Of Feasting & Garments...
|Today's Gospel||Matthew 22:1-14|
Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a feast for his son’s wedding. He sent his servants to call those who had been invited, but they would not come. Next he sent some more servants. “Tell those who have been invited” he said “that I have my banquet all prepared, my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, everything is ready. Come to the wedding.” But they were not interested: one went off to his farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his servants, maltreated them and killed them. The king was furious. He despatched his troops, destroyed those murderers and burnt their town. Then he said to his servants, “The wedding is ready; but as those who were invited proved to be unworthy, go to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find to the wedding.” So these servants went out on to the roads and collected together everyone they could find, bad and good alike; and the wedding hall was filled with guests. When the king came in to look at the guests he noticed one man who was not wearing a wedding garment, and said to him, “How did you get in here, my friend, without a wedding garment?” And the man was silent. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’
What a great Gospel today. After I heard it I thought "What on earth is that all about?" and then listened intently while Father Kevin explained it. You can listen to his homiletic explanation here.
One of the things I was thinking about was going to communion, the eucharistic feast. An Anglican clergyman recently remarked to me that "everyone is welcome at the Lord's table" regardless of their belief or state of sin. Isn't that lovely and fluffy and inclusive? Of course, the problem is it becomes meaningless. To be fair, the basic idea here is that we can not and should not exclude anyone from receiving the blessed sacrament. Of course we don't, but what should is one's own understanding of one's rightful place before God. It is this understanding which Scripture teaches us, is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; Ps 111:10). The Bible's message, from Genesis to Revelation is about relationship with God and how we cannot possess wisdom if we recreate God in our own image. It is common that people want to “tame” God, to see Him as non-threatening, completely accepting and empty of any sense of judgement, wrath, or judgement. But, if we redefine the Lord as a god that makes us feel comfortable, a permissive “buddy” who exists simply to bless us and give us what we want, we will not be able to reverence Him in the way proper to our relationship.
Think about what we can surmise from the history of mankind's relationship with God. Throughout history, humanity's concept of its place before the divine involved sacrifice. It is found, in one form or another in almost all cultures and religions. This would suggest we have an inbuilt sense of our need to express homage, adoration, obescience, and acknowledge our fallen inadequacy before God. Catholic theology is clear that sacrifice is a concept necessary for the understanding of the overall shape of Christian vocation (see McGuckian, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Hereford: 2005, Gracewing). Consider this most important with the creation story in Genesis, which teaches us that it is grasping for the divine—for godhead—that has created the supernatural rift in creation we refer to as "the Fall". Understanding this and being willing to adopt a position of submissive obedience before the Lord and creator of all things is thus the omega point for our journey into the blessed Trinity.
The Lord God Almighty is far greater than just an amiable sky fairy, and the beginning of wisdom begins when we see Him in His majesty and power (Revelation 4:11; Job 42:1–2) The Lord shows Job (and us) a glimpse of His power in Job 38—41when He describes His absolute sovereignty over everything.
When the reality of God’s true nature has caused us to fall down in worship, we are then in the right position to gain wisdom. Wisdom is merely seeing life from God’s perspective—thus the proper perspective— and responding accordingly. Wisdom is a priority, and we are told to seek it above all else (Proverbs 3:13; 16:16). Proverbs is known as the wisdom book, and the entire second chapter gives a detailed explanation of the value of gaining wisdom.
Until our hearts are in a right relationship with God, we are unable to have the “wisdom that comes from heaven” (James 3:17). Without the fear of the Lord, we may gain knowledge of earthly things and make some practical choices forthislife, but we are missing the one ingredient that defines a wise person (Psalm 14:1; Exodus 20:3; 34:14; Jeremiah 25:6; Matthew 22:37). So if we present ourselves at the banquet without the proper garment—the garment of humility, of God given grace (1 Cor 11:27), of awe before God, of fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).
Scripturally, the wedding garment is symbol of the righteous deeds that accompany faith (Rev 19:7-8) and outlined in Matthew's Gospel as almsgiving (6:2-4), prayer (6:5-15), fasting (6:16-18), and works of mercy (25:34-40). The Gospel is a warning that being invited to the banquet isn't enough, we must leave Mass each time and take the work of Jesus with us and make it a reality in our communities. The word we hear must transform each one of us and the place where we live and work.
But it really caused me to focus and reflect on the way we approach the banquet each time we go to Holy Communion and to consider whether I have the proper garment on to go up before my Lord. I would rather get to heaven having abstained from receiving the blessed sacrament all my life whilst longing to receive it, than to have considered my judgement more relevant than God's teaching revealed in His body, the Church. I would feel more comfortable saying to Jesus that I longed for communion with Him and for that love, I abstained from fear of possibly insulting Him.