Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
October 9, 2005
Is 25:6-10; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Mt 22:1-14
1) In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to us about the joy of heaven, the invitation he has given us to join him there forever, and about how we need to respond to that invitation. He does so within the context of a parable about salvation history in which he indicates, basically, how NOT to respond. He concludes the parable by saying, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” In order that we may be numbered among the “chosen few,” let’s pay close attention to what he tells us today.
2) In order to understand the full meaning of the parable and be able to apply it to our own circumstances, we first need to grasp how wedding banquets and invitations worked in the ancient Jewish world:
a. When Jesus was looking for an analogy to describe heaven, he referred on several occasions to a wedding banquet, because these feasts were by far the most joyous occasions in the life of a Jew. Many times today we can think that wedding receptions are “over-the-top,” but today’s are nothing in comparison with those Jesus and his contemporaries would have attended. Wedding celebrations were eight-day events. While an average Jew would have had only one meal a day, and meat once a week, at wedding feasts they had large meals three times a day and meat eight straight days. There was also plenty of wine, dancing and myriad means of enjoyment. The bride and groom were treated like queen and king throughout the octave. In comparing the kingdom of heaven to a wedding banquet, Jesus was describing not only its duration but its unforgettable and unmistakable joy.
b. Invitations, too, worked much differently then than they do now. The hosts didn’t send written invitations announcing a date well in advance and asking people to fill out and mail a reply card. Rather, they would send out a first wave of messengers announcing the celebration to everyone and giving everyone a couple of days to prepare. The invitees would take care of other business and then get themselves ready for eight days of great fun. It was never a question of accepting or rejecting an invitation; these were the types of summons that no one would ever dream of turning down. As soon as all of the preparations had been made, the animals killed, the tables set, and the food and decorations in order, a second wave of messengers would go out calling everyone to the feast. Within a very short period of time the guests would arrive and the festivities begin.
3) Jesus’ listeners would have been shocked when Jesus mentioned to them the response to the initial wave of messengers announcing the feast. The first group of invitees, he said, “would not come.” After the second wave, the invitees “made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them and killed them.” Who would these invitees be? They were Jesus’ listeners and their ancestors, the many Jews who did not realize that they had been refusing to respond to God’s invitation to live in a covenant of love with Him. Many made excuses for not coming, like home or work. Others tried to kill the King’s messengers, the prophets.
4) Deeming them “not worthy,” God sent out other messengers into the main streets to invite everyone to his feast. This was in fulfillment of the prophecy God had given through the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading. He says that “on this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for ALL PEOPLES a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.… Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from ALL faces.” He invited everyone to share his joy when every tear would be wiped away. These new invitees, from every nation, are US, called by another wave of messengers: the apostles, their successors and all their collaborators throughout the centuries. For God, they have invited the “good and the bad.” Like the Jews, we —whether good or bad up until now — are called to respond to that incredible invitation.
5) So the heavenly Father is throwing a banquet that will last forever and we’re on the guest list. The wave of messengers announcing that the banquet is being prepared has already come. None of us knows, like the ancient Jews, precisely when the next wave will arrive telling us that all of the preparations are finished and we should come immediately. It could come at any time, as it did this morning for tens of thousands in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Our task is only to be ready so that we might with joy go as soon as we receive that news.
6) We noticed, however, that merely showing up to the banquet hall is not enough. We can be there without being prepared. This is what we see in the man who showed up without a wedding garment. The king in the parable was astonished that someone, even if he were among the bad, would take his invitation so nonchalantly that he would arrive poorly dressed. Obviously the man thought he could arrive “just as he was” and that God would accept him no matter what. But Jesus teaches us otherwise. The king’s reaction was to have the man bound and tossed outside into the darkness where there was “wailing and grinding of teeth” — Jesus’ periphrastic way of indicating hell. The man had nothing to say. The good and the bad are called, but only those who arrive good, only those who are prepared and show up properly dressed, are admitted.
