“The Family of God: Fully Dressed in Wedding Garments”
October 15, 2017: The Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 25: 1 - 9 /Psalm 106: 1 - 5; 48/ Philippians 4: 4 – 7/ Matthew 22: 1 – 14
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
Do you remember the Prince William and Kate Middleton royal wedding that cost 32 to 34 million dollars? Just imagine the scenario in the Buckingham Palace with the best food and with the A-list guests. If there is an invitation for you to come to this Palace, if only for this, you would come. Forget the food, the celebrities; just being in the palace would be awe-inspiring. Last century, there was the other wedding of Prince William’s father, Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The budget was 70 million dollars. I am just giving you a picture of a grand royal wedding – its grandeur, its splendor, and the costs. No one would boycott and everybody would be excited about.
In today’s gospel, it is also a royal wedding. The clothes were provided by the king. We would not snub it because of excuses like farming, of weeding a garden, working in your worship or sell at a store. If we come, we cannot say to God, “God, you should be thankful that I am here. I skipped my yoga session. I sacrifice a lot so that I could come here. God, do You know how much I am giving up to say “yes” to You?” If we feel that our “yes” is doing God a favor, then we need to understand certain things because we don't understand that: one, what we give up came from Him in the first place; two, it is rubbish, worthless, insignificant, and “dog dung” in comparison. We don't understand the magnitude, the majorness, the sublimeness, the splendor of kingdom, and the immensity of grace, honor, and privilege being extended to us by God.
Weddings at those times were a social gathering, and it reflected the social outlook where only the privileged were invited. Your seat determined your place in society. The closer you are to the honoree, the higher you are up in the social ladder. At the wedding feast in the gospel, the king broke social barriers. It was a feast of equals. The valleys will be exalted; lofty hills brought low; the playing field levelled; and the life, liberty and justice for all. We don’t understand that we are the good and the bad alike, and the invitation is a big deal to us. We are peasants and God exalts us. Thus, we need to be thankful! We can never prove the delights of His love until all on the altar we lay. We have to give our all.
Picture a birthday party where the celebrant is somebody very, very valuable to you. There will be no question about your attendance. Your gift will be very valuable and its price would be immaterial. You would be counting the days, and you probably won't be able to sleep the night before. You would be excited. You would physically prepare yourself like your hair and attire, especially if it is a VIP host. You would come early to the venue and would probably help prepare the place for the event. Maybe, you would help serve guests and you would sing your heart out to sing the birthday song. You would have to be given a time limit for your speech because you would have a lot to say. You would have the time of your life, especially if you are with your common friends, and you won't notice the time passing and your adrenaline won't make you feel tired.
If you don't know the celebrant, you would ask, “Do I have to be there?” You would get the cheapest gift just to have one or you would get a gift that you were gifted before that you have no use of. You would drag your feet to the party and you would get there late. You would feel awkward when they sing the birthday song. If you were asked to give the speech, you would probably just say, “He is a good man.” You would not get the private jokes, and when they roast the celebrant, you would not get it because you are not familiar with them. You would have the most boring time and you would constantly look at your watch.
Now, translate this to the kingdom of God. Translate this to the celebration of the Eucharist. If we know the Celebrant, we would be excited. We will prepare our gift for Him. We will dress properly and we will arrive early. We would help in the event, and we would invite others to come. We would join the singing and we will be able to say a lot of experiences about Him. If we do not know God, we will not be excited and would not prepare.
In the gospel, the people showed up, but they were not in wedding clothes. They were not prepared, which was given, and they simply showed up because their heart was not there. Many times, we have been given the invitation. Many, and that is all, are called, but few respond. They make light of the invitation because of petty personal business. Sometimes, some even get mad, and they persecute the messengers who relay the invitation. Sometimes, the attitude is, “I don't like the person collecting the gifts. I don’t trust the person, so I won’t give.” Who are you boycotting? The person collecting the gifts or the Celebrant? Who are you withholding your gift from? Who is giving a feast more than one hundred times the worth of your gift? We cannot outgive God.
There is the story about two farm animals, a chicken and a pig, talking to each other. They were looking at one billboard that says, “Big Breakfast – two eggs any style; sausage, bacon and ham of your choice and unlimited.” The chicken says, “That is a big deal!” The pig said, “You’re contributing two eggs. I will be slaughtered so that there would be sausage, bacon, and ham.” Giving a contribution is nice, but what is God asking of us? It is our all! We are not just to give two eggs, but our lives. What kind of guests are we? Are we committed guests? Are we one hundred percent all in or are we half-hearted?
We thank God that He warns us. It is ironic that the gospel today ended with, “Bind him hand and foot, throw him to the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” and we responded by saying, “Praise to You, Lord Christ!” But the Deacon said, “This is the good news!” It is good news that God warns us. He cares enough to warn us, to give us instructions and an example and what could happen to us if we take these things lightly. Thus, our response is, “Thank you, Lord, for your concern.” God’s plans for us are for our welfare, of fullness of life, and not for calamity.
Isaiah says, “Plans formed long ago with perfect faithfulness.” The plans include a banquet for all with choice pieces and marrow and refined aged wine. We are being encouraged by St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing. Pray and let the peace of Christ rule and reign in your heart.” “Fear not” are two words that Jesus often uses because God loves us. Many are called, and few make it. Thank God it is not a permanent reality! It was a reality in Jesus’ time, and the Israelites ignored the invitation, which is why He spread the invitation to others, and many responded.
The wedding hall was filled with guests, but we need to come with the right attitude. We need to come to understand the grace and the enormity of it. As we do our part to be used by God to invite others into the Kingdom, we will be partaking in the continuous increase of the kingdom of God, which is its nature. His messengers, that is you and I, invite others.
Leaven affects the whole lump until the whole lump is leavened and many more respond. This is why we are proclaimers of the good news. This is why we are messengers and are leaven. Don't grow weary in doing good because in due season, we will reap the harvest, for this is just the way it is in the kingdom of our God.