28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.
Isaiah 25:6-10 – Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20 – Matthew 22:1-14.
One of life’s joys is taking part in the great feasts of life. We invite folks (or they invite us) to come along and join us in celebrating a lifetime milestone such as a wedding. We ourselves feel honoured when we see the people we invited responding positively to our invitation. Sometimes we can be disappointed when adverse weather or illness affects the response or turnout, but we can feel wounded to the core when people who accept the invitation and say they are coming fail to show up. Our feelings are hurt when we really want their presence at our celebration, get it all ready for them to enjoy, only to have them renege on their promise to be there for us.
We all know how hugely powerful kings could be in ancient times. Just imagine the rage of one of those kings if an invitation of his were turned down by one of those he’d invited… it would send a shiver of fear up the spines of his courtiers. If someone turns down a monarch’s invitation, what a grave insult it is to his person and to the office he bears.
Addressing the chief priests and elders of the people and, by extension, the Jewish people in general, Jesus the Heavenly Bridegroom used the parable (in today’s gospel reading) of The Marriage of The King’s Son to tell them about God’s invitation to them to be His Chosen People, His special guests, at the banquet of His Kingdom. They had accepted the covenant with Him (Deut 14:2), but whenever God sent messengers (prophets) and even His Son (Jesus, the Son of God) to announce the banquet, they declined the invitation. Nor did they stop at turning it down: they killed the bearers of the invitation. How easily we empathise with the fury of the king in the parable at the deliberate snub and the fatuous excuses of the guests, especially after he had expended massive generosity to lay on a lavish spread for them. This is how God feels when His people reject Him to run after other gods or silence His Word in their lives.
The message of this parable is also for us! At our Baptism and Confirmation we received and accepted this invitation to become the guests at God’s eternal banquet. But the point needs to be made that saying ‘yes’ to God’s invitation is not a one-off acceptance. Our acceptance and commitment to God need constant reinforcement on a daily basis in order for us to grow in Him. It is so easy to get distracted by the joys and sorrows of daily life and to forget about eternal life. It is so easy to fill ourselves with the junk food of this life and to forget the bounteous goodness of the banquet of eternal life. “On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food, he will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples”. In these words (Is 25:6) Isaiah reminds us that what God offers us is the very best of everything we can ever imagine in this earthly life, and much, much more. If that is the case – and it most certainly is – how come we allow ourselves to be distracted from focusing on our response to God’s invitation to eternal life in His heavenly Kingdom? What are you allowing in your personal life to shift God down into second or third place?
The latter part of the parable concerns the underclass who were called to the banquet later on. Initially, our hearts might sympathize with the man who was hauled off the street into the wedding reception, only to find himself in deep trouble for not being suitably dressed for the occasion. You might well ask, “how could he have been expected to find and don the necessary clothes at such short notice?” The important point to note here is that the parable is not about physical clothing, but about readiness for the demands of the occasion. It is about preparedness for what the invitation to eternal life requires. Jesus is telling us that, although God has opened the gates of His heavenly Kingdom to us, admission and having a place there is not automatic. The wedding garment, like a uniform, symbolizes discipline in the discipleship of Christ. Each person has to be spiritually prepared and able to prove themselves worthy of the divine invitation by presenting themselves dressed appropriately – honourably – before the King (God). There is zero room for complacency about our personal spiritual state. After we have accepted the invitation to membership of the Church at our Baptism and Confirmation, we really have to make the effort to dress ourselves every day in the Christian virtues, and to develop them through repeated practice in order to grow within the parameters of the Church. Jesus reminded us that in these words, “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Every day, we are invited to follow God more and more closely, and our positive response to Him is the work of a lifetime.
How are we living out our Christian life, the life of God’s chosen people? Are we just Church-goers, repeating the mistakes of the Jews for which Jesus criticized them? As we go about tackling the struggles of daily life, if we don’t master the discipline of clothing ourselves properly in Christian love, sacrifice, virtues and principles and rooting ourselves ever deeper in them day by day, it might be oh-so-easy for us to leave God out of the picture of our activities.
In the 2nd reading, St Paul tells us how dressed-up he is, to what extent he has mastered himself in order to remain steadfast in Christ, no matter what challenging aspects of earthly life he may face: “I know how to be poor and rich… I am ready for anything anywhere, there is nothing I cannot master with the help of the one who gives me strength”. Indeed, how greatly we need the grace of God in order to be able to master the discipline of the Christian Virtues which Jesus Himself taught us … love, prayer, sharing the gospel with others, encouraging and supporting one another, receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, and so on. In accepting the invitation to this discipline, we are not facing life alone because we are in union with Christ and with each other. How far are you ready “to dress up”? Amen. God bless you.