This homily was my second one – given October 12th, 2008. The Gospel was Matthew 22:1-14, the Parable of the Wedding Garment. It was okay certainly, but looking back I was still finding my voice I think.
“The Jesus Christ we hear today is STILL the one who is on fire.
As I had told you before, in the portion of Matthew’s gospel we have been hearing for the past few weeks and which we will continue to hear for several more to come, the Jesus we hear is one who has come into Jerusalem in triumph, cleansed the temple and certainly made many powerful enemies.
He knows his hour is very close but he is nevertheless bold and fearless in speaking of the weightiest of subjects. Everything about him from the parables he tells to the very language he uses are very much what they call in scripture studies “eschatological” in nature – in simple terms that just means he is concerned with “last things” – death, judgment, heaven and hell.
Matthew devotes three chapters here almost exclusively to parables about the last days – or to be more precise, the last judgment. All of these gospels we are currently hearing are all concerned with this – the fact that we will all be judged, and Jesus tells us very clearly through them what we must DO in order to inherit eternal life.
I must confess that this parable always bothered me – it always seemed so harsh, so unfair. We can easily understand the first part – about the king who visits vengeance upon those who murdered his servants – it echoes the wicked tenants from last week’s Gospel – and we all know it is meant to represent God’s final judgment upon the wicked. But It is the second part of the parable that always bothered me – the part of the man without a wedding garment being thrown out.
Part of the confusion here I think is that we may forget that this story is very much a Matthew parable and NOT a Luke one. Luke was primarily concerned with the poor and the powerless and we tend to think of the man thrown out like Luke would describe him – a poor beggar who just came in off the street for the fine feast, just as he was asked to do and suddenly he ends up mercilessly thrown out.
We think he just couldn’t afford to dress nice – that’s not his fault, right? Jesus loves the poor – he doesn’t treat them like that, does he?
Except that’s totally NOT what this gospel says.
Matthew was speaking to a Jewish audience and he was not primarily concerned with the poor and powerless – that was Luke. Matthew was concerned primarily with a people who had lost their way and his message was most often repentance and the changing of wicked ways.
The man who is thrown out here in Matthew’s Gospel is NOT poor or afflicted or any of the things we might at first think. The words of this Gospel say clearly that the “good and the bad” were invited – not the “rich and poor”.
Matthew points his finger directly at the chief priests and Jewish elders here – and by extension at us.
He was taking to task those who had heard the Gospel and knew what was expected of them but for whatever reason choose not to do it – “the stone that the builders rejected” as we heard last week.
The Jesus on fire here is calling us all to live up to the Gospel values he had been preaching all along.
Indeed, our actions in this life the gospel tells us will weave for each one of us our own wedding garments – and as in the case of the poor unfortunate fellow in this gospel, we very well could end up with a garment entirely inappropriate if we’re not careful.
And we know very clearly how THAT turns out.
So how do we weave the proper garment? What can we do to make sure we are fit for the banquet?
I’m reminded of something I was once told long ago by one of the very best priests I’ve ever know, Father Lawrence Hardesty.
Father Hardesty was pastor of St. Ann’s Parish in the tiny little town of Howardstown when I was in the 7th and 8th grade. The parish was the one my mom had grown up in and as the school was a very small one – only three rooms actually – and we went to mass every morning and confession every month. It was during one of these monthly confessions that Father Hardesty told me something that I’ve never forgotten even now – and they are words I think we should all try to live by.
It was after I had confessed my sins and I suppose I must have commented on how hard it was to not keep committing the same sins over and over again. He told me then in the most matter of fact manner,
“Stephen, just remember to always think and act like Christ.”
Those words – “Think and act like Christ” – rang in my head over and over all that afternoon and for many days afterwards and I’ve never forgotten them in all these years. They’re so easy to say, and yet difficult to do, but I discovered that IF I keep those words in my head it really IS much easier to do the right thing – conforming our lives to Christ is the key.
Let me leave you now with some words from one of my favorite saints, the great Saint Augustine – from a sermon he wrote on this very Gospel over 1600 years ago.
“What precisely is meant by the words, ‘My friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ Listen to the Apostle Paul: “If I give away all I have to the poor, if I hand over my body to be burnt, but have no love, it will avail me nothing.”
So this is what the wedding garment is. Examine yourselves to see whether you possess it. If you do, your place at the Lord’s table is secure”