Isaiah 25: 6-10 + Psalm 23 + Philippians 4: 12-14, 19-20 + Matthew 22: 1-14
October 15, 2023 I will be at Saint Gregory Abbey in Shawnee, Oklahoma this weekend.
At an earlier time in my life, I was on the faculty of a Catholic High School staffed primarily by the Sisters of Mercy. There was a dress code. It did not exactly amount to a uniform, but it was specific in terms of color, collars, skirts, and hair styles. When I was assigned there at age 28, I had very long hair. You may find that hard to believe, but there is evidence in the archives. It was the early 70s. The Sisters wore habits and veils. At the very first faculty meeting before the school year began, I showed up in shorts and a Tee shirt. It was August in Oklahoma for heaven’s sake. Sister Mary Wilfreda, the Principal and I had never met. She was also new there. When I walked in, her eyes nearly popped out of her wimple, and it was not long before she asked me how I was going to enforce the dress code looking like “that.” In response, I said: “Sister, I do a lot of things these young people are not going to do like drink a beer now and then and drive a car. They need to get over it.” She grumbled something and went on with the meeting. I learned a lot of things from that assignment about myself, and Sister Wilfreda and I became good friends.
When I look back at those times, I recognize that an insecure 28-year-old, not yet comfortable in his new role and identity needed to stand out and “do my own thing.” I guess it was just part of maturing, but I know that I had more trouble enforcing the dress code than the Sisters did.
At first reading the story Matthew shares with us today seems a little unfair. The guy with no wedding garment did not seem to have a lot of advanced notice. Yet, in the culture of that time, the host would have provided the proper garment. Nonetheless, the man refused to put it on. I like to think he wanted to do his own thing. Perhaps draw attention to himself? If so, he was successful, and ended up without desert. There is something about our culture that makes this parable more troubling than unfair. A lot of us still want to do our own thing. We like to pick and choose and we call that freedom even though the consequences of our choices cause a problem for others.
I believe this parable comes as a challenge to the “do your own thing” attitude especially when it comes to rules, customs, decorum, and even laws. The do your own thing attitude is everywhere around us and sometimes we’re in it. I’ve never lived in a community where more people run red lights than here in Collier County. The attitude shows up in church as well with picking and choosing how we act or what applies to me or what applies to you.
The whole point of the dress code at that School was to create a unified “team spirit” of working together. One of the High School seniors who gave me the most trouble over the dress code was also on the Basketball Team. After weeks of arguing with him over his attire, I got the Coach to take his uniform out of his locker forcing him to practice and play the next game in his street clothes. After that I never needed to say another word.
This parable reveals that it is the will of God that we all come together as one family of faith accepting the invitation to the feast. Some ignore and some refuse. Some make all kinds of silly excuses perhaps waiting for a better invitation. Those who do come to the feast must come with the intention of belonging, blending in, and being part of the whole body. Picking and choosing what to believe or how to act, does nothing to strengthen the unity. All it does is call attention to one’s self all the while ignoring the identity of the community because I can do my own thing. It does not work. It insults the one who has called us to be together, and it makes us the center of attention rather than the one who provides such a lavish feast.