After focusing for several Sundays on our call to work in the vineyard of the Lord, this week we reflect on a wonderful invitation: God is inviting us to a marvelous feast! This is “a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” Not only does God promise to fill us abundantly with good things, the prophet tells us that God will “wipe away the tears from every face,” and he will remove “the reproach of his people.” We will have no cause for sadness or shame. God will even “destroy death forever.” What hopeful promises these are!
In the Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about the same feast; he describes it as a wedding feast. This makes it even more amazing than what Isaiah described, because now we see that this is more than a great banquet with God; it is the celebration of a wedding. The son of the king is marrying his beloved bride – and we are that bride! We can say that God has proposed marriage to us, and he means to join himself to us in an eternal union of love in Heaven.
Sadly, the response of the invited guests in the parable is not good. They refuse to come to the feast. When the king sends his servants to them a second time, some ignore the servants, while others mistreat them and even kill them. Jesus is speaking specifically to “the chief priests and elders of the people.” He is trying to prod their consciences. They pride themselves on being the Chosen People of God, and he is telling them, yes, they are the first ones to be invited, but they have not responded well to God’s invitation, and so he will invite others.
Jesus’ warning to the Jewish leaders, his description of how badly they are responding to God’s call, certainly applies to us as well. Very often we, too, respond badly to God when he invites us into a closer relationship with him. To put it bluntly, we think that we have better things to do with our time. We usually would not say this so clearly, but this is how we act: I know I should take some prayer time, but I have this or that task to do first. I’ll pray – or read or go to Confession or do some act of charity tomorrow – and tomorrow never seems to come, because we always have something to do which is more pressing than accepting God’s invitation. And if someone challenges us, or suggests that our priorities might be out of order, we grow angry and perhaps even abusive towards him.
We see in the parable that the king finally sends out his servants to invite anyone at all, “good and bad alike.” This should be a check on our pride. We are not invited into God’s banquet because of any great talent or attribute of ours. He invites anyone and everyone. We do not earn the invitation. We are not somehow better than others, that God has showered us with more grace. Our being invited shows us God’s greatness, not ours.
Jesus goes on to describe someone who had come into the banquet but was not properly dressed. It was traditional at that time for the host to supply garments for the guests to wear at such a feast. So the problem was not that the man did not have a wedding garment. Rather, he chose not to put it on. He preferred to stay in his own clothes, and therefore he was cast out of the banquet hall.
What can we learn from this? We must come to the wedding feast wearing the proper garment. And what is that? St. Paul describes the wedding garment in Colossians 3:12-14: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these, put on love.” In another passage, Paul sums it up this way: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rm 13:14).
In other words, interiorly we are to look like Christ; our hearts must look like his heart. In the parable, the man did not want to put on the king’s garment. We must be wary of giving in to this attitude. Perhaps we do not want to put on compassion. Perhaps our pride rebels at the idea of putting on humility. Perhaps our impatient, impulsive nature rejects the thought of being patient and gentle. And maybe we simply do not want to forgive certain people. But Jesus’ warning is clear. We cannot celebrate the feast if we reject his gracious offer to transform us into his likeness.
St. Paul assures us in the second reading that “God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” God will accomplish the transformation of our hearts so that we can participate in the wedding banquet. But we must accept his invitation and cooperate with the process. We must open ourselves to the working of his Holy Spirit in our lives. We must be willing to put off our own “garments” and put on Christ.
Today let us pray for the grace to be more conscious of the wonderful invitation which our God is giving us, so that we can value it properly. As the Gospel Acclamation says, “May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our hearts, so that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call.”
Do I strive to clothe myself with “heartfelt mercy, kindness, humility, meekness and patience”? How am I putting off the Lord’s call to a deeper relationship with him? What prevents me from putting off my own “garments” and putting on Christ?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.