28th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Mt. Carmel Academy, NOLA
The truth of the Kingdom has yet to be fully revealed much less understood. Since parables can take us deeper into the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus uses them as the only fruitful way of teaching us the features of the coming reign of God. These short allegorical stories give us an indirect peek at the bigger truth, using the ordinary elements of daily life – the familiar people, places, and things that regular folks see and hear everyday. To understand the bigger truth a parable reveals, we compare the elements of the story to what we already know. So, who are we in the parable of the wedding feast? We aren't the king, his son, or the soldiers. We could be the guests, though we've been at the party for a while now. We can't be the poor guy who gets bounced b/c he's improperly dressed. We're still at the party. That leaves the servants. We're the servants. The ones sent out by the king to summon his guests. The ones sent out to rouse the rabble and bring them as guests to the feast. That's what we do: we go out and invite to the feast those rarely invited. As servants of the king, we obey the king.
What are His orders? “The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.” Note what's missing from these orders. We are not ordered to evaluate any potential guest's wardrobe. We are not ordered to assess their moral worthiness; their social standing, wealth, health, looks, or family ties. We are not ordered to invite only those who look like us, sound like us, think like us, or believe like us. The king's order are crystal clear, “Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.” Whomever we find might be poorly dressed or morally rotten; or high-born and ugly as sin; or low-born and beautiful; or just plain folks with nothing much to do that evening. “Whomever you find” is an all-encompassing category that makes it very difficult not to invite whomever we might find. That's our job. It's what we do. After those we have invited to the feast get here, then it's the king's job to sort them all out. Not ours. The guy who's bounced out into the darkness is bounced out into the darkness b/c he's not properly dressed. In parable-terms, he's not properly disposed, not internally prepared to receive food and drink from the Lord's generous table. He's not wearing the heart and mind of one who's accepted an invitation to party eternally with the Father's Son.
The invitation we all receive to party with the Father at His Son's feast is “come as you are.” Black tie. Business casual. Beach wear. Whatever you have on is just fine. In fact, the more poorly dressed, the more poorly disposed we are for the feast, the better. The point of the feast is not to show off or network, or to advertise your worthiness for the occasion. The point is to honor and celebrate the Son's marriage. Thus says the King, “Accepting my invitation makes you worthy.” But the transformation from unworthy wretch to worthy guest cannot leave us untouched. You may arrive at the wedding feast “as you are,” but you stay at the King's table b/c you have freely given yourself over to the celebration of His Son's marriage. In other words, no one remains at the feast dressed as they arrived. And no one leaves unless they are sent by the King to invite others. Come as you are. Be made worthy. Put on a rich, new wedding garment. And leave only to spread the word of the King's generosity. The King's feast has a purpose, a goal: to bring as many in as possible and transform unworthy wretches into guests worthy of the Son. That includes you and me.
What doesn't include you and me is the intimate process of transformation that the feast begins; that is, the internal work that God alone does to change an unworthy wretch into a worthy guest. You and I are sent out to proclaim the invitation that God has made. We are ordered to invite “whomever we find,” and tell them about the feast. When they accept the invitation and return with us to the table, we are to do everything we can to help them stay; everything, that is, except lie about the transformative nature of the feast itself. We welcome. We include. We gather up and support. We pay careful attention to our own made-worthiness, and we even sacrifice to keep God's guests at the table. But the work of transformation cannot happen if the guest does not will to be transformed. And we cannot pretend that the feast does not do what it is designed to do. We cannot lie to the guest or ourselves and say that there is no need for change, there is no reason to turn around and face the King. If the guest wills to remain outside the power of the King's feast, then we can do nothing more than pray that he will return, inviting him back again and again, always welcoming, always ready to serve as the King has ordered us to serve.
Stepping outside the words and images of the parable, let's say plainly what must be said. God's invitation to receive His grace through Jesus Christ is universal. No one is excluded. Never has been, never will be. As His baptized priests, prophets, and kings, we are charged with making sure that His invitation to repentance and holiness is heard over and over and over again. Receiving His grace means repenting of our debilitating sins, confessing them, and resolving to never commit them again. It is true that God invites us to come to Him “as we are.” But the purpose of His invitation is make us holy, not to affirm us in our sin or to tell us that our sin is not really a sin. We must not misunderstand His loving invitation to share in His divine life as a nod of approval or a sign that we are perfect “as is.” If we are perfect “as is” – sin and all – then why send His only Son to die for us? Why establish the Church to administer His saving grace? In fact, why bother with an invitation at all if there is no one to save? As a Body, we are being challenged to ignore the need for repentance from sin in favor of being “welcoming and inclusive,” meaning in practice “pretending that sin isn't sin.” This is a lie, a deadly lie that kills the unrepentant and the one telling the lie.
As with all things Catholic, we are set squarely on the razor's edge, teetering delicately btw Pharisaical Judgmentalism and Wholesale Indifferentism. We cannot judge the internal transformation of any other person, nor can we ignore the obvious public signs that no transformation has taken place. Judgmentalism makes for a paltry feast. And Indifferentism renders the feast pointless. If we are to celebrate and honor the Son's sacrifice for us, then we must work hard to maintain our balance on that razor's edge: welcome and include AND expect repentance and transformation. Most especially for ourselves.