Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, A
October 13, 2002
Is 25:6-10; Ps 23; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20; Mt 22:1-14
1) Every time Jesus speaks to us in the Gospel it is meant to change our lives forever. Today is no different. The Lord out of love gives us a parable today that is meant to teach us a great deal about heaven, about preparing for heaven, and about how to prepare for what is the greatest foretaste of heaven here on earth, the Mass. So let’s listen well to what he says and try to put it into action.
2) In order to get the meaning of this parable, we first need to understand how invitations worked in the ancient world. It was a two stage process. The first step was that messengers would be sent out to announce that there would be a banquet coming up soon, as soon as all of the preparations were made. That would allow people to get ready for it. Then when all of the preparations were made, the messengers would be sent out a second time to call everyone to the feast. It was the responsibility of the invitees to get themselves ready in the meantime.
3) In the parable that the Lord gives us, Jesus is describing what is happening with the eternal banquet God the Father, the King, is throwing for His Son, Jesus. The eternal wedding banquet is heaven. The greatest joy for a Jew was a wedding banquet, which, as I’ve mentioned in the past, would last eight days. For people who would be accustomed to eating very little — because most of the people in the ancient Holy Land were very poor by our standards and would eat one small meal a day — there would be eight days of feasting, with plenty of food, wine, friendship, etc. Jesus used the image of a wedding banquet often in trying to help us to understand the incredible joy that awaits those who come to this eternal feast.
4) But in the parable, we see what has happened and can happen. First, God the King sends out the messengers with the invitation that he’s preparing this wedding banquet and they’re invited; when the banquet is ready, he sends out the messengers again to announce that everything is arranged. Historically, this happened first with the Jews. God had prepared that people for the coming of the Messiah and the introduction of the kingdom of God among them. But when Jesus came, so many of them ignored him. Others killed those who announced his presence, as they did with St. John the Baptist, St. Stephen and 11 of the 12 apostles among countless others. God then sent his messengers to the whole world announcing this tremendous feast. As the prophet Isaiah foretold in the first reading, “The Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines.… He will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” All peoples would be called to this feast. So God willed to send out the apostles to call all people to the wedding banquet He was throwing for His son. They went out into the byroads and invited to the feast anyone they met, “the bad as well as the good.” This is the Church’s mission. God wills all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. No exceptions. Bad and good are called. But as Jesus says, many are called, but few are chosen. In order to be admitted to the banquet, we have to respond to it by getting ourselves ready, and showing up in our proper wedding garments, as Jesus tells us in the final part of the parable. A man showed up not properly dressed for a wedding feast. The king said to him, “My friend, how is it you came in here not properly dressed?” The man had nothing to say and was thrown out into the night to wail and grind his teeth. Good and bad are called. But only the good, only those who are prepared and properly dressed, are admitted.
5) Now let’s apply these words of eternal life to our own lives here and now, because they’re tremendously relevant. God has invited us to the everlasting wedding banquet He’s throwing for Jesus His Son. He’s sent out his messengers through the Church — the apostles, their successors and their collaborators. But each of us has to respond to his invitation, get ourselves ready and prepare for our proper wedding garment. But how do we get ourselves ready for when the Lord comes to call us? And what is a proper wedding garment?
6) In terms of our readiness, we need to be always ready, because like those in Jesus’ time who would have been hearing the parable, the messengers announcing that the feast is ready could come at any time. We don’t know the day or the hour that we’ll be personally called to show up, when our earthly period of preparation will be over. We know that God’s preparing a feast; we also know we have to be ready at all times. We can learn alot from those who responded poorly in the parable, so that we might avoid the excuses they used, because those excuses are rather common today. First, many ignore the invitation, as we see in the parable. They pretend as if it’s not important, as if they can go on with their lives without responding to the invitation. Some attack the messengers, insulting them and even killing them, as we have seen in Church history and in modern events in other parts of the world. But in America, thanks be to God, these responses are somewhat rare. The third is rather common. They went on their way, one to his farm, another to his business. St. Luke’s account of a similar parable by Jesus gives more details. “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.”” Notice none of them says, basically, “I want to go out and live like a pig, I want to sin with the best of them, get lost.” They say that they all have something better to do. One mentions taking care of his home. Another his property and work. A third, family. None of these people makes the banquet and the preparation for the banquet the priority in his life. It might be important. They might regret saying no. But the bottom line is they find something more important to do and that they don’t share in the banquet. The application Jesus wants us to make is that they will not share in heaven. God, as I say often, doesn’t just want to be important in our life, he wants to be God, which means #1, all important. If we don’t put him #1, it doesn’t mean that we’re a bunch of serial killers and evil people, but we will not enter into his inheritance, into the tremendous everlasting joy.