7) Each of us is called to ask what is the application of this parable to us. How does the King expect us to be dressed when we come to the banquet? What clothes will be acceptable? St. Paul describes this vesture in two of his letters. In his letter to the Colossians, he described, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. … Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:12-14). On another, he talks about our clothes as a spiritual armor: “Therefore put on the whole armor of God: … fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:11-17). We can get the picture. The wedding garments God wants us to don are weaved with acts of faith, love, hope, kindness, compassion, humility, patience, truth, holiness. To make the image even simpler, more concrete, and more specific, God wants us to show up with the garment he himself gave us when we became his adopted children. As we were vested with our baptismal garment, the priest said to us, “ You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” Christ himself is meant to be our garment! He is the source of Christian dignity. As long as we live in him, clothe ourselves in him, then we will always be ready and unstained for eternal life.
8 ) What is the best means for us to make sure we’re ready and properly dressed for the eternal wedding banquet? It’s by being ready and properly dressed for the greatest participation in the eternal banquet accessible to us on earth: the Mass. It’s to the Mass that the same God the Father who invites us to heaven calls us with invitations inscribed in his Son’s own blood. The way we respond to the Mass, the way we adorn ourselves for this encounter with God, is the best indication of how we’re responding to the invitation to get ready and dressed for heaven.
9) The sad thing is that many use the same pretexts to excuse themselves from Mass as those in the parable did to excuse themselves from the wedding banquet. Doubtless all of us know family members and who use them often. Maybe we’ve used them too. Listen to how Jesus articulates some of them in St. Luke’s version of the parable: “At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come’” (Luke 14:17-10). One used his home as an excuse, another his job, a third his family. None of them mentioned that they wanted to go out and wreak havoc by doing evil. No, all of them were interested in good things, but things that became relative evils for them because they prevented them from something better. When it came down to a choice between the wedding banquet and these other tasks, the wedding banquet lost. The King lost. God lost. It’s the same way with Mass. Most people who reject God’s invitation to Mass do not do so in order to live a life of crime. But they allow good things to keep them from God. When it comes down to a choice between accepting God’s invitation or doing something else, that something else wins. And these people both never experience the joy of the wedding banquet of the Lamb of God and his bride here on earth, and risk missing the full experience of it in heaven. I often ask aloud: If we realized that at Mass we have the chance to receive GOD inside, could anything in the whole world even come in a close second to this privilege?
10) It’s also important that when we come to Mass, we come properly prepared and attired. We can look at this from a practical and spiritual point of view. Practically, if we realize what an honor it is to be here, we’ll be excited to come, we’ll arrive early to prepare even better, we’ll be dressed like we were meeting a dignitary, and we won’t be in a rush to leave. If we think we can arrive “just as we are” and that the King doesn’t care how we’re dressed, or whether we routinely arrive late or take off early, or how prepared we are, we’re as mistaken as the improperly dressed man in the parable. These “external” signs, while not the most important realities, do point to whether we really appreciate that we are in the presence of God himself. The most important preparation and vesture are spiritual, which God alone can see. God wants us to arrive in the brilliant wedding garments he’s given us on the day of our baptism, with Christ’s own moral life living in us. If our baptismal garments have been sullied by sin, God points us the washer and drier in the back of the Church, where in the confessionals he makes us sparklingly white again. Each time we come, he wants us to examine whether we’re arriving with garments woven with acts of love, faith, hope, mercy, generosity, patience, kindness. Moreover, like the King in the Parable, he wants us to be excited to be here and to be joyous in the celebration of the Mass and in the encounter with Christ who welcomes us and feeds us. If we arrive more as a spectator than as a participant, if we refuse to sing and join in the communal prayers, if we try to hide ourselves behind a pillar, and evaluate the quality of the Mass by how fast the priest finishes, what type of preparation do you think that would be for heaven, where we will sing God’s praises with the angels, be in an eternal communion of love with our brothers and sisters, and rejoice in God’s presence not just for an hour, not just for eight days, but forever? Our attitude toward Mass is the single greatest litmus test for our attitudes toward heaven.
11) The King tells us again today, “Come to the feast!” He says it both about the Mass and about heaven. If we put God first in the Mass and give Him our best each week, we can be confident that we will be giving Him the best in our lives and will therefore be ready to greet him whenever he comes to call us to the eternal wedding banquet. The more we arrive at Mass with readiness, joy and an immaculate wedding garment full of virtues and love God, the greater our preparation for eternity. This will be the best means for us to be numbered among the “chosen few” who will say, in the words of King David from today’s responsorial psalm, ““I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”