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Liturgy and Life

By Joe Gunn

10/04/2017

Jesus calls out the hypocrisy of the rigidly pious

 

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 15, 2017

 

Isaiah 25:6-10a
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Matthew 22:1-14

Thirty years ago, during a time of war and material shortages, I got married in Central America.

Suzanne and I decided to keep things simple in an attempt to respect the hardship that many people we cared for were forced to endure. The preparations took some extra planning and effort due to the rationing and limited availability of goods. For weeks beforehand, our friends were enlisted to gather stocks to ensure there would be enough beer for everyone coming to the party after mass! My mother-in-law almost missed the ceremony when her flight was stopped in an unfriendly and highly militarized neighbouring country. The laughter and merriment we ultimately enjoyed was (honestly) accompanied by a sense of gratitude and relief that the big event came off with only a few minor catastrophes.

Wedding feasts reflect the values of a couple, and are designed to express the care and affection that friends and family want to lavish upon lovers embarking upon new lives together. In biblical texts from Isaiah to the New Testament, banquets also serve as imagery for the reign of God.

Our Lord is forever the gracious host, inviting us to enjoy the fullness of life. The invitation to share in the bounty of God’s love is extended to all — but deciding whether to respond, and how to respond, is what we are called to consider in these readings.

At one time some preachers suggested that the parables of the wedding feast described the people of Israel as those who rejected the prophets and, ultimately, Christ’s invitation to baptism. These were those left outside the reign of God, “wailing and gnashing their teeth.”

A deeper reflection, however, might lead us to see that there is a constant theme evident in the readings of earlier and even later Sundays — namely, how Jesus navigated the tension between himself and the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Increasingly he criticized the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who defended a status quo that neither served the needs of the people, nor promoted good religious practice.

Those who had “farms” and “businesses” or other possessions seemed to put these worldly goods ahead of the invitation to come to the banquet and join the reign of God. Even those who were privileged to have knowledge of the Law (and who thereby were granted high social standing) turned out to be unwilling to honour the invitation of the king. Refusal of the invitation to a banquet seems ludicrous, but even worse is rejection of the very messengers and doing them harm. Clearly, many of “those invited were not worthy.”

Who then was worthy of entering the banquet feast? Who is likely to partake of the reign of God, today?

Liberation theologians like Gustavo Gutiérrez point us to look in a different social place. To “go out into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet” gives meaning to what Catholic social teaching calls “the preferential option for the poor.” Here in these streets were the outcasts who had no high social rank like the priests and the scribes — those who considered the poor as ignorant and sinful. This same parable is also told in the words of Luke, but the wording is much more specific than in Matthew’s version: “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” (Lk 14:21). The reign of God makes a special place for the poor — in our own lives, we should do the same.

Jesus is no “party-pooper.” He expands his concern to those seeking a place at the table, to those seeking a relationship with God. Those who are looking for meaning in their lives, those who are not the “usual suspects,” those who don’t get seen in all the right places, are invited by Jesus to share God’s life. There is no exclusion. And that’s Good News for us!

But with invitation comes obligation. The accompanying parable in this passage relates the story of the guest who arrived improperly clothed — and for this lack of care and respect for the host was thrown out. Perhaps this part of the story reminds us that accepting God’s invitation requires a proper response from us. The image of wearing the proper robe may lead us to consider what is needed in my life to be clothed in God’s love? What practical behaviours do I need to adopt to respond to God’s intimate proposal? Does my daily prayer focus on finding the answers that I need to prepare for the banquet?

I’m sure we’d all agree that wedding feasts are happy occasions! So are our lives when we have opened them to the loving embrace of the Lord of Life.

Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, a member-driven, faith-based public policy organization in Ottawa focused on ecological justice, refugee rights and poverty elimination.