Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
Does everyone go to heaven? Ultimately, only God knows, but Jesus seems to indicate otherwise by his teachings. Did you know that Jesus tells us more about hell than anyone else in the Bible? It’s ironic, right?—since that’s not what we normally associate with Jesus. But the Church’s teachings about hell come from Christ’s teaching on hell.
When someone asked Jesus, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Jesus answered, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter but will not be able” (cf. Lk. 13:23-24). In the words that followed, Jesus said to the crowd, “There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves cast out” (cf. Lk. 13:28).
In a similar account from Matthew, Jesus said, “The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. But the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (cf. Mt. 7:13-14). Our Lord seemed to indicate that the majority of people would walk the path to destruction, and only a minority would choose life.
When explaining the parable of the weeds and the wheat, Jesus said, “The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (cf. Mt. 13:41-42).
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, we heard about a surprising reversal of fortunes. After death, the rich man was tormented in hell, while Lazarus rested in the bosom of Abraham (cf. Lk. 16:23).
When Jesus spoke of separating the sheep from the goats—a metaphor for the righteous and the unrighteous—he said, “[the Son of man] will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…” (cf. Mt. 25:41).
In another place, to the crowds Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt. 7:21a).
I could go on, but the point is that Jesus is the one who teaches us that hell exists and that it’s a place for fallen angels and evildoers. Our parable today is consistent with his teaching.
You may recognize some of the symbolism. The King and his Son represent God the Father, and God the Son—Jesus Christ. The wedding feast symbolizes the eternal covenant between God and his people.
A covenant establishes a relationship where there was not one before. As a wedding feast unites a bride and groom, the wedding feast in our parable represents the union between Jesus and his Bride, the Church.
The first group of invited guests represent the ancient Jews who lived at the time of Christ. As the first group killed the messengers of the King, the ancient Israelites and Jews mistreated and killed the prophets whom God sent to Israel over the many centuries.
So the King sent his servants to summon others to the feast—“whomever you find,” he said. And the servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. That second invitation that goes out symbolizes this era of the Church, in which the gospel invitation is offered to all peoples everywhere, good and bad alike.
In our parable, the King encounters someone not dressed appropriately. That person is bound, hand and foot, and cast into the darkness, “where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth,” says the Lord (cf. Mt. 22:1-14). Our passage then ends very ominously. “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
This parable is meant to serve as a warning to us. As the King in our parable appeared suddenly at the banquet—with judgement—so also will our God suddenly appear to us in his full majesty at the resurrection of the dead, at a day and hour we do not expect.
In order to not be cast out, we must be dressed appropriately, unlike that man from our parable. He was dressed according to what he had been doing outside the banquet hall. He came as he was. His appearance was fitting for what he had been doing outside; and so, he’s cast back outside.
But to be at the wedding feast requires a wedding garment. In the Book of Revelation, we hear both about the wedding feast of the Lamb and about being dressed appropriately. The Book of Revelation describes the liturgy, both on earth and in heaven.
The apostle John gives witness to what he’s seen: I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands… (cf. Rv. 7:9).
That’s from chapter 7. And he continues. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb (cf. Rv. 7:14b). And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses (cf. Rv. 19:14), from chapter 19.
You can read the Book of Revelation on your own. That whitening of the fine linen comes about in a very specific way. Purity comes from going against the grain of a secular culture that is hostile to God.
Going with the secular culture means being dressed like it—adopting its values and beliefs. Being dressed for the wedding feast ultimately means adopting this [gesturing to the Crucifix].
In Romans, Saint Paul describes it as, “putting on Christ,”—casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light (cf. Rm. 13:12, 14). By the end of his life, he would write, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (cf. Gal. 2:20a).
Whitening our garments means doing the same—configuring our entire lives to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ until only Christ remains.
Parable of the Marriage Feast, by Andrey N. Mironov, oil on canvas, 2014, Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]