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28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (15.10.17)
Parable’s Multiple Strands
Jesus appeals, again, to his people’s chief priests and elders. According to St. Matthew’s Gospel (22:1-14) for the 28th Sunday, this is Jesus’ third parable specifically for those in leadership.
Jesus weaves multiple strands of teaching into this one, or is it two, parable(s) perhaps to cover adequately the variety of attitude and understanding in his audience. People who are familiar with diplomatic procedures will know the process for issuing a formal invitation to, say, a dinner.
The first intimation of an invitation would be in the form of a general enquiry as to whether a named person would be free to consider an invitation in a month or so. This general enquiry might also carry information about the reason for the proposed gathering, the likely number of people to be present and whom they may represent.
If a favourable response were to be received there would follow, later, a more specific invitation giving date and time. It may also indicate potential table companions. This would allow a guest to negotiate a possible change of table companions. Even closer to the date of the event, the host would circulate the full guest list inclusive of seating arrangements.
The chief priests and elders of the Jewish people listening to Jesus’ parable would have been familiar with the protocols of their time. Having this background in mind may help us appreciate the detail of the first five sentences of chapter 22.
The treatment meted out to the king’s messengers is an indication of how little respect his people had for their king. The inference is clear, Jesus is setting the scene in the context of the damaged relationship between the Jewish elders and Jesus’ heavenly Father. God had sent successive emissaries to his chosen people over the preceding centuries many of whom had been persecuted. As Jesus developed his parable, we can imagine the level of anger rising in his audience. They were faced with, for them, an unpalatable truth that they could not contradict.
God never rescinds his invitation to humanity to share in the feast of heaven - the joy of his presence. This remains true even when people choose to ignore Him and maltreat his messengers. The parable also reminds us that what makes people turn away from God’s invitation are not necessarily bad in themselves. Matthew tells us that one man went to his business and another to his estate perhaps claiming administrative urgency. It is all too easy for any of us to be so preoccupied with the ‘here and now’ that we forget the necessary provisions for eternity. The noise of Satan’s world can drown out the gentle call of Christ. As someone said: ‘A man can be so busy making a living that he fails to make a life’.
The parable also prompts those who refuse or ignore the invitation to consider not so much the punishment as the joy of the ‘wedding feast’ which they will have foregone – for eternity!
God’s invitation is a ‘moment’ of grace. It cannot be merited or bought as indicated by those who were gathered in from the ‘highways and byways’. In their wildest dreams, they could never have expected an invitation to this wedding feast! It came to them from the ever open-hearted, generous hospitality of the king.
Verses 11 – 14 of this chapter 22 could almost be considered a separate, but connected, parable. What are we to make of the issue of the missing wedding garment?
We are aware of places, to which we may be invited, where we are required to put on protective clothing. This clothing is either to protect us or to protect the environment we are entering from any contamination we may carry. Just for a moment, let us imagine God’s grace as a form of clothing. God’s invitation is an outpouring of grace. We must choose to be clothed in that grace. To whom but the God of Forgiveness will we turn at the door of eternity? Our re-clothing in God’s grace commences from the moment of our Baptism. It is intended to be continuous. God will never withdraw from us but we, because we are sinners, may choose to clothe ourselves in something other than grace. His love is so profound and generous that God allows us to go back, repeatedly, pleading to be re-clothed in grace again.
In Jesus’s parable, it was the apparent unconcern of the guest without a wedding garment that brought his incarceration. He lacked the interior disposition of petition, the wedding garment, that he might be accorded the ‘Grace of Reconciliation’.
‘The weeping and gnashing of teeth’ reflects how, at the General Judgement everyone will be fully conscious of the wondrous joy and splendour of God’s presence (the “Wedding Banquet’). This reality all will keep undimmed for eternity. Those in heaven will experience it unendingly. Those who have chosen to forsake God will also know, for eternity, what they have chosen to forsake. In Jesus’ parable, the ‘weeping and gnashing’ of the one expelled was self-inflicted! It was not being done to him. It is said that remorse is the worst of all punishments because our culpability is inescapable.
We can also reflect that the second half of this parable has nothing to do with the clothes we wear to church and everything to do with the disposition with which we enter church! The parable challenges us, as it challenged the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day. Are we in communion with the Lord, who longs to clothe us in his ‘wedding garment’ of graced reconciliation, or are we more conscious of church-going as a fashion parade?
Even some who attend church may arrive without those essential interior ‘garments’ of mind, heart and soul – humble confession, a desire to grow in faith and a sense of reverence for the holiness of God’s presence.
Jesus was not seeking to belittle the Jewish leaders but to draw them into choosing to be consecrated and clothed anew with God’s healing grace, as he is, continually, with us.