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Another Gospel Sure to Offend Everyone

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Canonry of St. Leopold - published on 10/10/14

It's NOT about wearing dressy clothes to Sunday Mass

How rude! It’s one thing to ask guests who are misbehaving to leave, but to have them cast out into the darkness – and not just any old darkness but darkness where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth, is hardly the sign of a polite host. And to throw someone out just because he isn’t properly dressed, well, that seems somewhat ungracious, to say the least.

Once again we have a Gospel designed – divinely designed at that – to tick everybody off. The Lord wasn’t looking to tell a nice story so that, at the end, everyone would come up and say to Him: “How nice!” He was hoping to – and succeeded in – provoking everyone. But the story started out more gently; we might even have sympathized a bit with the King who had to deal with rude guests who didn’t want to come to the banquet he was preparing for his son’s wedding.

We can only imagine (and how important the gift of imagination is to the spiritual life) how affronted and insulted the King felt. Our own reaction to learning that people whom we have invited to an important event in our lives don’t want to come varies from disappointment to rage. My one brief experience with leading a pilgrimage uncovered the fact that someone showing up even five minutes late for our group’s appointed departure time could make me livid; I have no small sympathy for the King.

In such situations we can be – as I believe the King was – not simply insulted; there is something deeper. When invited guests decline an invitation we realize that they will not be able to share in something wonderful which has been prepared for them. It is (at least on our better days) for that reason that we are saddened, because an experience which is beautiful and valuable will have passed them by, those about whom we care (since we invited them).

And the King, wanting the joy of his son’s wedding feast to be experienced (and this is love: that what is good and beautiful increase and multiply; that more and more share in it), so putting aside his (justified) rage and his sadness – or moved by it – he sends out the servants to the same people who have just offended him – and invites them again, even pleads with them, to come to the feast. This is graciousness indeed and a desire that they experience the good, the joy, he has prepared.

Their behavior (whose behavior? Theirs? Ours?) is appalling, not just saying no and using self-serving reasons (my farm, my business, my money, my greed) but even killing those who had brought them this kind invitation.

Well, here the King does go a bit beyond what Emily Post might have suggested as a tasteful response to the ungracious behavior of potential guests – he has them killed and their city burned. But, really, hadn’t they brought it on themselves? Didn’t they have an obligation to go to the Feast, as the King’s citizen and as those whom he loved? Did they not – do we not – have an obligation to joy?

Well, he sends the servants out again – those who hadn’t been killed – and tells them to bring in everybody, anyone, the good and the bad alike. How very fortunate, for me at least, since my initial invitation must have been lost in the mail. Now, some might object that the King was lowering his standards, letting all sorts of hoi polloi in. But those fine people who had originally been invited weren’t really as fine as they thought; whatever it was about their standing, their wealth, their position which got them the honor of the original invitation might also have been what made them so arrogant in turning it down. So the King is looking for those who might actually be humble enough to graciously accept his invitation.

And they accept, these people who were not on the A list. And everything’s going brilliantly – apparently the fattened calves were well preserved by the excellent caterers the King had employed – and then the King comes in to meet the new guests, something they would probably never have imagined would happen to them, something of which they knew they were not worthy. As he wanders around, chatting happily with those who had always been so far below him, he finds a fellow without a wedding garment.

And here it gets really strange. “My friend – an honor to be called friend by the King! – how is it that you came in without a wedding garment?” The man was reduced to silence – remember that! And in what appears a moment of great overreaction, the King has him bound and cast outside into the very unfriendly darkness. Now, the King has been having a bad day, but, really! This is – to our sensibilities – just too much!

Except for two things which we might have missed. The first has to do with the shabbily dressed fellow who was reduced to silence. Why didn’t he say anything? Wouldn’t you have said something like: “Well, Your Majesty, sorry, but you did have me just dragged in here without any time to get ready. It’s not my fault.”? But he says nothing. Because he had no excuse.

And this is the second fact. In the culture of the Lord’s time, archeologists and experts tell us, it was the custom when a great and important person threw a wedding feast, he would provide wedding garments to the guests, something like a coupon at the local tuxedo rental store, so that you would be able to enter without being out of place. All the others who were there had put on the garment offered them – and thus were having a grand old time with the King, all dolled up wearing his gift – but this one fellow didn’t even bother to put it on. Who’s ungrateful now?

You who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ.

We don’t deserve to be invited to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, but we’ve been invited nonetheless. And the wedding garment we need – so that we might belong in the exalted company of those enjoying the Banquet of the King’s Son, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb – has been given to us. In Baptism. And it is decorated and made stronger in Confirmation and more resplendent and brilliant each time we dip it in the Blood of the Lamb in worthy Holy Communions; and when we spill some sins on it, or tear it, or even pretty much cast it off and wander around naked (very embarrassing!), it is offered back to us through the great Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, all cleaned and repaired. And all for free!

Everything we need is given to us. But sometimes, when our clothes no longer fit, or pinch a bit, we have three choices – throw them out, have them refit, or lose weight!

Throwing out the garment of Christ, tailored by the Holy Spirit through the Church and her teaching and wisdom, is hardly a good idea. There’s nothing else to wear, and even if there were, we couldn’t afford it, not even on a credit card.

Retailoring the garment to fit us – very popular with many people who say that the cut of the Church’s discipline and morality is too tight – fails to take into account that it was made by a Master Tailor who knows us better than we know ourselves, and knows where this grand garment should be tight and where it should be flowing. He knows what makes us look good as well as what makes us good. Don’t go tampering with a perfect garment.

That leaves us the only real solution – lose weight! The garment, made for the real me, will fit divinely (forgive the pun) when I finally shed the extra pounds of sin and selfishness and pride and lose the idea that I am the Designer. Then we will all appear clothed in Glory, not in a new and popular fashion label (which will one day be quite out of fashion – remember all those embarrassing family pictures from the 70’s) but in the eternal fashion which we may wear with joy into Paradise.

Prepared for Aleteia by theCanonry of Saint LeopoldClick here to learn more about the Canons Regular of St. Augustine.

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