Psalm 23, Isaiah 25: 1-9, Philippians 4: 1-9, Matthew 22: 1-14
When I was serving our country overseas, I received – and it has to be said – sent, many invitations to events. Most of these were to things like diplomatic dinners or other countries national days. I hosted the Queen’s Birthday Party on several occasions in both Panama and Mongolia. Invitations usually said RSVP or Regrets only – meaning you only had to reply if you could not come. But when people could not come this was accepted at face value without any further thought. I never received an invitation which had to be accepted on pain of death, I am glad to say! And I never served in another country which had a Monarch. But, had I done so, I think I would not have regretted an invitation issued by a King, I would have been there whatever!
Like many parables, on the surface the parable in today’s gospel all seems like a huge example of overreaction all round. But when we look at the serious message behind the story, it all makes much more sense.
God has prepared a wonderful place for us in heaven. All are invited and he hopes that all will come. But many reject him and his love and all that he offers us. Many do not believe or do not care or have much better things to do with their time than worship him or thank him. You cannot blame him for being at the very least disappointed.
One could think of the first people who were invited as the people of Israel, to whom Jesus was sent, but who rejected and killed him. Perhaps. But then we come onto the main point of the parable. God invites everyone.
I am reminded of the lovely song “The Holy City” – where it talks about the dream of the writer about Heaven, the new Jerusalem:
The light of God was on its streets,
The gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter
And no-one was denied.
Many are called, but few are chosen. God’s invitation is an open one, everyone is invited. This is the point the parable is making. The Gospel is for all people and all nations. Everyone is called to the heavenly feast. We ourselves are to help invite everyone. Not all will respond. Some will be ambivalent. Others will reject it with hostility. Many people may think that have autonomy to live their lives any way they want. Well they do, up to a point. But everything has a cost – we can reject the invitation, we can be luke-warm about it, but if we really love God, we will accept it with joy and enthusiastically. The chosen are those who take the invitation seriously and come with keenness and faith and true acceptance of the message they have received.
Hmm, but then we come to the man improperly dressed. Poor chap, he had been dragged in off the streets with no time to change or prepare. Bit rough perhaps to be cast into the outer darkness. But if we look at it another way – was he just perhaps treating his fabulous invitation a bit too casually. Was he hoping for the benefits without any effort or input or devotion? Worth pondering on.
So, let us examine ourselves today as we come to the holy table. Why are we here? Are we coming with the right motives? Are we ready? Are we thankful that Jesus died for us? Do we really appreciate that when we take the holy sacraments, we are placing ourselves at the commemoration of the most central part of our Christian lives and preparing ourselves for heaven? Jesus said: “This is my body” and “This is my blood” – the best banquet we could ever had as it cleanses our souls, puts us right with God and prepares us, not only for the week ahead, but for the joys to come. No better bread and no better wine have ever been offered at any banquet. The world often looks at this celebration with contempt or indifference. It has no appreciation of just how precious the body and blood of Jesus really are.
As Christians we look back to Cavalry, but we also look forward to the joys of the banquet in heaven. In this World we will have trails and obstacles. We need to prepare ourselves for the journey ahead with its bumps and problems. But, without a shadow of doubt, the goal and reward will be worth it all.