Summary: How Is It fair to throw the poor guy out in the street?
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Course 2020
I encountered today’s Gospel for the first time when I was a teenager. I’m sure I’d heard it in Church before, but it was a Scripture course and I wanted to learn as much as I could. But when I read the punch line, right at the end where Jesus quotes this king who looked a lot like God the Father, I said, “Hey, that’s not fair!”
After all, this poor guy was dragged in off the street by the king’s men, and because he wasn’t wearing a wedding garment, he was chained up, hand and feet, and thrown back out onto the street. That just doesn’t sound very just, does it? Answer–Patrick, it’s a parable, and parables have their own special form. This one helps us to look into the very heart of our God.
What is the most important desire in the universe? Well, it certainly isn’t your wanting a raise, or wanting a new car or house. It isn’t even a cessation of all wars, great as that would be. Nor is it an end to the current unpleasantness of elections or widespread disease, even though everyone wants it. The most important desire in the universe, which is summed up in today’s OT reading, is God’s desire for all humans to be saved from sin, and to come to the banquet of life. We can all agree how important that is, can we not?
And what a banquet! Go back to the original languages. The fare is awesome: “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.” Chemists know that of all the foods, it’s the fatty ones that give the most calories per gram, that best satisfy hunger, and are associated with the strongest tastes. (Of course, stay away from the saturated ones.) But there also the conversation will be perfect–the veil of ignorance will be pulled aside. Even better, death will be vanquished; we shall live forever. All our tears will be wiped away by the Lord Himself. And the greatest thing–we shall see the Lord, our ultimate truth, goodness and beauty. We shall dwell in the house of God, in joy, forever.
How do we prepare for this eternal feast, prepared by God Himself for all peoples, a feast that our baptism and holy life give us a claim to? St. Paul speaks clearly to the Christians of Philippi. He has received some funds from them to support his ministry. He has just written in the prior line that he never complains when he needs something, because he has trained himself to be content with whatever state he obtains. Abased or abounding, he knows the secret. The secret is to let Our Lord strengthen him, in fact to seek total union with the one who didn’t have a place to lay His head. And in return for their generosity, the Philippians will receive from God whatever they need. We can read into this passage, those needs may not be all that they want, but will consist of needs of spirit, mind and body. It will all come to them, as it will all come to us if we, too, share what we have with others who have the same earthly mission–to bring all to faith in Christ within His Church.
Now we can turn to the Gospel. The king reminds us of God, but is not actually God the Father. Some time before the wedding week, this king had sent out the customary postcards saying “reserve the date” for the banquet. Then he sent the actual invitation–all is ready. Come! Some of them laughed it off and just went back to their usual occupation. A few of them ripped up the invitations in the most rude way possible. Killed the messengers. The fact that the king sent troops to destroy those people and burn their cities is how we know that this is not God the Father. But it corresponds with the way a lot of rulers acted in Christ’s day, and too often during human history. So he sends out his servants to invite everybody, and fills the hall with guests.
So what about this hapless fellow without the wedding garment? How fair is it for him to be thrown out? He wasn’t really dragged in by the servants, was he? He was given fair warning with the invitation, and everybody knows you don’t show up at a formal wedding banquet looking like a tramp. He didn’t belong, so he was cast out.
Many are called; few are chosen. Who did the calling here? The king. God calls us to the eternal feast. He even gives us this Mass as a kind of foretaste of what we will enjoy in the company of all the saints. The best food is the Body and Blood of Jesus. Who did the choosing? Well, in a way, the ones who choose are those who make themselves ready by a life of faith, hope and charity. Those are the garments that gain us interest to a banquet that has been prepared for us by Jesus on Calvary. And in eternity, the only one we will need is the vesture of love.