Jesus was always comparing his Kingdom to many human images — from the mustard seed to the return of the prodigal son; yet, his parable of the wedding feast illustrates God and our relationship to Him with perhaps unmatched clarity. Notwithstanding the scholastic caveat of any human analogy to fully express divine realities (i.e., that God is always more “unlike”than “like” our human attributes), the Kingdom of heaven is overwhelmingly akin “to a King who gave a Wedding Feast for His Son.”1 Evidently, the King is God the Father. The Son is Christ himself telling this story. The King is preparing to present to his Son a bride, as a gift already betrothed to him. The wedding feast celebrates the Son’s union to this bride-to-be, although a union still imperfect and not yet consummate — since there remains at least one mysteriously under-dressed invitee who leaves the party. In these and other elements, the parable offers some of the most profound insights into the Kingdom of Heaven — the Father, the Son, the Communion with the Bride, and some who are deemed unfit for this communion. In all of this, however, where is the Bride — or who?
Taken in the broader context of scripture, she is the Church — you and I. We are the bride of Christ. (Religious and consecrated virgins seek to remind us of this privilege which is offered to all of us.) St. John Paul II wrote in his Theology of the Body, “In this expression, [Christ’s] redeeming love is transformed, I would say, into spousal love… Christ is united once for all with her [the church], as bridegroom with the bride, as husband with his wife.”2 We are the bride, whom the Father has gathered and prepared for his Son. In parallel fashion to every man and every bridegroom since Adam, Christ himself left His Father and His homeland behind and—in the fullness of time — took flesh and was joined to this wife; and the two became, in some way, one flesh.3
In fact, scripture abounds with references to God as the Bridegroom preparing us for himself. Salvation history renders it like two bookends: the Genesis image of God presenting Eve to Adam, and Revelation’s climactic finale of “the holy ones,” now purified, presented as the bride for the wedding feast of the Lamb4 — the same wedding feast to which Jesus’ parable refers. The Old Testament is glittered with prophecies like those of Hosea or Ezekiel, describing the origin and divine calling of God’s people. From our state as the rejected daughter covered in the filth of our sin, God waited until we were “old enough for love” and then cleansed us, clothed us, and adorned us with “My splendor which I bestowed on you.”He then enters into a solemn covenant with his beloved.5 How clearly, in the New Testament, the Pauline image of man and wife from Ephesians extrapolates this very parable of Jesus’ Wedding Feast: “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church!”6
Our Lord’s marital image becomes all the more touching when considered alongside His prayer at the Last Supper: “Father, they are your gift to me.”7 Perhaps there is even a tenor of excitement, a heartfelt emotion stirring in the trembling voice of the Bridegroom as He beholds with profound filial gratitude his beloved Father’s precious gift for himself. “Gift.” That is how He beholds us. That is our fundamental identity, our greatest dignity. Who are you? Who am I? When we kneel in adoration praising him, would that we might hear his own affectionate declaration spoken to our hearts. “Father, she is your gift to me!” “He is your gift to me!” “They are your gift to Me…so that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them!”8 It is the joyous longing of the Bridegroom to share his intimacy with his beloved bride-to-be, and to offer His whole Self and all that is His to her — to you and to me. We are the bride, the Gift of the Father to the Son and the object of the Bridegroom’s longing and delight. There, within the divine Trinitarian exchange, you are Gift, presented by God who has no need, desired and received by God who has no need. Indeed — Saint John Paul II constantly highlights — you and I are “the only creature in the visible world that God willed ‘for its own sake’”9 — not for any other creature, but for Himself. If the Kingdom of Heaven is like a King who offered a wedding feast for his Son, then you are at the epicenter of that wedding feast. “Father, he is your gift to Me!”
St Paul, too, experienced that nuptial relation in all its individuality: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and handed himself over for me!”10 With this in mind, we can likewise read his exhortation to the Ephesians very much in the singular. The Son, the Divine Bridegroom, “handed himself over for [you] to sanctify [you], cleansing [you] by the bath of water with the word, that he might present [you] to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that [you] might be holy and without blemish.”11 The Second Person of the Trinity, the infinite, divine bridegroom loves infinitely and speaks to each member even as He speaks to the whole Church. To His all-seeing eye, nothing is abstract. To borrow from C.S. Lewis, God is the Divine Author of creation’s novel of characters and — himself existing outside of their time — can pause for all eternity simply to delight in a single character whom He willed to create for his or her own sake.12 The Son delights in you and cherishes you as the Father’s gift. The love of the Bridegroom is personal, intimate with each one. “Father, he is your gift to Me!”
This fundamental identity as Gift is the “wedding garment” we proudly wear in Christ’s parable. Though indeed willed for himself, nevertheless “man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.”13 Clothing ourselves in the vesture of “Gift” means striving to live towards God and others, a life fruitful not in following our passing whims but in giving ourselves to God and enriching our neighbor with our good deeds.14 On the contrary, a self-centered life focused on worldly allurements and cheap, adulterous lovers would render us — as it were — naked or immodest in God’s eyes, adorning ourselves in a sterile mockery of the bridal vesture and wholly unworthy of the Bridegroom. The mysterious figure in Jesus’ parable represents those seduced by the lies of self-love and self-seeking — lies which the enemy has woven to blind us to our existential calling as Gift.15 Such a soul will find himself stripped of any false pretenses as he sees himself still stubbornly clothed in the worldly vanities and selfishness that he had chosen not to discard. “‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence.”
You are clothed in the dignity of the Father’s divine Gift for His Son, sealed in his divine image, wrapped with divine affection, and signed in His hand: “To the Bridegroom.” You are invited live at the center of the Divine exchange of love, now and for all eternity. You do not belong to yourself and you dare not cheapen your dignity by channeling your desires towards yourself or towards petty, worldly allurements. You are called to don this wedding garment faithfully, fashioned and redeemed according to the image of Christ. You are destined to be freely united to the Bridegroom at that heavenly wedding feast — the joy of which will have no end. You are deeply cherished, and the Son fights for you, cleanses you of all sterility and sanctifies you towards the full consummation at the wedding feast. “And blessed are those called to that wedding feast of the Lamb!”
To download a PDF version of this homily, click here: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Stephen Dardis was ordained a priest in 2012 for the Legionaries of Christ, with a Bachelors in Theology and a Licentiate in Philosophy. He was incardinated into the Archdiocese of New Orleans and currently serves as Associate Pastor for Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Slidell, Louisiana.
3Cf. Genesis 2:24.
4See Genesis 2:24 and Rev. 19:7-9 –“For the wedding day of the lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment. (The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.)… Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the lamb!”
5Cf. Ezekiel 16:6-14.
6Ephesians 5:32. See also Hosea 2.
9ToB 15:1. (Papal Audience January 16, 1980, quoting Guadium et Spes 24).
11Ephesians 5: 25-27.
12Cf. Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, Book VI Ch. 3, p. 147.
14See Rev. 19:7-9 –“…His bride has made herself ready. She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment. (The linen represents the righteous [selfless] deeds of the holy ones.)”
15Cf. Isaiah 25:8 “He will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations…”(First reading).