"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

28th SUNDAY (A) October11, 2020

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

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

Matthew gives us another parable today and its details can be very confusing, even irritating. It’s the parable of the king who has prepared a wedding banquet for his son and is rebuffed by the prime guests. Let’s look at its most obvious level, as a story, and enumerate what, at first hearing, speaks to us and also befuddles us. The parable will yield its message if we respect how it is told, who is telling it and why Matthew included it in his gospel.

What an usual way to get guests to come to a wedding! The king sends his servants to "summon" them. Do we summon guests to our family weddings and celebrations? No, but then we are not people in power and rulers of a kingdom. Kings and queens, with absolute power operate, differently than we do. This seems to be the second invitation the king has issued, since those summoned are already the "invited guests." A first announcement has previously gone out and now these guests would be expecting the call to announce the feast is ready. But they ignore the servants’ summons. I know some teenagers who turned down an invitation to a party when they heard who the other guests were. Adults do the same. Is that what happened here? Or, were there other reasons for not going?

Were those on the guest list, the movers and the shakers, making some point to the king? The excuses the invited guests give for not attending are flimsy; they merely return to their workplaces, as if to say, their work was more important than the royal son’s wedding. How does one ignore an invitation to a royal wedding? Even if you didn’t want to go, wouldn’t you go because you wanted to show respect to your ruler? We know what it is like to go to a party just because the boss, or a friend has invited us. So, for the king’s subjects, it just makes good political sense to go to the wedding. In their negative response to the invitation, the guests are being foolish, arrogant, even insulting.

In Jesus’ culture honor was highly prized and to publically embarrass someone was a terrible affront – and, in this case, those rejecting the invitation are insulting their king! Some even mistreat and kill the king’s servants; which is equivalent to a direct attack on him. He cannot let this go by without a response, after all he is their king and has to maintain his honor and position. So, the king orders the recalcitrant subjects killed and burns their city. But now what will he do, after all he has a feast prepared and a son to be married? He just eliminated the guest list.

The king sends out his servants to the "main roads," which would include the town squares and markets. He "invites" people who would never be on a royal, or "respectable" person’s guest list. But those who were first invited, the business people and landowners, had rejected his invitation! Think of those who would now be invited from the "main roads": peddlers, butchers, beggars, prostitutes, tax collectors, shop lifters, the physically impaired and sick, etc. These people would know a good thing when they heard it; they wouldn’t be so stupid to refuse.

We know how much time and effort we put into planning weddings; and we are not even royalty. Think of the exquisite food and drink on those tables. How carefully they would have been chosen! Would these newcomers appreciate what was set before them? Would they sip and savor the best wines? Drink them in their proper order? Of course not. They would be hungry and thirsty. In fact, can’t you see them shoving and pushing to get in and grab the best places and the best food and drink? So much for "proper decorum!" In their whole lives they would never have had such a feast and must have thought they never would again, so they were going to dive right in and enjoy themselves; make the most of the moment. Gobble, gobble, drink, drink. "More please!" Do those who are in need know how to celebrate more than those who have too much? If we recognize our need today at Eucharist and realize the gift we have received, we might have more than enough reason to "celebrate Eucharist" together.

The king enters the banquet hall to meet the "guests." They are no longer merely beggars, street people, foreigners, thieves, etc. They are called "guests." Their conditions have completely been reversed. And they did nothing to deserve it! They were invited to a feast they, in their wildest imaginations, would never dream they would get to attend. I hear the sound of God’s grace echoing through the banquet hall above the din, raucous behavior, the singing and laughing of the "guests."

Here’s still one more confounding detail in the parable; one we might like to eliminate. The embarrassing element in the parable, as if there haven’t been enough already(!), is the king’s encounter with the man without his "wedding garment." I want to protest to the king, "But you just had him rounded up from the streets, how can you expect him to be wearing the proper fineries? Where would he get them anyway, aren’t you being fickle and unreasonable?"

There is an option in the Lectionary to end the parable at verse 10, and thus eliminate the seeming-unreasonable detail about the improperly-dressed guest. But sometimes the jarring aspects of these parables yield the most fruit for the hearer. In a religion class for six-year olds, when this parable was read and the teacher asked about the man’s lack of a wedding garment, one child offered, "The king wanted his new guests to be properly dressed for the wedding and maybe he gave out wedding garments at the door." Not a bad response, and that is one biblical scholars have also suggested. We are given what we need, once we accept the invitation to the wedding feast. Remember the Cinderella story: the fairy godmother gave her the gown so Cinderella could attend the ball. St. Paul says a similar thing today in our second reading from Philippians, "My God will fully supply whatever you need in accord with God’s glorious riches in Christ Jesus."

Matthew’s community consisted of both Jewish and Gentile converts; quite a mixture for a church in its infancy! Jewish Christians would certainly pick up on the allegorical features in today’s parable, for just as the king’s servants mistreated and killed the servants sent to invite them to the feast, so were the prophets, who were sent to call the people back to God, mistreated and killed.

Like those invited to the feast from the main roads, Matthew’s community must have also had a mixture of the "good and bad" and so the second part of the parable would have challenged them. How were the members changing their lives in response to the invitation to the wedding God had given them? Did they realize the gift they had received? What was their attitude and disposition towards other "guests" in the community. If all are guests, none meriting the invitation, but rather brought in by grace, then how could Christians continue to separate and divide themselves according to race, gender, country of origin, language, sexual orientation, newcomers and old timers, well dressed and the poor?

If you have read I and II Corinthians, you know the troubles and divisions the community in Corinth had and how much it distressed Paul. At their celebrations were Jewish and Gentile converts, both rich and poor, widows, orphans, the sick and people from "the main roads," who responded to Jesus’ embracing message. This diversity must have been hard for some to take, those used to being with their "own kind." But then, there were Paul’s strong correctives in his letters and there were parables like today’s, to challenge their elitism and call them back to being a community of Jesus’ followers.

If we are attentive to the Word we hear today, and taken today’s gospel to heart, then how could we fail to look around at our Eucharist today and celebrate everyone here with us? Let’s not judge their motives for coming, or their dress, or how active they are in the parish. Let’s celebrate them and the fact that we all are hearers of the Word today. We will do our best to be doers of that Word too! Let God make the call on who is wearing the proper wedding garment.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/101120.cfm