28 Ordinary Time – A October 09, 2011
Isaiah 25, 6-10a; Psalm 23; Philippians 4, 12-14, 19-20; Matthew 21, 1-14
We see that in today's Gospel Jesus speaks about a king with a long list of people invited to a wedding banquet. The banquet is heaven - as our first reading makes clear: "a feast of rich foods and choice wines" where God "will remove the veil that veils all people...he will destroy death forever." Sadly the invited guests refuse to come. They have more important things on their mind. They even make fun of the king's messengers and mistreat them.
Don't you thing that it sounds familiar? What about the Eucharist and all our excuses and justifications, pretexts and apologies? We don't have time; we have something more important to do …
All are invited, but not all respond. It's hard for us to come to understand the fact that not everyone might be saved, not everyone might enter the Kindom of God. Yet that is the conclusion of today's parable: "Many are invited, but few are chosen."
I have to be honest. I do not like the idea that some might be excluded from heaven - especially when I consider that one of those people might be me. I am confident about God's love - but I am not so confident about myself. For that reason I ask: How could a person be excluded from heaven?
"Many are called." God's saving love embraces all of creation. But … "only few are chosen" … or rather should we say "only few have accepted the invitation". God is inviting everyone but is not forcing anybody. If you reject His invitation … don't be surprised that you will be not allowed to participate in the ETERNAL BANQUET.
Well, it is important to understand that heaven is a banquet. Everyone likes the general idea of a banquet, but regarding any specific banquet it depends on what is on the menu. Some people love oysters while others can hardly stand to look at the little mollusks. The same can be said about other foods. French eat "escargot" and Mexicans have a soup called "menudo." Escargots are ordinary garden snails and menudo is made from a cow's belly - tripe. A person has to be willing to try them in order to appreciate how delicious they might be.
Something similar applies to heaven. Not that it will make a difference whether we have a taste for oysters or tripe or snails. It will matter, however, if we have a taste for God. Even though we are made for God, in this life we have to develop a taste for God. It is easy to fill ourselves with other things - a kind of spiritual junk food. People often do not go to Mass because "it is boring." Well, a salad is boring in comparison to French Fries. But a person can cultivate a taste for salad - just like a person can develop a taste for God.
Hell is a self-made prison. A man builds his own hell out things such as anger, pornography, hurt feelings, vanity, false self-image and lies. They become his daily diet - and he loses (or never acquires) a taste for God. Heaven's banquet (which is nothing more and nothing less than God) holds no attraction for him - other things seem more compelling.
The "final judgment" is nothing more than
- that moment when our choice to love God is sealed by His eternal embrace of love in heaven,
- or when we face the consequences of our rejection of God's love by refusing to keep the commandments. Jesus teaches us, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."
So, yes, Jesus shed his blood for all - and he invites all to the heavenly banquet. But not all accept the invitation. In a few weeks we will hear a more exact translation of Jesus' words: "My blood...poured out for many." We can be part of that joyful multitude. By prayer, by the sacraments we can each day increase our taste for God.
In the parable, those who were first invited to the banquet would be the people of ancient Israel, who often violated the covenant and resisted the prophets. At the time of Jesus, they found it impossible to let go of their traditions in order to make room for his revolutionary message.
Those brought in from the streets to fill the banquet hall would be the outsiders; including the Gentiles who, in many cases, gladly responded to Jesus' universal invitation. However, some of them too were unwilling to be fully converted and thus were lacking the proper "wedding garment” of unselfish love.
One of the most dangerous temptations for traditional Christians is an easy assumption that they have responded to God's invitation and are now comfortably seated at the banquet waiting for their final and inevitable heavenly reward. This temptation is so insidious because it really is based on the fact of faithful religious observance.
Jesus desires deeply that all be saved, and so he invites all to the banquet, but He yet preserves our freedom to reject Him. This is a great mystery, but the answer lies in God's love. True love preserves the freedom of the one loved, to either respond with authentic, free, Godly love, or to reject. But why did the king tell this one man he was improperly dressed? Why did he speak such harsh words: "Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth"?
Well, the wedding garment is also a symbol. It represents our new life in Christ. It represents the Sanctifying Grace. When we accepted God’s invitation we left the old life of sin and began to live a new life of love and goodness. It is as if we left off our old clothes and put on new ones. We always feel much better wearing new clothes. We know we look good and often that helps us to act better.
So what about this man who is found wearing his old clothes at the royal wedding? The cloths of sin and perversion? The king is angry and has him thrown out. He represents us when we sin.
In those days the tradition was that when a poor man was invited to a royal feast and he could not afford a festive garment then the king would provide him one. Are we not provided with new cloths, with the opportunity of making our lives new in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? So there was no excuse for this man to be without a wedding garment; that is surely why in the parable it says: the man was silent. He could give no reason because there was none.
We have to be very careful how do we prepare to participate in the Eucharistic Banquet.