Summary: To be at the wedding banquet, properly attired, is our destiny and joy.
19th Sunday After Pentecost 2016
Years ago, when I first read this parable, it sounded rather fabulous, an invention of the Lord’s fertile imagination. But a dispassionate reading of history, and even the local news, tells us that St. Matthew’s story is merely a realistic telling of how it is in west Asia, and how it has been since recorded history and before. This parable of the Lord Jesus seems to be ripped from today’s headlines. It is what it is.
But it is not what it has to be. The divine intention for human beings is quite clear from both Scripture and Tradition. God made man in His image and likeness. God made man and woman for union with each other, for the generation of a large human family, and ultimately for adoption as His own children. That was God’s intention in the beginning. Moreover, God does not change His mind.
But in answer to this original intention, man brought about an original rebellion–original sin. Our first parents decided not to follow God’s plan. They wanted to seize divinity under the guidance of that original rebel, Satan. Their pathetic scheme came to nothing, and worse. God had a Plan B, but it involved suffering and death, and a long wait for the coming of the Savior. Before the immaculate conception of Mary, no human hit the mark. All humans were captive to sin and death. Everyone was in rebellion. But by the grace of God that would come through the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, Mary was preserved from sin throughout her existence. She gave birth to the New Man–the God-Man Jesus. His life and death won our redemption, and from His pierced side flowed the sacramental life by which we are caught up into the divine life. Here we participate in the Holy Sacrifice that is the re-presentation of His sacrifice, and the earthly symbol of the eternal wedding banquet in heaven. If we accept the invitation of the Father and sacramentally unite ourselves to His will, then we can hope realistically for an eternal seat at that wedding banquet. God keeps His promises.
But what about the fellow with no wedding garment? It seems from the brief parable that the king’s messengers dragged everyone in with no warning and one guy just got caught underdressed. Not so. The parable clearly teaches that the vast majority of the original invitees–the Jews–rejected the call of Christ. So the Gospel was preached to the rest of us, and many responded. There was plenty of time to adequately respond, to repent of our sins, confess them and through the sacraments let ourselves be dressed for the feast. Some, however, will pretend to be of our company, ignore the interior state of their souls, and try to sneak into heaven full of mortal sin. How can we say that it is unfair to exclude them when they have not accepted the forgiveness won at so high a cost on the cross? As St. John says in his first epistle, “they were never of our fellowship.” (1 Jn 2:19)
Today we have any number of so-called preachers and theologians who claim, for instance, that artificial contraception is acceptable to God, that one can divorce and remarry and receive the sacraments without showing the first marriage to be–in Matthew’s words–invalid, that abortion and in-vitro fertilization and all the rest of modern abominations are not sinful. Don’t believe it. Just because the millennium changed, what is right and wrong didn’t change. That is all the falsehood that St. Paul tells us to put aside. God forbids certain actions and thoughts because they are bad for us, and lead us to eternal unhappiness. We can’t go into the kingdom with a conscience garbed in soiled, tattered garments.
Now let’s turn to St. Paul’s advice on how to dress for the banquet. Moreover, he reminds us that the couture is already paid for by Jesus Christ, a free gift of grace. Remarkably, he says it is OK to be angry, but not OK to sin. Let’s look at an example. I am furious that Planned Parenthood murders hundreds of children before birth over on Babcock Road. But I respond by supporting pro-life organizations and legislators, which is good, not by violent action, which is sin.
So listen to St. Paul’s excellent advice: think of ways you get stuff without doing anything, and turn that around by stopping any illicit theft and making restitution instead. If you ever gossip–and that means telling others about a person’s actions whether they are true or not with the intention to gain some advantage or hurt another–stop it. That means whether you communicate with your mouth, or your e-mail, or your thumbs. It’s bullying. It’s wrong. Take time to encourage others instead. Catch them doing something good, and thank them for it. You will be instruments of grace and peace. Be kind, and above all things, act just like God. When someone else hurts you, forgive, forgive, forgive. This is how we fulfill the original divine intent for us, to be forever humans made in and acting in the image and likeness of God.