The Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time October 15, 2017
Isaiah 25, 6-10 + Psalm 23 + Philippians 4, 12-14, 19-20 + Matthew 22, 1-14
Saint Joseph Church in Norman, Oklahoma
This is now the third and last parable at the end of Matthew’s Gospel after the authority of Jesus has been challenged by the Pharisees in the Temple. There are two parts to this reading which is why in some of your books there is a long version and a short version. The parable which is in included in both long and short versions is, like all parables, about God revealing how much God wants everyone to come into the Heavenly banquet. The longer version adds an allegory, that says something about us.
There is something sad about the parable. We know what it’s like to invite people to a dinner or some celebration and be turned down, or have people accept and then not show up or cancel at the last minute as though some better offer came along they could not refuse. Then there is the other side of the experience when we’ve been invited and might have to make a choice between two options. Every time I read this parable, I remember an afternoon several years ago. I was in Rome with my young niece who was enjoying a trip to Europe with Uncle Tom as a High School graduation gift from her parents and grandparents. We were at a luncheon at the North American College, and the Rector came by the table and said: “We have had a call from the Vatican and the Holy Father is asking if any Americans would come this evening for an audience.” I looked at my niece who was wide eyed and I said: “Do you want to go?” Her response was a loud, “Yes” quickly followed by a question. “What shall I wear?” My response was rather direct: “We’re not going shopping. Wear the best you have.” She did, and we went. There were just a hand-full of us there, and I stood back and watched the Holy Father thinking: “Here is a wonderful but lonely old man surrounded by these officious clerics trapped in this palace and clearly desperate for some simple human conversation and company.
For me that is the way I always imagine this “king” who wanted so desperately to fill up his banquet hall and hear the sounds of music and joyful laughter. This is God revealing Himself to us. It is the God whose friendship was turned down by His first love, Eve and Adam; traded for the company of a snake. For those first hearing this parable from Jesus, that parallel would have been unmistakable. As Adam and Eve were banished from Paradise for their refusal, so these latter ones will meet the same fate. As the story goes on, we listen sadly to the excuses of these people who were invited. They are so busy making a living that they have no time for life. That is really what this all about: priorities and life. A God who wants us badly enough to risk the life of his only Son in order to gather us in is set before us. Too busy running from this to that, worried about bills and deadlines, schedules and appointments there is no spiritual life at all and no lasting relationship with the one who invites us all to life.
Then, Matthew shifts the focus from that image of God to us with a chilling message in an allegory about someone who came, but got tossed out. Seems unfair at first, but the issue is not really about his clothing. The real insult is the man’s silence. He refuses to speak and respond to the question. This is someone who’s just there to watch, someone who came in but does not join in. This is someone who really has no excuse for that and nothing to say. Matthew has now shifted the attention from the Pharisees to the church with this allegory reminding us that just showing up is really not all that is expected of us. Apathetic spectators do not make disciples. Matthew proposed to the church at his time and to the church today that as we accept the invitation to enter into the fullness of life, we need to begin really living the life of faith into which we have been invited.