When Matthew retells a parable of Jesus he usually has two audiences in mind. In today’s parable of the wedding banquet and the unwilling guests we can easily catch the reference to the unwillingness of the scribes, Pharisees and the religious leaders to accept the invitation Jesus offers them to enter into a new and renewed relationship with God. As the parable tells us, “They made light of it” and went about their own business. They ignored Jesus and what he had to say. They even resorted to violence toward Jesus and His followers. The part of the parable describing the fate of those who refused their invitation refers to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD, when the Romans did not leave one stone upon another.
In the second part of this parable Matthew is speaking to the members of the early Christian community – those brought in from the highways and the byways – those people on the fringe of society, tax collectors, prostitutes, bad and good alike. These are all ‘graced’ people, they had no right to be there, and they are invited to this grand party.
Years ago there was an old technique in preaching when the preacher would deal with a particular subject on justice or morality and it would all be academic. Then the focus of the sermon would change when the preacher asked the people, “But what about you?” What does all this have to do with you personally, in other words, “let’s get down to brass tacks.” I think this is Matthew’s technique in the last part of this gospel when he tells about the wedding guest who was without his wedding garment. He is an apparent contradiction to this joyous feast. Matthew is teaching about the practical living out of a person’s acceptance of being invited. In the telling of this parable Matthew moves from invitation – “go out into the highways and by ways and make them come in” to facing the consequences of that acceptance, namely living one’s life by doing the deeds of faith. This fellow represents the spiritless, actionless followers of Jesus. The nominal Christians.
When people come in for a wedding and they tell me they are Catholic or Anglican or United or whatever, I always ask, “Is that a capital C or a small c?” There is a big difference. Maybe in the early Christian community in Jerusalem it was the same, people who were really committed to their new found faith in Jesus and people who associated with the community when it was to their advantage. Remember the parable Jesus told about the sower sowing seed and some seeds sprang up quickly but when the sun hit them they withered and died because they had no root. They were not wearing the wedding garment of commitment and faithfulness. Today we call them nominal Catholics or nominal Anglicans or nominal whatever. The C and E’s, Christmas and Easter. Our Jewish neighbours have the same experience, the Rabbis refer to them as the revolving door Jews, in on Rosh Hashanah and out on Yom Kippur.
And what about you and what about me? Are we wearing the wedding garment of fidelity and commitment? Our wedding garment is our lifestyle – how we live out our Christian life every day of life – I used this story a couple of weeks ago about someone asking a person, “Are you a Christian?” and the person answering, “Ask my neighbour.” What about you, what about me? Do we talk the talk and walk the walk? If we were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict us? These are all clichés but they have a message.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass on this Thanksgiving weekend we pray for ourselves and for each other that we appreciate the great gift we’ve been given, being invited to the wedding feast and given the wedding garment of our Christian faith. Strengthened by the bread of life we will receive at the Mass may each of be blessed to proudly wear this garment and bear witness to our faith, outside these walls by the lives we live, the work we do, the service we give and the prayers we pray.