Christ the King Catholic Church
All of us, at one time or another, have received an invitation. And some of those invitations, especially the more formal ones, ask for our response. Sometimes we see the letters 'RSVP' at the bottom of the invitation and sometimes we are even given a stamped envelope to return our RSVP.
The Gospel today is all about an invitation and the response that people give to that invitation. Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God in the way the prophets of Israel spoke of the Kingdom. He speaks of the Kingdom as a great banquet, a wedding banquet. The prophets told the Chosen People to be ready for the Kingdom when it would come and at the heart of Jesus' message is the Good News that, in him, the Kingdom of God has now broken into our world. Jesus is an invitation from God.
Jesus tells two parables in today's Gospel to help us understand the importance of this invitation and our RSVP to the invitation. Originally, the stories were separate ones, but when Matthew's Gospel was written, the two parables were put together as one because both speak of a wedding banquet. The two parables make two separate points, both of which are important.
In the first parable a king invites people to the wedding feast of his son, but the people who are invited do not respond to the invitation. It was the custom in Palestine that when there was an invitation to an event like a wedding, a messenger would be sent well in advance to extend the invitation to the invited guests. When everything was ready, a messenger would alert those who had been invited that it was time to come to the banquet.
In the parable that Jesus tells, the invited guests ignore the summons. Even though they had been given advance warning, they refuse to act on the invitation. Anyone hearing the parable would think that those who had refused to accept the invitation of king to his son's wedding had to be crazy. This was the social event of a lifetime!
The historical context of the parable was the refusal of the people of Jesus' time to accept him. The Jewish people, the Chosen People, were the first to receive the invitation to be a part of the Kingdom of God. The prophets had told the people to be ready and, in the fullness of time, when Jesus came among us to tell us that the Kingdom has come, they refused to accept the invitation. They were invited to a banquet and missed that golden opportunity.
The people who were first invited to the wedding feast refused the invitation. In tum, the king sends his messengers to invite others to his banquet. These 'others' are the Gentiles - you and me!
This was the historical context of the parable and the understanding of the early Church. But the parable speaks to all ofus, as well. In Jesus God has made an invitation to each ofus. Jesus is the hand of God that is extended to us inviting us to share in the very life and love of God. Did he not tell us, "I am the way and the truth and the life? No one comes to the Father except through me."
The power of a parable is that we hear it, it draws us in and then, once it draws us in, we find ourselves in the parable. Our first reaction is to think that people who were given such a great invitation and then refused that invitation must be crazy. And then, suddenly, we realize that maybe, just maybe, we are that people.
How have we responded to the invitation that God is making to us in Jesus? Jesus brings us to a decisive moment. It's not enough to know that the invitation has been made and be flattered by the invitation. The invitation requires a response.
It comes with an RSVP. Have we responded to the invitation?
On November 10, thirty-seven of our high school youth will be confirmed in their Catholic faith. I've had the privilege of meeting with each of them in the past couple of weeks. As we talked about the meaning of their confirmation, they understand that this is their response to God's invitation to them. Their parents and grandparents, their teachers and catechists and sponsors have, like the prophets of old, prepared them for the invitation. But only the candidates can give their response to the invitation. No one else can respond for them. It is both personal and intentional.
Our Protestant brothers and sisters sometime ask us the question, "Have you been saved? And, often times, they will point to a particular hour of a particular day of a particular year as the moment that they were saved. They are referring to the moment in which they personally and intentionally responded to God's offer of salvation in their life. For us, as Catholics, the invitation was an initiative that God took on the day of our baptism. And then, each and every day of our life, we must give our RSVP. Our response is not a once and forever event, but a continual one.
Th first parable is sometimes called the Parable of the Open Door. God's invitation to be part of his Kingdom is extended to everyone. It is extended to the Chosen People and it is extended to each of us. An invitation is given and an invitation requires a response. That is the point of the first parable and it challenges us to ask ourselves if we have responded to the invitation or not.
In the second parable people come to the wedding feast, but are not dressed for the feast. Remember that Jesus told this parable as a separate parable from the first and it makes its own point. Most of us wouldn't show up at a wedding banquet in blue jeans and sweatshirts. An invitation to something as important as a wedding banquet requires something ofus that is more than simply showing up. We need a change of clothes. And that is the point of the second parable.
If we accept the invitation that God is making to us in Jesus, it means that we will have to leave some things behind. It requires some changes in our lives. We will need to dress appropriately. We have to leave behind the old ways of the world and put on the ways of the Kingdom. The invitation to be part of the Kingdom of God is an invitation to conversion. We cannot remain the same as we were before.
In the early Church, there were people who joined the Church, the community of believers, but weren't really committed. The Christians were talking about the invitation that God was offering in baptism and the promise of salvation it offered and it all sounded good. People didn't want to miss out on a good thing. But, once baptized, they didn't necessarily change their way of living. They didn't 'put on' the new ways of Jesus. They were like people who came to the wedding banquet, but weren't dressed for the occasion and, ultimately, lost their place at the banquet. "Many are called, but few are chosen."
Again, the purpose of a parable is that it starts out talking about others and then draws us in and ends up being about us. Both parables offer us food for thought.
Have I RSVP'd to the invitation God has made to me or am I missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime? And, if I have responded, am I willing to allow myself to be changed to take on the values of the Kingdom of God or am I trying to crash the wedding feast in blue jeans and a sweatshirt?