“I have learned the secret of being well-fed and going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20.
In today’s parable, Matthew likens the kingdom of heaven to a king’s invitation to a wedding feast for his son.
Among the 17 parables in Matthew’s gospel, this may be the hardest to comprehend fully.
People on the A-list, those initially invited, did not deserve to come; and then, the man who did attend but not correctly dressed was “reduced to silence.”
At which, the King ordered his attendants, “Bind his hand and feet, cast him into the darkness.” And said: “Many are invited, but few chosen.”
Frankly, the King’s retaliation because of the man’s attire and the concluding line is most puzzling. What is Matthew communicating about this King and his guests?
As a possible life-line, we turn to Luke’s gospel, which tells a similar story and explains why those invited cannot attend: “I bought a piece of land, and must go inspect it.” And, “I have bought five yokes of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out.” And, “I cannot come. I have just got married.”
Each is a good excuse for not attending the big dinner party, and, interestingly, the characters in Luke’s gospel add the courteous line: “Please accept my apologies.” Don’t we include an RSVP on an invitation?
Not so much in Matthew’s account. He doesn’t explain why people failed to show up for the King’s big party.
Here are the ideas that I’ve gathered about this gospel.
First, we cannot bend reality to our liking. The unexpected events of the past year are evidence enough. Even though we can dress up or alter our appearance for the “red carpet” and the wedding feast, deep down inside, we are human after all.
We are often vulnerable and must be attentive to God’s generous invitation, on his terms, not ours. Recall how Saint Paul says: “I have learned the secret of being well-fed and going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”
Second, I have great sympathy for the man not dressed for the occasion.
Many years ago, I attended the once-yearly gala performance of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” at Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper. My travel companions and I arrived late and were the last to be seated. As the lights came up, after the long, long first act, I noticed that all the women were in evening dresses, and every man in the theater wore a tuxedo! Like the fellow in the gospel, I wondered how I got into the theater since I wore an unsightly, inappropriate red-plaid sports coat?
More to the point, we have to go back to last week’s gospel to reconsider the line: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (Matt 21: 33-43) For this allegory, the rejected and beaten man may be Christ himself. No wonder we have affection for him!
In his letter to the Colossians (3:12), Saint Paul reminds us:
“Put on, then, garments that suit God’s chosen and beloved people: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience. Be tolerant with one another and forgiving if you have any cause for complaint: you must forgive as the Lord forgave you. Finally, to bind everything together and complete the whole, there must be love.”
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.