These Parables: The Marriage of the King’s Son

Many of us have pulsing in our heads the Coleridge verses from the “Ancient Mariner” that are, or were until recent reforms in education wiped out learning, a staple of a child’s literary education. “The feast is set, the guests are met….” One can hear the merry din. Weddings are the great feasts of life, even if clergymen may not relish their multiple sequence in the parish calendar. Our Lord sees the whole world as a wedding. His last parable before consummating salvation on the cross was about the marriage of the king’s son (Matthew 21:45-22:14).

Some republicans (the small “r” kind) were confounded when the recent monarchical occasions of a royal funeral and golden jubilee drew millions of rapt observers. But the most ardent royalist admits that the messianic kingship is not of this world. Ask Pontius Pilate or the crowd Jesus shunned when they tried to make Him their kind of king in Galilee. The same Temple gathering that heard the parables of the two sons and the wicked husbandmen hears this from the lips of the Heavenly Bridegroom. By the testimony of St. Paul (Philippians 3), this man is the Once and Future King, and is still King when cloistered in the carpenter’s shop, a supernatural version of King Charles hiding in the oak at Boscobel.

This parable is added to the pair of warnings about Christ’s rejection by the Jews. It would be disloyal to the tribe not to feast, so even in the heaviest private sorrow, the public Jew will “anoint his head and wash his face that he appear not unto men to fast.” Christ will raise that etiquette to the holiest pitch when He breaks bread in the upper room hours before sweating blood. Those first called, who violated protocol and decency by refusing to attend the wedding, will be replaced by those of lesser rank. So far the fellows listening in the cheaper seats are gloating at the Pharisees. But for their own obstinacy, they will be cast aside in favor of the lesser breeds without the law. At once the audience shares the unease of the Pharisees, for the Master has shifted into another gear, and they do not know where He is taking them. Those lesser breeds are all of us from China to Canada—and this includes Rome and Dublin. There is only one caste in God’s system, and it is the outcast. But raised in dignity, one man refuses to don the ceremonial garment and is cast out not by men but by God.

From the Missionaries of Charity convent in Harlem where I used to say Mass, I could watch poor people entering a storefront gospel church dressed in hats and gloves and suits that I rarely saw in rich parishes of Christ’s one true Church. Good people the suburban Catholics were, but quick to make worship a dress-down occasion. Businesses are finding that dressing down for work reduces productivity, and rumor speaks of a return to better days. Now even at the Met, the opera hat has been replaced with the baseball cap—although, by some curious transmigration, last summer I also saw a man in a top hat at Yankee Stadium, but he was just trying to catch the eye of the camera. My grandfather was a friendly man, but he stopped going to the opera in 1946 when he saw a man there in a brown business suit. My grandfather said it was rude to the singers.

Jesus did not preach this parable on His way to suffering and death in order to give me a platform to rant about haberdashery. But dare I say that our Lord had an eye for clothes? Not always approvingly: He had strictures about broad phylacteries and long tassels. But He wore a seamless garment, which was a fine thing worth gambling for, and His first motion when He rose from the dead was to fold up His grave clothes neatly. Either He did it or an angel, but it evokes a sartorial mystery, stretching from Joseph’s colored coat to the white robes of the heavenly martyrs. Man is to present himself with dignity before the King, and that dignity is not of man’s making: “You have not chosen me, I have chosen you.” To deny that is to be denied the feast. This goes even for that 18th-century peeress, dressed in idiosyncratic morals, who said: “God would never damn a British duchess.”

Fine studies of this parable by evangelical Christians miss the one point that is the whole point, the center of the parable that is also its circumference, rather like God Himself: The wedding feast is the Eucharist to which we are admitted by baptism, and those baptismal robes are laundered in the confessional and flaunted in all the sacraments. For the Catholic, the wedding garment is worn all the time in the sacramental life. It should not be hidden away in a hope chest for the Last Judgment.


  • Fr. George W. Rutler

    Fr. George W. Rutler is a contributing editor to Crisis and pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. A four-volume anthology of his best spiritual writings, A Year with Fr. Rutler, is available now from the Sophia Institute Press.

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