Today’s Mass readings are all about “being different”. In the epistle, St Paul tells the Ephesians that, now they are converted, they must put on the “new man created in justice and in the holiness of truth"; they must leave behind their former ways which included lying, cheating, dealing harshly and cruelly with others, without care for the needy. This thought, which is a frequent one, not just with St Paul, but with all the New Testament epistles, was clearly a major tenet of the early Church. Christians are different, they have to be. The reason is that Christ was different. He did not live like other people. He taught a moral doctrine that flew in the face of his contemporaries, as it flies in the face of every age. It is of God, it is not of man.
One of the consequences of this is that, as soon as Christians start wanting to be like everybody else, desiring to be accepted and acknowledged as friends of the world, then they have already started down a path that ultimately can only lead away from the paths of the Gospel.
The need for Christians to be different is stressed in another way by the Lord Himself in the Gospel. The parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22 tells us of how the king threw a wedding feast for his son. When those who were invited refused to come, the king was angry, and sent his servants to find others to fill the vacant seats at the marriage banquet. Good and bad people came there. The king went in to see the guests, and he found one who was not wearing the wedding garment, the special attire required for such a momentous occasion. The king was really angry this time, and asked the man how he had gotten in without the wedding garment. The fellow was speechless, as evildoers often are when justly accused. The king lost no time in having this man bound with fetters and thrown into the external darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
What is going on here? Would it not have been nicer to usher him into a vesting room so that he could fix himself up for the feast? The fact is, that wasn’t an option. Why wasn’t it? Because it’s all about being different. The man was fine as long as he was out there in the world. He could have gone on living that way. But the fact is, he was called by God to enter the Church. He did so, BUT — he intended to go on living as he had before. His neglect to put on the wedding garment constitutes a capital offence against the king, because it shows a deep disregard for the dignity of the new life of grace we are called to. If one seeks to live in the Church, to receive the sacraments, to be considered a Catholic (and even a cleric…) but does not change one’s life (one’s “garments”), then one is poking fun at God himself. And as St Paul told us a couple Sundays ago, “God is not mocked”.
The lesson is that if we really want to be disciples of Christ, then we have to be different. As Julien Green wrote: ““Any Catholicism is suspect if it does not disturb the one who practices it, if it does not mark him in the eyes of the world, if it does not overwhelm him, if it does not make of his life a passion renewed every day, if it is not difficult and odious for the flesh, if it is not unbearable”.
With Joshua, let us say: “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord” (Jos 24:15). We refuse to bend the knee before the idols of the day. We are different.