Thursday, August 20, 2009

Many Are Invited, But Few Are Chosen.

What is the Lord saying to me in today’s readings from both the Old and New Testaments? In the First Reading, from the Book of Judges, (11:29-39a), we have the story of Jephthah’s daughter, who is caught up in events over which she has neither control nor even influence. Her father has made a solemn vow: if the Ammonites, enemies of Israel, are vanquished, whatever creature first comes out of the house to greet him will be sacrificed as a burnt offering to the Lord. His daughter is the first one to cross the threshold, and Jephthah is duty-bound to carry out his vow.

It is tempting to chastise Jephthah for the rashness of his vow to the Lord. He must have known that someone close to him would pay the price of his promise. Evidently, the threat of domination by the Ammonites was quite serious, or he would never have been so careless with his words. Furthermore, this daughter of Jephthah does not complain or regret her situation. She even encourages her father to be faithful to his promise. She submits humbly to God all that she has, and all that she is, in fidelity to her father, and to the Lord. The sacrifice of both father and daughter foreshadows an even more amazing oblation: “God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, so that through Him the world might be saved.”

In today’s gospel, (Matthew 22:1-14) Jesus speaks a parable not to his disciples, but to the chief priests and elders of the people, comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a banquet that a king prepared for the wedding of his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited telling them to come, but they refused. He sent more servants, reminding them that the oxen and fatted calves have been butchered, and everything is ready for the celebration. But again, they paid no attention, and went off, one to his fields, another to his business. Others seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.

At this point, the king was enraged. He sent his army and massacred these murderers, and burned their city to the ground.

Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding attire. 'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding attire?' The man was speechless.

Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

For many are invited, but few are chosen!

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Let us consider the fate of the man who came to the wedding without the proper attire. This parable reminds us that the Kingdom of Heaven is not to be taken for granted. When the king notices him, the lazy guest is reduced to silence. It’s not that he didn’t have or couldn’t get the proper clothing. In those days, as in our own, there were shops were such garments could be rented for special occasions. The other guests certainly managed to dress appropriately. This guest callously preferred the comfort of his blue jeans and t-shirt (or the First Century equivalent), rather than sacrificing a bit of convenience to do the right thing in the situation.

We conclude with the commentary of two great saints: Pope Saint Gregory the Great (c.540-604) wrote: “What do we think is meant by the wedding garment? We cannot say that it is baptism or faith, since no one can enter the marriage feast without them. What then must be understood by the wedding garment but love? Love is the wedding garment, since this is what the Creator possessed when he came to the marriage feast to join the Church to Himself. John says that “God so loved the world that He gave is only-begotten Son, so that through Him the world might be saved.”

Saint Augustine (354-430) is cited by Pope Gregory, “What is the wedding garment, then? This is the wedding garment … charity.” And he adds a further consideration: “Note that the gospel says ‘The master of the house came in to see the guests.’ The servant’s duty was merely to invite the guests, both good and bad. It is not said that the servants took notice of the guests, found one of them who had no wedding garment, and spoke to him about it. It is the master of the house who entered, the master of the house who observed, the master of the house who hauled him off and threw him out.”

We are not the people to whom the invitation was first extended. We are the other guests, gathered from “the highways and byways” of the world. It ill befits us to judge one another. We are the ragtag and bobtail of this world, “both good and bad”, according to the parable. We ought to have the decency not to look down on others. Saint Gregory wrote: “In the Church of the present times, there cannot be bad without good, nor good without bad. They who refuse to endure the bad, are not good.”

1 comment:

Mary333 said...

Father, it is such a joy to read these posts on the days I can't get to mass. Thank you!