28th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached October 15, 2017; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Sunday after Sunday now we have been hearing a sequence of closely related parables. Last Sunday I pointed out the connection through the image of the vineyard. This Sunday, as also last Sunday, the parable is addressed to the chief priests and elders of the Jewish people. Last Sunday, they were the ones who refused to give the owner of the vineyard the fruits of his vineyard; this Sunday they are the one’s who refuse the invitation to the wedding feast of the king’s son.
The vineyard also lies hidden in the background for today’s parable, wine, produced from grapes grown in a vineyard, was indispensable for Jewish wedding feast. That is why when Mary turns to Jesus as the wedding at Cana and declares, They have no wine, she is informing him about the ultimate disaster at a wedding feast.
Today, I want to focus first on the reality symbolized by the wedding feast and then on why people end up excluded.
Of all Jesus’ parables of the kingdom of heaven, the image of the wedding feast, perhaps, leads us deepest into the heart of the mystery. Part of the parable is very transparent: the king, of course, is God himself, and the king’s Son is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. But what is the wedding feast itself?
The wedding is the union of divine and human nature in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the feast is the sharing in that union to which the rest of mankind is invited.
Where, then, does this banquet take place?
Welcome to the feast. Here and now we celebrate the wedding of the Lamb in the celebration of the Mass. This is the banquet hall. This is where each one of us is invited to share in the union of divine and human in Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of holy communion: by ‘feasting’ on the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we are united intimately with his humanity so as to be united also to his inseparable divinity. His life becomes our life; we are transformed in him; our lowly human nature comes to share in the rich wine of his divine life.
The priest speaks of this reality when he mixes a drop of water, symbolizing our humanity, into the chalice of wine, symbolizing Christ’s divinity; he says: By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
We hear a lot about ‘evangelization’ or the ‘proclamation of the Gospel’ – the ‘good news’. The word ‘Gospel’ is a translation of the Greek ‘evangelion’ which is weakly translated as ‘good news’. So ‘evangelization’ and the ‘proclamation of the Gospel’ are the same thing. The servants in today’s parable are ‘evangelists’; they are the messengers of the king proclaiming the ‘good news’ of the wedding of the king’s son, and inviting the guests to the feast. So we could say that ‘to evangelize’ is to invite another to share in the union of divine and human in Jesus Christ; this is the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Now, how about those who are excluded from the feast? There are those who refuse the invitation and there are those who show up but do not wear the wedding garment.
As for those who refuse the invitation, the first invited are the chief priests and the elders of the people to whom the parable is addressed. By extension they are those among the bishops and priests of the Church who while they minister the sacrament of the wedding feast to the faithful, who while the represent Christ the Bridegroom in the Church, remain blind to the reality of their own ministry and partake only of the outward, visible appearance of the sacrament and not the inner reality. Extending the image even more, anyone inside or outside of the Church, who hears the Gospel proclaimed and fails to respond in faith refuses the invitation. Finally, on a most simple, concrete, visible basis, anyone who refuses to attend Mass, refuses the invitation.
According to the parable, those who refuse the invitation do so because, according to their mind, they have something better to do; they have higher priorities. They do not think about the offense given not just to the king, but to the whole kingdom, when they refuse the king’s invitation.
In the book of Esther, the Queen Vashti refuses the king’s invitation to his banquet. The wise men of the kingdom tell the king: Not only to the king has Queen Vashti done wrong, but also to all the princes and all the peoples who are in the provinces. (Est 1:16) The king embodies in his person the whole kingdom; thus an offense against the king is an offense against the whole kingdom.
That is what it means to refuse to believe in the Gospel; that is what it means to refuse to believe in Jesus Christ; that, finally, is what it means to refuse to attend Mass – though, of course, most people who make such a refusal do not really grasp the gravity of their offense. Well did Jesus pray upon the Cross, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
Indeed, when Jesus himself was the ‘evangelist’ he did not appear as a king’s son and people were put off by the lowliness of his appearance. So also, even now, even in the most splendid celebration of the Mass, people are put off by the even greater lowliness of Jesus’ appearance, in forms of bread and wine.
Next, there is the man who is cast out of the feast because he is not properly attired. What we need to keep firmly fixed in our mind – and what would have been clear to all those who first heard the parable – is that the wedding garment was provided by the king and given at the entrance to the banquet. That is why man in the parable is reduced to silence; he has no excuse for his lack; if he has no wedding garment, he must have lost it through his own fault.
For ourselves, we were each given the wedding garment in our baptism; the wedding garment is the garment of grace, sanctifying grace through which we share in God’s own life. That is what is signified by the white baptismal garment. Once we received the garment of sanctifying grace we could only lose it through our own fault through committing a mortal sin – a deliberate offense against God through the violation of his commandments in a serious matter.
Note well that the banquet has two stages: first the gathering of the guests, second, the entrance of the king. Here, in this assembly the guests are gathered, but the king has not yet entered so as to inspect the guests. Here, in this assembly there are mixed together wedding guests properly attired, and those who are not. When Christ comes again, those who are not properly attired will be exposed, reduced to silence, and cast out of the feast.
If we understand this, then we can grasp that the most important thing in life is to be present at the wedding feast, properly attired. If we have lost that garment, the most important thing in life is to regain it, through a sincere and humble confession and through the removal of all obstacles to such a confession, such as an habitual state of mortal sin.
Let me then suggest that some time during this week everyone present here today should make an examination of conscience and ask himself: Where am I in my life? Am I answering the invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb? Am I showing up in the proper attire? Am I receiving communion? If so am I doing so worthily, wearing the garment of grace? Then let me suggest that everyone try, one time during this week to attend an extra Mass, a weekday Mass that is not a matter of obligation.
At the wedding feast in Cana, the Mother of Jesus was there. She was also there when Jesus own wedding with his bride the Church was consummated upon the Cross. She is also present at every celebration of the Mass in which the wedding covenant of the Cross is renewed and ratified. She also tells us the same thing she told the servants at the wedding of Canan, Do whatever he tells you.
If we listen to Mary and do what Jesus tells us, those simple actions of obedience will lead us into the heart of the mystery of the Mass, to taste of the new and better wine that is poured forth here in abundance, to taste already here and now the joy of the wedding feast of the Lamb, until we join the ‘alleluia’ chorus of the heavenly banquet itself.