28th Sunday in O.T.; Oct. 15, 2017
Is 25:6-10a Ps 23 Phil 4:12-20 Mt 22:1-10
Deacon Jim McFadden
Most of us like a good party. Today’s gospel focuses on a royal wedding party, which can tell us a lot about the Kingdom of God. A beautiful image used in Scripture is to describe Heaven as like a wedding celebration and royal feast given by the King for his newly wed-Son and bride. Just think of the best party you ever attended, then multiply that celebration a zillion times because Heaven is the feast of all feasts and the Lord of heaven and earth has sent each one of us a personal invitation to the most important banquet of all.
The prophet Isaiah envisions this future banquet in which “the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (Is 25:6). But, it gets even better: “…He will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever.” Yes, the place of this Great Banquet is known not only for its food and wine, but for the universality of salvation and the conquering of death.
That’s why he doesn’t want us to hangout on the fringes or be a run-of-the-mill guest; no, there is something special going on here. You see, Jesus is the bridegroom and we, the Body of Christ, are his bride! That’s why our invitation is so special. And, this invitation has come at a huge cost because our Lord Jesus offered his life as an atoning sacrifice for all the bad things we’ve done in our life. He’s absorbed our sin, he became sin on our behalf, he died to it, and through the power of his Resurrection he has overcome both sin and death and has invited us to this incredible celebration. Why would Jesus do this? Why does he bother sending us this unique invitation? The only explanation that makes any sense is that God is in love with us. He gives everything He is for our good. All we have to do is to accept this invitation to be united with him her in now and in the heavenly Kingdom to come.
In our Gospel reading, we hear that perversely and sadly, some decline the invitation. Decline the invitation to eternal life? Decline the invitation to a life of communion, fellowship, and harmony which brings unsurpassed joy and peace. Who would want to decline that? Only those that are incredibly stupid or, as Jesus puts it more patiently and pastorally, “Father, forgive them because they know not what they do?”
I think that’s why the angry king ends up punishing those who refused his invitation and who mistreated his servants. It’s not that God is seeking revenge, but there are consequences for our choices. If we live out of our true identity as being imago Dei and a child of God, then we will be in Christ and will participate in Life authentically because Jesus is Life itself. But, if we refuse to live out of our True Self, and, instead, opt for the illusory False Self that runs amok in this institution, then we will drift away from Life as we slowly die inside.
There are two story lines in this parable. The king sent out the invitations well in advance to his subjects so that they could have plenty of time to prepare for the feast. Despite the invitation, the invited guests insult the king by refusing to come when it was time celebrate. They made light of the King’s request and put their own agenda ahead of him. They were basically saying to him that you are not the Center of my life, I am. My life revolves around my inflated ego and it does not orbit around you. Moreover, even though you are God, I’m going to act that I am in control and you’re not. Is this insulting to God or what! The King’s anger is justified when we openly refuse to give the honor that he is due. It’s not that God needs our praise and glory—God doesn’t need anything—but when we do honor him, we are simply submitting to the one who is Life itself. We’re opting for sanity over willful ignorance.
Brothers, this parable is very much in our face: while God wants us to share in the joy of his kingdom, there is a blunt warning about the consequences of refusing his Son, the Messiah, our Savior.
The second thread of the parable focuses on those who have no claim on the king and who would never have considered getting such an invitation. They may say to themselves, “I’ve done bad things; I’ve hurt people. I’m not worthy to enter the celebration.” Well, you’ve got that right, but you’ve got a lot of company because no one “deserves” to be invited. As we say prior to receiving Communion, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter into my roof, but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed.” The invitation is all about gratuitous grace—undeserved, unmerited, simply given out of unconditioned love. Grace is a free gift, but it comes with awesome responsibilities.
If you are going to accept the invitation, you have to come “dressed” for the party. You have to come prepared. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Protestant theologian who died for his faith under Hitler’s Nazi regime, contrasts cheap grace with costly grace. “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves…the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance…grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. …Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it follows us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”
Brothers and sisters, God invites us to his banquet which you have received beginning with your Baptism and is being renewed every time you come to Holy Mass. He offers you the invitation so that you may share in his joy. Are you ready to feast at the Lord’s banquet table?