The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Come as you are, but change

Ghent Altarpiece-Adoration of the Lamb, Belgium.

Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time—A
Isaiah 25:6-10a
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Matthew 22:1-14
What should I wear?
It’s one of the first questions we excitedly ask ourselves when we receive an invitation of some sort. It’s not a frivolous question. A tuxedo would be out of place at a backyard barbecue, and shorts and sandals would be inappropriate for a wedding. Likewise, business attire is expected for those called to company meetings, but old jeans and a T-shirt are more suitable for a friend’s invitation to a painting party.
Most of these cultural expectations persist, though in recent years the boundaries may have become a bit blurry. How we dress for an important function (formal or informal) to which we’ve been graciously invited says something about our degree of receptiveness, gratitude, and respect for the host and other guests. And it’s not always easy. I’m the first to admit that I’m much more comfortable in backyard barbeque and painting party apparel! Fortunately for me and those who have to look at me, a Benedictine habit “cleans me up” a bit!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus once again speaks in parables to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. It must be kept in mind that he speaks these words to the chief priests and elders of his own time, who did not exactly meet with his approval. However, the message of today’s parable is no less urgent for us in the Church today. Clearly, the king in the parable is God, and the son is Jesus. The king plans a great wedding feast for his son, and invites many guests. “Everything is ready; come to the feast,” he says.
But the invited guests refuse to come, ignore the invitation to attend to “more important things,” or even worse, mistreat and kill the messengers bearing the invitation. There are many in today’s world and in ages past who have responded in such ways to God’s generous invitation to the banquet of grace, mercy, and peace. Because of their own refusal, they are deemed unworthy of the Kingdom of God. It is a personal choice.
But some do come. Some accept the invitation, and all are welcomed. As today’s passage states, when those first invited failed to show up, the king’s servants “went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike.” This is the Church’s invitation to us all. The Church—particularly through the Eucharist—prefigures (albeit imperfectly) the heavenly banquet to which we are all invited. No one is to be excluded.
The Church’s role is to gather all she finds, bad and good alike, for the banquet of grace, mercy, and peace. We are the king’s servants sent out to fill the hall with guests, and we are also the guests gathered in by the king’s servants.
However, though the invitation is open to all, bad and good alike, we must dress for the occasion. We need to ask ourselves, “What should I wear?” Being invited and accepting the invitation is not enough. We must also have the proper degree of receptiveness, gratitude, and respect for the most gracious invitation we have received. As the last line of today’s Gospel states, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” The Church invites all, but entrance into the Heavenly Kingdom and full participation in the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb requires a lifelong, full-hearted response. The “chosen” are the ones who choose to do this.
In today’s Gospel, the king encounters a guest not dressed in a wedding garment, the appropriate attire for the occasion. Yes, the guest had been invited, but his response to the invitation was not full. It was half-hearted. In essence, he “chose” to be cast out.
Jesus was speaking allegorically. The issue at stake is obviously not about clothing. What Jesus persists in telling us throughout the Gospels is that while all are invited to God’s feast—bad and good alike—in order to be truly “chosen,” we must genuinely express the proper degree of receptiveness, gratitude, and respect. The Church is to welcome all, but there will be a Last Judgment for each one of its members. What we are “wearing” at that moment will matter enormously.
Jesus insists on reminding us of this reality. For example, in Matthew 13:47-48, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.” Elsewhere, he speaks of separating the wheat from the weeds, the sheep from the goats—not now, but at the Last Judgment. Until then, all the guests are allowed to mingle with one another at the banquet provided by the Church.
The point is this: Mere church membership, lackadaisical observance, and doing only what is necessary to fulfill minimum requirements are not guarantees of entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven at the Last Judgment. We must have on our wedding garments. We must respond faithfully throughout our lives—in every aspect of our lives—to something very specific.
This is no esoteric formula beyond our reach. In the Gospel of John, as Jesus begins his ministry at the wedding at Cana, Mary (representing the Church) says to the servants (us): “Do whatever he [Jesus] tells you.”
And what does Jesus tell us to do? In the Gospel of Luke (10:25-28), a scholar of the law asks Jesus directly: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds with a question, implying that the scholar already knows the answer: “What is written in the law?” And the scholar replies: “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells him: “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
This is what we must wear as God’s invited guests to the banquet of grace, mercy, and peace. We must put on the wedding garment of pure and total love of God, and our neighbor as ourselves. St. Paul elaborates: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12-14).
It is a simple command, but not an easy one to carry out. This wedding garment chafes a little at first. Like a pair of new shoes, it takes a while to wear it in. The good news is that we don’t have to do it all alone. This is why God gives us the Church, the Eucharist and other sacraments, Scripture, public worship and private prayer, the ability to perform good works, and faith. These are not gifts we give to God, but things he gives to us for our benefit, for our being built up for the Kingdom.
As St. Paul says in today’s second reading, “God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” In other words, come to the feast, and Christ himself with hand you the wedding garment to put on as you enter the banquet hall.
With the help of Christ the bridegroom, we all “clean up pretty nice,” bad and good alike. We can come as we are, but must change. If we so choose.

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