Accept His Invitation, Then Act Accordingly
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
There's an old story, which many have probably heard, but is relevant to today's readings. An old man in a sparsely populated area was in the path of flood waters. When the waters were coming up, a sheriff in a truck came to his house and offered to take him to a shelter, but he just said, “No, God will provide.” As the waters came up to the level of his porch, a boat came up the house and all but begged him to leave with them, but again he just shrugged and said “No, God will provide.” Finally, he had to get up on his roof to stay above the waters. A Coast Guard helicopter came to his rescue, but he stubbornly refused even that, again insisting that “God would provide.” It wasn't long after that when the waters washed him away to his death. Upon getting to the pearly gates, he met Saint Peter and asked him, “Why did you let me die? I am a religious man who believes in God.” Saint Peter, incredulous, said: “We sent a truck, a boat, and a helicopter. What were you looking for?”
The first reading from Isaiah details the great promises of God, using the image that we all relate to: a great feast. If you read it carefully, Isaiah actually says that God promises this to all people, not just the Israelites. The leaders of the Jews, the chief priests and elders whom Jesus was addressing and who studied the scriptures, would have known this. Jesus knew the Hebrew Scriptures well. In fact, He had read a different passage from Isaiah in the synagogue at one of His earliest acts of His public ministry. I'm sure you all remember the passage, from Luke, in which Jesus said after reading, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” [Lk 4:21]. Therefore there would have been no mistake as to the wedding banquet's meaning, or to whom God was promising it.
So to whom was Jesus was referring to when He talks about people rejecting the invitation to this feast? It has been read by some that Christ was saying that the Jewish people were ignoring the invitation and that the Christians were now the favored people, those to whom God wishes to bless. But that would be too limited a reading. Since, in Isaiah, God has intended it for all people, all people can reject the invitation. Both Jews and Gentiles can choose to come or not.
This message is consistent with what we know of the Evangelist Matthew. Scholars think that he was writing his Gospel in the area around Antioch, in present day Syria, the neighbor of Israel. That community would have been a mixed community of both Jews and Gentiles, and throughout his writings Matthew is the most balanced of the Gospels in describing Christ’s outreach to both groups. If the Matthew who wrote the Gospel is the same as the Apostle Matthew, then this also colors the parable, since the Apostle Matthew was a tax collector prior to his calling. Matthew knew what it was like to be scorned by the leaders and people, and understood more than most the incredible blessings which Christ offers even those sinners, Jew or Gentile, who accept his invitation to join the banquet. This is also most likely why he remembers to add the anecdote at the end about a wedding garment.
Jesus, through Matthew, is telling us that accepting the invitation, while necessary, is not enough. The man who is not wearing a wedding garment represents those that have come but have not truly accepted the terms of the invitation. As with the old man in the flood I started with, they can think that faith by itself is enough. No, faith is not enough; we must cooperate with God's grace for it to be truly effective. Saint Paul tells us in the second reading that, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” [v. 13]. Christ strengthens us with faith, but we must actually do something with that strength with which he fortifies us.
This last week, our family here at Saint James has lost two extraordinary parishioners who lived out our church's vision of being joyful disciples, doing things with the strength that they were given. Both, in their own way, were models of the disciple who both accepts the Lord's invitation and also wears the wedding garment of our Christian obligations for all to see.
Kathleen Bond died this week at the age of 102. Before I become a deacon, our family usually attended 4:30 Mass, and we would sit in the pew in front of her and her family, and she was so friendly and welcoming. She loved Saint James, and worked for many years helping our parish, as did her husband before he passed away.
Of course the other I refer to is our parishioner Officer Jacob Hancher, who died in the line of duty last Saturday. He had been with Saint James since moving to the Grand Strand after high school. He exemplified his love of God and neighbor through his missionary work in Honduras with our Mission Saint James team as well as his desire to be a public servant in both the police and fire departments.
We at this church are blessed to have such exemplary parishioners, and we were all blessed to have known them. They exemplified faith and works. What better examples do we need for those that worthily attend the banquet of the Lord? We will miss them, but yet we have confidence that they are already at the banquet, and we ourselves will see them there someday.
The Eucharist which we are about to receive is God's banquet that He gives us today, on earth. It is the grace which foreshadows the feast we anticipate in heaven. The king of the parable called together his guests to celebrate as a community a marriage; Christ calls us together today as a community to celebrate his victory over death and to worship our God for his great blessings. As we come up to the altar to receive our God, it is a visible act which displays our acceptance of his invitation. May it nourish us and fortify us to wear the wedding garment of our Christian duty every day as a joyful disciple.