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October 15, 2017 - Am I Wearing the Right Clothes?

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

How many of you are familiar with the Baltimore Catechism? It is very different than the Catechism of the Catholic Church we have today. Published in 1891, it has about 300 pages and the entire Catechism is written in question answer format. I think it is still the clearest and direct explanation of the Catholic faith. For example, the first question is, “Who made the world?” The answer, “God made the world.” The sixth question  asks “Why did God make you?” The answer is, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.” Did to hear that? God made us to be happy! This may sound contrary to the lessons we draw from today’s gospel parable of the man thrown out from the wedding feast for coming without a wedding garment. In fact, when understood correctly, even this parable is about happiness.

This homily is a reflection on the parable of the wedding feast. I would like to do this keeping in mind God’s desire for our happiness. 

1. God Wants Us to be Happy. Today’s first reading describes a feast. God says through Isaiah: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” Why? Because the people would realize and say, “This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!” A feast is associated with happiness and joy. Nobody throws a feast and says come let us mourn and drown ourselves in misery. Too many people think of God as a detached and stringent task master. Perhaps parables like we have in today’s gospel creates that assumption. The contrary is true. If there is anything God wants for us is to be happy. Everything that God ever created, everything that God has ever said, all the commandments and laws that God ever gave, all the prophets that God ever sent, and the fact that Jesus came and that he died for us - was because God wants us to be happy. The real point of the parable of the wedding feast is God invitation to us be part of God’s happiness. But this reality is also true - that some people choose not to be happy. The most recent shootings in Las Vegas is an example, is it not? For that matter, every sin is a choice against the happiness. 

2. The Case of the Man without Wedding Garments. What shall we say about the man who was thrown out into the darkness? Why was he thrown out especially since the king had asked his servants to invite whomever they found? Much ink has been spilled on interpreting the passage. Without going into details, let me provide some historical and socio-religious context for the parable. First. only Matthew’s version has the part of the person without the wedding garment. Luke’s version ends with the second invitation to everybody who actually came and filled the wedding hall. Scripture scholars tell us that most probably Matthew was trying to combine two parables without telling us the reason for the combination. Second, the kings violence toward those who refused the invitation is a reflection on the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. That is why Matthew includes the detail that of the burning of the city of those who refused the invitation. Third, the parable was also trying to deal with the fact that Israel’s leaders rejected Christ (the one who refused the invitation) while the fallen-away Jews and gentiles (those who were invited later), were accepting Christ. No matter how we interpret this parable, questions  still remain. Meanwhile, here is my personal understanding of the parable. A wedding is a celebration of love. Everybody who is invited to a wedding feast is expected to be there because of their love for the couple and the spirit of the celebration. Nobody goes to a wedding filled with hate, dislike, or anger for the couple or the hosts. You cannot be at a wedding feast with sentiments contrary to celebration. Similarly, God has invited us into heaven to be with God for ever. As today’s first reading says, to be in God’s presence is like being at a thrilling love-feast. However, there are somethings that are incompatible with God. We cannot be in God’s presence and also have hate, unforgiveness, revenge, prejudice… You cannot be in God’s presence and say, “God, I love you but I cannot love these people because they are not like me.” You cannot be in God’s presence and says, “God, I love you but I can never forgive that person.” Anybody who is in God’s presence must have a wedding garment. The wedding garment is the garment of love - Christ like love. The man thrown out of the wedding is meant to let us know that ungodliness is incompatible with Godliness. 

3. Am I Wearing the Right Clothes? Let us get back to the feast. In the Bible, eternal life is compared to a feast of the best food and drink. Everyone of us has an invitation to eternity. The question that today’s scripture raises is simply this: On the day we show up at to the feast, how will the king find us? If we had to die today and find ourselves at the feast, would there be anything that is incompatible with Godliness? On the other hand, the feast is not only about eternity. God also wants us to be happy in the here and now.  after all, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is true - that if every person on the earth chose to put on the wedding garment - the world would be a happy place. The parable teaches us to seek first the kingdom of God. Moreover, the parable teaches us that that we must have the garment of love even when people around us reject God’s invitation. 

Every Eucharist is a prototype of the eternal feast. Here we come to find forgiveness, healing, love and life. Here we say, “This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!” Let us indeed rejoice and be glad. 

- Fr. Satish Joseph