Homily for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Whenever I celebrate a wedding I like to point out to the family and friends present that Jesus’ most commonly-used image for the Kingdom of Heaven was a wedding banquet. In other words, there’s something about the joyful celebration of new love, of two becoming one, of family and friends at peace, that is a reflection of the life of Heaven.
Now, notice that Jesus does not describe Heaven in terms of angels sitting on clouds playing harps: he uses the imagery of a wedding feast – a boisterous, energetic celebration with delicious food, choice wine, dancing, laughter, and fellowship. And in today’s parable it’s not just any wedding feast – it’s a party fit for a king since the bridegroom is the king’s son. Suffice to say that the royal host will spare no expense in making this a gala affair. However—tellingly—when the king’s servants issue personal invitations to this party of the century, there is a distinct lack of interest among those who have been invited.
So, when we approach this parable, the first thing we can do is put ourselves in the position of those who have been invited. We’ve been invited to this most incredible thing—the Heavenly banquet—and yet we can’t always recognise it for what it is, and so our response is often lukewarm.
Though we may seldom admit it, deep down many of us probably harbour the fear that life with God is somehow too boring, or that we’ll be asked to give up things we don’t want to – and so we equivocate. Perhaps deep down we love our sins more than we love God. Like those who rejected the king’s invitation in the Gospel, we simply can’t comprehend the magnitude of what we’ve been invited to – and to the degree that we can, we struggle to believe it.
Here’s a quote from C.S. Lewis that puts all this into perspective:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (The Weight of Glory)
And so we often decline the Lord’s invitation. And yet he keeps inviting us anyway.
The imagery of a banquet also calls to mind the Heavenly meal which we will take part in in a few minutes. In the Eucharist, we not only share in the Passover meal—the supper of the Lamb who was sacrificed for our sins—we also get a taste of the Heavenly banquet. Indeed, receiving the Eucharist is the closet we get to Heaven in this life. And, just as in this parable, there are many people today who turn down Christ’s invitation to partake of this Heavenly meal.
I know, for instance, of many people who have been brought up Catholic, who’ve had twelve years in Catholic schools, and who have nevertheless drifted away from the practice of their faith. There often isn’t a dramatic reason for why they left – maybe they never fully got it in the first place, or if they did maybe they’ve become distracted by the things of the world, or the faith no longer seems to make sense in the light of their lived experience. This was me in my late-teens, so this isn’t a case of me shaking the finger at people. But we should never cease to pray for such people, that they may recognise the graces that await them if they only accept the invitation.
The workings of God’s grace are mysterious and powerful, and when met with our refusals, the Lord simply extends his invitation further. Though frustrated and grieved by the hardness of the human heart, God does not stop calling us to himself. In the parable, the king sends his servants to the crossroads, to invite everyone they can find—good and bad alike!—to share the joy of the wedding banquet. In St Luke’s version the master tells his servants to “go to the open roads … and force people to come in to make sure my house is full”.
So, God will have his party – the question is whether we want to be part of it or not. And just like in the parable—where it is the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame who eventually respond to the king’s invitation—I know of many who have heard and answered the summons of grace despite great obstacles – or perhaps because of them.
St Thomas Aquinas was once asked what we had to do to become a saint – what we had to do to get to Heaven. He famously answered with one word – in Latin, just two letters: “vi”. This means, “will it.” Want it. If we want to get to Heaven, we have to truly want it – we have to want it more than anything else – and to live our lives accordingly. Though we walk in the world, we should never forget that we have a heavenly destination, and so we should always keep our eyes set on our heavenly goal.
Now, after the guests had arrived, the king noticed that one of them was not dressed in a wedding garment, and he angrily threw him out. At first glance this may seem a bit shocking. Did this man really deserve to be thrown outside into the darkness just because he didn’t have the right clothing on?
Well, keeping in mind that Jesus is offering this as an allegory, the most common interpretation of this wedding garment is as a symbol of one who has clothed themselves in Christ and—importantly—one who is therefore filled with charity – with Christ-like love. And if we read it from this perspective, there is an interesting lesson to be learned from this part of the parable.
First, the fact that this man was at the wedding feast means he did respond to the invitation, which indicates a degree of faith. However, the lack of a wedding garment points to the fact that he has not allowed such faith to permeate his heart and soul to the point of producing true conversion and, therefore, true charity. It is the lacking of charity in the young man that is the problem.
What’s interesting about this is that it shows that it is possible for us to have faith, but to lack charity. Faith is believing what God reveals to us. But don’t forget, even the demons have a degree of faith in Christ! Think of the several instances where, as Jesus is exorcising people, the outgoing demons declare him to be the Christ—they know who he is better than his disciples do!—and Jesus tells the demons to be quiet! Even Satan quotes scripture at Jesus during the temptations in the wilderness. So knowledge of Christ and knowledge of the scriptures is not sufficient. We also need love. And this love requires that we embrace the Lord’s will for us and let it transform our lives.
When reading this parable, we can not only picture ourselves in the place of those who have been invited to the wedding feast, we can also picture ourselves as those who have been charged with doing the inviting. At our Confirmation, we were tasked with witnessing to Christ in the world. And so, in real way, the king says to us—as he said to his servants in the parable—“go to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find to the wedding feast.” We are all called to play our part in the missionary work that Christ has entrusted to his Church, so that his Good News may spread throughout the world, and so that all may hear the invitation to share in the Heavenly banquet.
One simple way we can do this is to perhaps think of some friends who either aren’t Catholic, or who have drifted away from the faith, and to invite them to come with you to Mass some time. I realise our Catholic liturgy can seem a bit intimidating at times for people with no experience of it, but we shouldn’t be shy about wanting to share the Good News of our faith with those we care about.
And yet, whilst this missionary call is directed to all of us in various ways, there are also those who have been called in a particular way to go out to the crossroads of our world and to witness to Christ’s love for those most in need of that love. And this weekend, the Church encourages us to support this work, by supporting Catholic Mission, the international mission agency of the Catholic Church in Australia. And so to finish, I’d like to invite to watch a brief video highlighting the fine work that Catholic Mission does in the crossroads of our hurting world, bringing Christ’s love to those most in need: https://www.catholicmission.org.au/our-work/see-our-work-in-action/wmm20-cambodia-appeal