7) The second thing we have to do is to get our wedding garment ready. What is this garment? The great saints of the Church have said that it is ultimately acts of love, shown through the various virtues. St. Paul talks on occasion of the types of things God wants us to be wearing. On one occasion, he wrote to the Colossians, “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.” 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.” We can get the picture. God wants us preparing our wedding garments, weaving them with actions of faith, love, hope, kindness, compassion, humility, patience, truth, holiness. God loves us all unconditionally, but he leaves us free to respond to his invitation. If we think we can show up “just as we are” and he’ll accept us into the eternal wedding banquet no matter what, we’re wrong. Out of love, he’s first sent out his messengers to announce the wedding feast. Then Jesus his Son himself told us in this parable that we have to be ready to respond, to put this before business, or home, or family or anything else. He’s done this out of love so that we won’t be deceived by all those false prophets who try to teach that it doesn’t really matter to God what we do with our lives, provided that we think we’re “good people” who don’t kill or harm anybody else. God’s telling us that if we don’t prepare by living a life of faith and readiness, we’ll be doing eternal harm to ourselves because we’ll show up to the banquet unprepared when the Master finally is ready to take us there.
8 ) There’s one crucial application of all of this teaching today. The Catholic Church has always believed, from the beginning, that the Mass is a participation in that eternal wedding banquet here on earth. It is here that we feast on the Lamb looking as if he has been slain, who is the centerpiece of the eternal banquet that we see in the Book of Revelation. This is probably the greatest test for us, the greatest mirror, to see how we’re getting ready for the banquet that will last forever. God invites all to this feast. He’s described how important it is: it is a participation in time in the eternal event of his Last Supper, of his crucifixion and death, of his resurrection. How do we respond to it each week? How do we get ourselves ready? Many people use the same excuses in not coming to Mass that Jesus describes in refusing the invitation to his wedding banquet: work, house work, family, etc. If we’re using those excuses on occasion to excuse our coming to Mass, I can guarantee we’re using them also with response to God’s invitation to heaven. Moreover, there are many people who show up unprepared. They’ll show up late routinely. They’ll show up dressed as if they do not consider this very important at all. We dress up for things we consider important. If we were meeting the President, we’d dress up in our best. If we were going to our own wedding, we’d even go out and spend several hundred dollars so that we’d look nice. Even if we were going to someone else’s wedding, we’d take the time to dress well. But this is the wedding feast of the Lamb of God and we’re his bride! We’re meeting not just the president, but the Lord of Lords! If we’re not giving Him our best, we’re frankly not taking him as seriously we should and we’re not loving him enough. Mass, especially Sunday Mass, deserves our absolute best if we realize how important it is. The minimal standard should be what we would use to dress for a loved one’s wedding. Will it take longer to dress in such a way? Yes it will, but this will be good preparation. Especially parents with kids. I know it will take a while to dress your kids for Sunday Mass, but that will be excellent catechesis, excellent teaching to them of how important what they’re doing is. Allowing kids to come to Mass in the same types of clothes that you’d allow them to go to a WWF professional wrestling match is teaching them a negative lesson about the importance of the Mass.
9) But the most important type of preparation is spiritual preparation. How do we prepare spiritually for Mass? What are the spiritual clothes we wear? Do we even look forward to it, as the opportunity to hear from God, to receive Him within? Do we look at it as the most important time of our week or just as one other thing we have to do? If we’ve sinned mortally, do we prepare ourselves by going to Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to receive Him here? In one sense, we received our garment for the wedding feast on the day of our baptism, when we were vested with the white baptismal garment and told to see in that garment the outward sign of our Christian dignity and to take that garment unstained to meet Christ. When we dirty that garment through the stains of sin, do we wash it in the sacrament of reconciliation before we come to Christ’s wedding banquet? Or do we try to pretend as if we don’t even have to? With prayer and the fast before receiving Holy Communion, going to confession if we have seriously sinned, is crucial spiritual preparation. The Church states very clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, released 10 years ago this week, that “Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the Sacrament of Penance.”
10) Preparing well for Mass each week will help us always be ready for the eternal wedding banquet. If we’re truly ready for this banquet every Sunday, we’ll be ready to respond with joy, readiness and an immaculately-white wedding garment full of virtues and love whenever the Lord should come for us. If we put God first here and give Him our best each week, we can be confident we’re giving him our best in our lives and therefore ready. Then, and only then, can we live without fear, and in confidence and joyous expectation of his coming. The Gospel is good news, is truth, meant to set us free. If we accept it and live it, we can respond with King David in the beautiful responsorial psalm today, “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”