If the Father is all merciful why did the wedding guest without a garment get thrown out of the feast? Has that not bothered some of us over the years? Sometimes that part of Matthew’s gospel Chapter 22:1-14 is omitted on the 28th Sunday year A, but it is significant in itself and can lead to quite some discussion and reflection on different scenarios and interpretations.
Today, when conducting faith sharing- also in our families -, we are encouraged to look into the context of the time, as well as “the signs of the times” for today, and even how it has been interpreted over the centuries. Jesus told a parable of a king laying on a wedding feast for his son. Many of the specially invited guests found excuses not to attend. So he sent other servants to try to persuade those who had been invited but they refused and even manhandled the servants. Then the king sent his servants out into the highways and byways to invite anyone they could find to fill the hall. On arrival they were issued with a special garment for the feast. One man managed to find his way in without the garment and when he was discovered by the king he was forcibly ejected and “cast out into the outer darkness.” The same parable is also recorded in Luke’s gospel Ch 14, but without this additional passage of the guest who was ejected. Was Matthew, writing for the Jewish community after the fall of Jerusalem, maybe criticizing those Jews who had been offered the faith but rejected it and warranted punishment? Or maybe early Christians being too casual and not living out their commitment? Luke’s gospel focuses on the poor who accepted the 2nd invitation to those on the highways and byways, the streets and alleys where the poor and homeless hang out.
In his own inimitable style Pope Francis presents the scenario in a simple manner for us today. The first invited guests, made excuses and had other priorities. Is it strange in our day to refuse a wedding invite? However, don’t we feel hurt and angry when we issue an invitation and guests find excuses. Do we then go to our stand-by list of friends or would we go to the highways and byways, the street corners and informal settlements and invite the homeless and the poor? That is quite a challenge in itself.
Those poor and possibly dirty and smelly individuals who responded, were offered a wedding garment. As a gift for them, or to hide their shame and ugliness from others. Still, for that one individual to refuse the garment and come to the feast shows lack of respect for the host and the occasion. It shows he doesn’t care.
The point of the story could be that God does offer us his grace, the gift of the banquet and the garment, but God does not force himself on anyone. However, does God expect some kind of acknowledgement of his generosity which would be quite justified, or does God ultimately remain the just judge?
Pope Francis told his(social-distancing) audience in St Peter’s square last Sunday, “The wedding garment – this capelet – symbolizes the mercy that God freely gives us, namely, grace. Without grace, we cannot take a step forward in Christian life. Everything is grace. It is not enough to accept the invitation to follow the Lord; one must be open to a journey of conversion, which changes the heart. The garment of mercy, which God offers us unceasingly, is the free gift of his love; it is precisely grace. And it demands to be welcomed with astonishment and joy: “Thank you, Lord, for having given me this gift”.
But still, there is the final statement in the gospel, “Many are called but few are chosen“ which is the better known version or another version from the New American Bible, “the invited are many, the elect are few.” Does that not smack of favouritism in some way? And somehow, knowing Pope Francis, the favourites would undoubtedly be the poor.
Mission month, Mission Sunday coming up, and the universal call to solidarity expressed in FRATELLI TUTTI challenge us on our values whether we are rich or poor. I would like to suggest that as a family, ideally with members of all ages and life situations, discuss and share on this parable and in particular the piece about the man who got thrown out and ask, “In your view is there, or should there be, a limit to God’s mercy? How would it apply to me?” TR FAMILY WEEKLY 14 October 2020