Gospel living only begins with the invitation. It cannot remain a mere idea; its sine qua non [something indispensable] is a transformed life.
– Richard E Spalding (Feasting on the Word: Season After Pentecost 2, Volume 12) p. 168
The readings for the twenty-eighth Sunday in ordinary time cycle A can be found here.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.
And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Isaiah 25: 6-9
The scripture scholar will tell you that this parable is an allegory. An allegorical title you may be familiar with is Animal Farm, by George Orwell. In Animal Farm, written in 1945, the story depicts events in history that lead up to the 1917 revolution in Russia right through to WWII.
The characters and places in the Orwell work represent actual figures in history and the same is true for our Gospel this Sunday.
The setting of the wedding feast represents the kingdom of heaven. The wedding feast is for the son of the king, and the son represents Jesus. The servants sent out to gather the wedding guests represent the Prophets who came to the Jewish people. The wedding guests who chose not to attend the feast represent the Jewish leaders who persecute Jesus. The guests that filled the hall represent the outcasts and those whose professions were despised by Jewish society, such as the tax collectors and prostitutes. The wedding garment represents repentance and conversion.
The central point of this parable revolves around the invitation. We must keep in mind that an invitation is a free act of kindness, and here, there is no obligation to invite people to the feast.
In many sermons there is a tendency to identify us Christians as the guests who filled the hall, while all those peoples who do not believe in Jesus do not receive an invitation.
It seems like comforting words for those Christians who are concerned about their salvation, but in reality we are the wedding guest who arrives without the wedding garment.
Matthew’s Jesus reminds us that the while the kingdom of heaven is filled with saints and sinners we are all called to convert from our selfish ways and repent. We must not be complacent in our faith lives as our salvation rests in our remaining converted to the teachings of Jesus and our good deeds.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
– Colossians 3: 12-13
I live, work and pray in the Archdiocese of Detroit, and recently I was reading an article published through one of the Archdiocese social media outlets about etiquette during Mass. The article outlined items such as fasting for an hour and arriving early to recollect and prepare before Mass. I thought to myself that if I arrived an hour early I could kill two birds with one stone. Okay, I indulged in a little humor there, and as my daughter is want to say; very little humor.
As with all social media, readers are allowed to comment on the article. I read the comments to get a feel for what other folks think about the topic. I am rarely in a position to discuss these topics with others, and I can suffer from insular thinking by surrounding myself with only like minded people. It is good to expose yourself to people who have opposing positions, even if it tends to raise your blood pressure.
The reader responses continued to build on the theme of the article and discussion ranged from removing your lipstick before Communion to holding hands during the Our Father, to how to hold your hands in the proper prayerful way.
One comment was simply; remember to enjoy Mass.
In this sea of reader comments this one was the shortest and by far the most inspirational. This person saw through all the futility of those responders who were trying desperately through their selfish faith practices to please God. In one simple positive comment they hit the bullseye. What good are all those rituals if we can’t enjoy our community celebration.
Selfish pride will be our undoing. The Jewish leaders ignored the invitation of Jesus because their salvation was secured through their rituals. These rituals had been handed down from the time of Moses and nothing Jesus could say about loving our neighbor, the poor or disenfranchised could change that. The prevailing attitude was that those less fortunate people deserve what they get.
We can fall into the same trap and ignore Jesus because we have our rituals. If we feel that salvation is secured through our faith rituals, we are in danger of ignoring Jesus’ invitation. If we look upon people with disdain because they only attend Mass on Christmas and Easter, or fail to remove their lipstick before receiving Communion we are in danger of becoming the wedding guest without the proper wedding garment.
If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that we need persistent conversion and repentance. We need to be constantly on guard against our selfish pride. Our salvation is God’s doing, not our own. We cannot manipulate God through our perfect practice of worship rituals any more than those Jewish leaders could.
Our job is to accept the invitation to the wedding feast and put on the wedding garment of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another.
My prayer for you is that you can remember to enjoy the celebration of Mass, proper etiquette aside.