19th Sunday after Pentecost
At the heart of today’s liturgy we find the parable of the wedding feast prepared by the King for his Son and which those who were invited failed to attend. They had numerous excuses: they neglected and went their way, one to his farm, and another to his merchandise. But some of them, not content with making little of the invitation, turn against the King: the rest laid their hands on his servants, and having treated them abusively, put them to death. The King’s wrath is understandably aroused by this neglect and wrong-doing. What does he do? Does He sit down to dialogue and pretend that all is OK? No. When the king heard of it, he was angry and sending his armies, he destroyed those murderers, and burnt their city. But that is not the end of the story. Still intent on filling up all the places at the wedding banquet, He sends His servants to gather together whomever they could find and who were willing to come, and the hall is filled with guests.
The story might have ended there, but it doesn’t. We are told that the King goes to the banquet to meet the guests, and he finds a man who was not wearing the wedding garment. Questioned as to why this is the case, the man has no reply. The King then addresses his servants: Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.
At first sight, one might be tempted to think that the King is being rather harsh on the poor man, until of course you realise what the parable is really about. The wedding feast is the one that God the Father throws for His Son’s wedding with humanity. God’s desire is that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Sadly, many of those who are called turn down the invitation. They are too taken up with the affairs of this world, which are more important to them than God. More tragic still, some of them turn against the King, as if He were an intruder in their lives and they insult Him by making martyrs of the messengers He sends. But God’s response to that is to seek others who will reply to His invitation. He longs to bring other souls to the communion of His love and truth.
The final part of the parable reminds us that there are conditions on this communion with God. If being at the feast symbolises being in the Church through faith, the wedding garment is the symbol of charity, in other words of the state of grace which one obtains by renouncing one’s sins and living according to the Commandments of God. The man without the wedding garment had dared to place himself among God’s chosen ones while still living according to the maxims of the world. He had faith, but no love of God. He professed the creed, but did not have a moral life worthy of the name of Christian.
From this we see clearly that to God’s call and grace is due on our part a response. One cannot presume to come to God on one’s own terms. To do so would be to not have understood at all who God is, who we are, and what is at stake. It would be an awful abuse of the grace that God freely offers to all, but which, sadly, so many refuse.
This is exactly why St Paul exhorts us today to be renewed in the spirit, to put on the new man, who according to God, is created in justice and holiness of truth. To come to God entails leaving behind our ways of old. It means being transformed, just as a man who comes from a long, hard day in the dirt of the fields, with dust and soil all over, and who, before setting down to table, takes a bath and puts on clean clothes. When God calls, one must change one’s life. When one encounters God, one must come back different. To not do so would be to make little of God, and that is a grievous insult to the Divine Majesty.
There is much talk in the Church today about inclusivity, openness to all, finding a place for all. There is much to be said for that when it comes to language, race, culture and talents, etc., and indeed the Church has always been at the forefront of giving everyone an equal opportunity for the simple reason that all are equal before God. Nevertheless there are conditions for being welcomed to full communion with the Church, and for taking part in the Eucharistic banquet. Those conditions are essentially two: that we believe all that the Church teaches us as revealed by God – we cannot pick and choose as from a restaurant menu –, and that we live in accordance with the commandments. If one of those is lacking, then we are the ones excluding ourselves from communion with God and the Church, for we would be insulting both God and man by making bold to concoct our own rules. It would be essentially a lie, which is why St Paul tells us to put away lying, speaking the truth every man with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.
The man in the parable is like those who today abuse the Church by wanting her to be inclusive of everyone regardless of their way of life. “God meets us we are”, they say, but they fail to add that He doesn’t leave us there, but wants us to come to the true freedom of the children of God. To allude to another parable, the father did not send a message to the prodigal son to reassure him that he was fine feeding the pigs and he loved him as he is. No, he had to come home, to humble himself, to change his ways and to receive God’s pardon. This is the grave problem with the present-day jargon of the “inclusive church”. By its very nature, the Church is inclusive of all who, through a sincere conversion of life, strive in all sincerity to keep the wedding garment. But the Church is also exclusive of all who refuse either the complete and orthodox profession of faith, or who wish to make up their own moral code.
Let’s consider for a moment the verb used by St Matthew to describe the fault of those who failed to respond to the king’s invitation. He says they neglected, neglexerunt. Negligere is the opposite of eligere. To neglect then, is to fail to choose, to fail to make a choice, which implies failing to make a decision. This in turn implies failing to assess the situation and give proper attention to all that is before us.
Part of being human is taking into account the situations we find ourselves in, and in committing ourselves to a particular cause. A human being cannot find fulfilment until he has given himself fully to an ideal. In marriage as in the religious life, it is not until one makes the choice of a unique life companion – a spouse or a particular community – to the exclusion of all others, that one has reached the maturity of freedom, and fidelity to that choice is going to be the proof of its authenticity. The great sin, then, of the people in today’s Gospel was to have been negligent in heeding the call of the Lord, in making so little of His invitation that many other things got in the way of a single-hearted commitment. And so to summarise, to fail to understand God’s call due to immersion in the world and the flesh, just as accepting to come but on your own terms, both show so little respect for the King that it is no wonder He has no time for them.
Today as yesterday, many are called, – because God loves all and wants all in His house, – but few are chosen, because relatively few answer His call and love Him enough to leave themselves behind. May we be among those respond without delay and are never found unclothed spiritually speaking, but rather donning the apparel of holiness and truth.