It’s been hard to keep up on a daily basis with current events. What’s the saying, “There are decades where nothing happens and weeks where decades happen?” Things that in quieter times would’ve definitely registered much more attention and certainly more follow-up a few years ago seem quickly forgotten, like this unnerving story that made headlines in late September: the United States Military was asking for the public’s help in locating a missing F-35 fighter jet. Seeing and hearing that nobody knew where a military aircraft costing over $100 million was – sent people into a bit of a panic. Even when details came out a few days later that the pilot had ejected from the plane, 60 minutes later, the plane had crashed in a wooded area in South Carolina, which was finally discovered, and the entire matter is under investigation – didn’t quite make people feel better about the whole situation.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 15, 2023. I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim
For the most part, we can all understand when accidents happen and know from personal experience that people make mistakes from time to time. But when it’s something massive like this, you can’t help but wonder if there’s laziness, sloppiness, or incompetence on multiple levels, where there’s a perceived dereliction of duty – that infuriates people, which is not just something true with the military. That was just a notable, recent example that came to mind. Think about the difference in reactions to hearing when a school bus driver is involved in a car accident, as opposed to a school bus driver who didn’t notice a child was asleep in the bus and left the child unattended for hours in a parking lot. Those are both serious things that have happened that would rightly cause great concern. But in one instance, we see something that may or may not have been avoidable, while in the other, there’s a willfulness about it that rightly upsets people.
It’s that type of neglect, that casualness about responsibilities, that dereliction of duty that we need to remember when reflecting on Jesus’ parable from today’s Gospel. On its own, this story would be hard to make sense of. The whole thing about this wedding seems unfair or unreasonable, and we can get so put off by the details that we dismiss it outright, particularly when the other readings for today started so beautifully.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah has this vision from God that foresees a day when the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples – described as this amazingly significant feast that starts with rich food choice wines but unfolds to tell something far more critical. Death is being destroyed forever. The tears being wiped from every face. We moved from that to praying what is for many the most beloved of Psalms: “The Lord is my shepherd… refreshing (or in other translations, restoring my soul) guiding me in right paths… spreading a table before us…” We heard of these generous, merciful, loving, and consequential offerings extended from God to humanity in these scriptures, which makes this Gospel of this wedding nightmare that Jesus describes so jarring. So what’s going on?
Well, up until this point in the Gospel of Matthew, everything that Isaiah had envisioned… everything that David had hoped for in writing about the Lord being my shepherd in the psalm, the people had begun to experience. Jesus, fully God, fully man, was fulfilling all His promises made throughout the scriptures. The people have been hearing, seeing, experiencing for themselves example after example where the most tragic, the seemingly impossible of situations being miraculously attended to: the blind having their sight restored; the deaf being able to hear; lepers cleansed; to those being enslaved to sin, tormented even possessed by the devil experiencing absolute liberation; to even more spectacular – those who died a physical death being brought back to life. All of that has been happening.
At this point in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus entered Jerusalem on what we know as Palm Sunday and found Himself in the temple region. The crowds, reflecting on all the wondrous things they had heard, seen, and experienced, called Him the Messiah. Excited, they cut palm branches down and cheered, ‘Hosanna!’ as Jesus came to Jerusalem. But not everyone’s joining in the jubilation. The Chief priests, elders, and Pharisees were far less impressed, questioning where He was from and who gave Him authority to teach and do the things He did. And in response to those things, Jesus has launched into these parables we’ve encountered for the last three Sundays. Two weeks ago, the two sons whose father asked them to go into the vineyard, one who said No but then did; the other who said Yes and never went. Then, last week, the parable of the tenants of a vineyard who, in their arrogance and delusions, have convinced themselves that they’re entitled to all the benefits of a vineyard that was not theirs to begin with. This brings us to today’s parable about the King’s son’s wedding.
People not showing up for the King’s son’s wedding feast because they’re disinterested, they’re keeping other options open, whatever… that would not go over well even in our day and age – especially with the cost per plate for a wedding reception. But then we hear of this violence being leveled towards those following up on that RSVP, which is countered with an even more explosive reaction from the King, ordering killings and burning down the city. You could say the reactions have escalated quite a bit. Then you add this poor schmo who wasn’t on the A list, the B list for the event, more like the J, K or L list. He comes. Maybe he’s thinking he’s doing the King a favor by showing up and filling some of the empty tables, and the King gets ticked off at him for not having the right clothes on? For real? It sounds ridiculous.
But that’s where we have to remember the parable is an allegory for something greater. The King is God the Father. The wedding banquet is the feast celebrating God saving His people. Jesus is the bridegroom. When Jesus entered Jerusalem that was the sign that “everything is ready, come to the feast.” And the reactions we hear of “ignoring… going away to farm, to return to ordinary life” to “mistreating and killing the messengers” who are following up on the RSVP describe the reactions of indifference, arrogant dismissal, to those outright conspiring trying to stop Jesus – these Religious leaders. They were the ones who supposedly carefully studied scripture. They were the ones who were said to have been praying for this feast. They were the ones responsible for preparing everyone for this very day and are the most blind, oblivious to what’s in front of them. That’s what is behind Jesus’ frustration in this parable. Even as He’s saying the parable, He’s still offering those who’ve failed so pitifully so far another chance to recover from their dereliction of duty. But needless to say, the feast will commence with or without them.
As for the guy without the proper wedding garment, on the surface, it seems an over-reaction. But even in our increasingly super-relaxed, casual world, certain expectations exist. A student showing up to class in a bathrobe and slippers would be seen as disrespectful to the teacher and the class. The comedian Jerry Seinfeld shared how one time when he was on an airplane, a new flight attendant was working her first day and hadn’t gotten her uniform yet; when she asked people to buckle their seat belts, people looked at her like “who the heck are you???” A person’s attire is important and how they present themselves. So, the guy in the parable, not honoring the invitation by being dressed appropriately, is being ungrateful and disrespectful. Jesus adding this character to his story was meant for the rest of the crowds. He’s pointing out that yeah it’s bad that those who were expected to accept Jesus, didn’t. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t standards and expectations for those who do end up coming.
Too many Church leaders in our day and age want to sing a song and putting up a banner saying “All are welcome.” But Jesus is making it clear that is not enough. His invitation doesn’t mean “come on your own terms.” It’s not come in and do whatever you like. When beginning His mission, Jesus starts with the direct words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That the kingdom of heaven is at hand is great news; that is the hope and fulfillment of the entire Hebrew scriptures. But too often, we bypass that first word, “repent.” What’s implicit in the invitation to “all” who are welcome – is to see how messed up the world is, how something great is lacking in their own lives. In becoming Christians, we “put on Christ” meaning that we decided to conduct our lives as He would want us to do – selflessly, sacrificially, rejecting anyone and anything that would be an obstacle to that mission.
Francis Chan who is a Christian author and speaker once said something that came to mind: “The core problem isn’t the fact that we’re lukewarm, halfhearted, or stagnant Christians. The crux of it all is why we are this way, and it is because we have an inaccurate view of God. We see Him as a benevolent Being who is satisfied when people manage to fit Him into their lives in some small way. We forget that God never had an identity crisis. He knows that He’s great and deserves to be the center of our lives.”
There’s a lot of truth in that. We’re not perfect. We’re sinners. We know God is loving and merciful and we know we need that. The difference between being the one who has the wedding garment or not is how we respond to those realities. How much are we actively trying to live a Christian life? Do we simply presume God’s mercy or do we humble ourselves, go to confession and receive Jesus’ absolution? May you and I who have received Jesus’ invitation realize how precious a gift it truly is and be among those who are “chosen.”