lame and blind in soul - which is much worse than bodily blindness. Honor the philanthropy of the Caller; and let no one remain in unclean clothes, but let each of us take care of the garment of his soul.”
Looking to the Prophet Moses and the Apostle Paul, are we willing to be anathema for the salvation of our brother? If we were to take the advice of St. Gregory the Great, as mentioned above, have we clothed our soul in the garment of love? Do we love our friends and family and therefore listen to our husband or wife or friend when they try to help us or correct us, or do we know better, do we resent them for it, do we constantly kick against the goads, do we ignore them? Are we selfish and desire our own will and never are able to overcome that brass wall that separates us from God. Do we love our spiritual father who seeks our salvation or are we making excuses for our self and our deficiencies and disobedience or do we try to be obedient, do we push ourselves without complaining, without murmuring, without regret and actually try to overcome that old man?
Friends, it is to a wedding feast that we are called, a fitting depiction of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is not a meeting, or a tribunal. It is a place of joy, of merriment, of permanence in the presence of God where there is no pain, no sorrow, no sighing, but life everlasting, and it begins here; it begins now. Does it really, though? I am so spiritually crippled? I have been a Christian for many years now, and feel that I am only so in name. “I see Thy bridal chamber adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter there.” I am a mess?
Yes. Yes. May we not fear, nor give way to despondency for this is no obstacle for God. However, we must pray, we must pray that God will help us to overcome, that He will strengthen us, that He will enable us to love, and then we must try.
Abba Moses the Ethiopian asked Abba Silvanus, ‘Can a man lay a new foundation every day?’ The elder said, ‘If he works hard, he can lay a new foundation at every moment,’ God helping us.
THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF OUR HOLY FATHERS, LORD JESUS CHRIST, HAVE MERCY ON US. AMEN.
 Forty Gospel Homilies (Kalamazoo: Liturgical Press, 1990), 346-347.
 Jesus Christ: His Life and Teachings (Yonkers: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 2022) 4: