ThePeace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time||October 9, 2005|
In one of our Eucharistic prayers, we say that one day Jesus will come again in the fullness of his kingdom and then in his kingdom there will be no more suffering, no more tears, no more sadness. Those verses, of course, are drawn from our first lesson today where Isaiah tells us, "On this mountain God will destroy the pall cast over all people and death will be no more. God will wipe away the tears from all cheeks and eyes. God will take away humiliation of the people all over the world." The promise of God's kingdom in its fullness is what we look forward to and what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel lesson today. He doesn't describe the kingdom as much as Isaiah does, but Jesus gives us some instruction on who will be in that fullness of God's reign and then how we enter in to it.
The parable that he uses today in Matthew's Gospel is also repeated in Luke's Gospel. In fact in Luke's Gospel we probably have the earlier version of the parable. As Luke tells the story, Jesus was simply at a meal with people in a very friendly setting. One of the guests said something like, "Oh, how wonderful it will be in the reign of God. Happy are those who eat at the banquet in God's reign." Jesus picked up on that point and began to explain who would be there. The man was just sort of dreaming about how happy everyone would be, and Jesus told this story that we're hearing today from Matthew. The story that Jesus told, as it's recorded in Luke, didn't have any threats. Jesus simply told the story about how God had prepared a banquet and those who were first invited chose not to come. They made one excuse or another. And then Jesus said, "But God doesn't let his banquet hall be empty." He invited the poor. He invited sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, those who had been rejected by society. And they flocked to the banquet.
What Jesus was really talking about was what has happening right then when he was preaching. The religious leaders of the day had refused to come and hear his message, but Jesus was gathering around him a community of people who were entering into God's reign. They were the poor, the rejected, the sinners.
Now in Matthew's Gospel, which we hear today, Jesus is in a dispute with the Pharisees, with the religious leaders, and it's kind of a cautionary tale. Those who were invited not only refused to come, they even killed the ones inviting them. Matthew was writing for a community of Christians who had formerly been members of the Jewish religion and now were Christians. And Matthew was describing in a sense how so many of the leaders of the Jews had refused to come and had even killed those who were sent, including the son, of course, who was Jesus himself. Now we have to be very careful not to misunderstand this; in fact, this gospel has sometimes been used in an anti-Semitic way, blaming the Jews for killing Jesus. That isn't the point at all. All Jesus is telling us is that many who were invited refused to come, not just Jewish people but many people who were invited to enter into God's reign. They reject Jesus and his teachings. They don't enter into the reign of God.
At the end of the parable today, we hear -- which I think seems strange to us -- about the one guest who came without a wedding garment. That guest, of course, could have had a wedding garment. In the culture of the time, when someone gave a great banquet there would be festive robes for everyone. All the others who had come in off the streets had robes, but this one person did not. That, of course, is a caution to us and a reminder that we don't just wait until the end of time to enter into God's kingdom. We must put on the wedding garment now. The reign of God is at hand. We can enter into God's kingdom by being clothed in Jesus. That's how we begin to enter into the kingdom at this very moment.
When we apply the parable as Luke did for the community for whom he was writing, we see Jesus' love for the poor and preference for the poor and how he drew them around himself. Matthew's community had just experienced the Roman occupation and the destruction of their temple and what seemed to be the end of their community. Matthew makes the parable a caution to all of us.
We should look at this parable and apply it to ourselves and our times, as we do with parables. As you know every parable is open ended. Luke can use it in his community, Matthew for his, and we use it for ourselves. So when we look at the parable, the first observation that comes to me is about how Jesus draws the poor and is present among them. They're the ones who really seem to understand him and follow him readily, and he reaches out to them. We have developed in our theology what we call a preferential option for the poor and that's because that was Jesus' preference ... the poor, the rejected, the marginalized, the sinner. They flocked to him.
So my observation about our church today is what will happen to us if we continue to move away from the poor, continue to close down our schools and churches in the midst of the poor? How can we say we will really invite people into the reign of God if we don't chose first of all to be present to the poor and among them?
As I reflected on this, I thought, too, what if -- I don't think it will happen -- what if our church was closed? Would be continue to gather someplace in this area, continue to be a community, to choose to live and celebrate and work among the poor. Or would we disperse and leave? I doubt that many of us have thought about this, but probably we should. Because if we really are the community of disciples of Jesus and Jesus chose most of all to be among the poor, shouldn't we stay here and find a place to worship and continue to be a community where Jesus would be most of all -- among the poor? I think that would be a very appropriate application for us to pray about, to think about.
Also if we apply the parable to ourselves and our own situation I think it might be important for us to take very seriously that last part of the parable that was told in Matthew's Gospel today about the person without the wedding garments. What that challenges us to understand I think is that we don't wait until the end of time to enter into God's reign. Jesus said at the beginning of his public life, "The reign of God is at hand." Right now, it's here! Any of us can enter into it if we put on the wedding garments; we must put on the wedding garments to enter into it. What does that mean? It means putting on the Lord Jesus. In baptism we say, "We are clothed in Christ." We begin to live according to the reign of God. If we did that our lives probably would be radically changed.
Think of St. Paul there in prison. It's quite unusual what he says about himself. Now, he's in prison and that's a very harsh imprisonment that he was experiencing. But he says, "I rejoiced in the Lord. I have learned to manage with what I have. I know what it is to be in want and what it is to have plenty, to be hungry and to be satisfied, to have much or little." But whatever it is, whether he has a lot or little, he says, "I can rejoice in the Lord because I have no attachments to wealth, to riches, to material goods." He celebrates them when he has them and enjoys them, but he's not obsessed by them. So he's free, he's already entered into the reign of God.
Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor." Many, many times I have taught about what Pope Paul VI proclaimed in one of his encyclical letters that God made the world for all and not for a few. Yet some of us have accumulated to ourselves far more than we have a right to. Paul taught that no one has a right to keep for his or her own use what is beyond his or her needs when others lack the barest necessity. Paul is simply teaching us what it means to live in the reign of God where we don't have more than we need. And yet, I know that I have more than I need. So I haven't really chosen to enter fully into the reign of God, which I could do. Be free from obsession to material goods.
That's one way to enter into the reign of God. The other way, of course, that is so prominent in the teaching of Jesus -- if we're going to be clothed in Christ we must be people who are reconciling, who are forgiving, who are loving in our personal relationships, of course, but also as a nation. I found it very distressing again this week when President Bush makes a very important speech and he names our enemy. He calls it, "Islamo-fascism." That's the enemy we're fighting, he says. Against such an enemy, he says, there is only one effective response and that is war. Against such an enemy, we never back down, we never give in, and we never accept anything other than complete victory. That's our president speaking for us. If we accept that kind of teaching, we really haven't been clothed in the wedding garments of Jesus. And yet, it's so easy simply to go along, not to object, not to resist. Perhaps this parable today will help us to remind ourselves that we can be in the banquet as we are all gathered here today. But perhaps we're not clothed with Jesus in our hearts, because we cling too much to our material riches, and we are unwilling to give up violence and war.
If we take this parable and the teaching of all the lessons today very seriously, we can begin to be like Paul and rejoice that God has called us to enter into the reign of God, rejoice that God has asked us to be among those who God loved most of all, the poor. We can rejoice that God has invited us to find a way to put peace in our world. If we take the lesson seriously and pray as we celebrate this Eucharist that we will more completely put on the Lord Jesus, be dressed in that wedding garment that is really Jesus and follow his way, then like Paul we will continue to say, "I've rejoice in the Lord. I do not say this because of being in want. I have learned to manage with what I have. I know what it is to be in want and what it is to have plenty. I can do all things in God who strengthens me." And that's what we can say. And that's what will happen if we will do all things in the God who strengthens us and we put on the garment of Jesus and peace into our hearts and live in the reign of God.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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