Find your identity as an effervescence of God’s love!
Liz Stuart, 11 October 2020
Isaiah 25: 1–9; Philippians 4: 1–9; Matthew 22: 1–14
My parents married a few months after the end of the war, in September 1945. I shall never forget the scene that greeted me 25 years later on 25 September 1970, when I returned home from school for my lunch. The lounge was full of people celebrating my parents’ silver wedding anniversary – friends, certainly, but also the milkman, the postman, the people who collected the bins and a collection of people who had been invited in just because they had turned up at the door that day. I went back to school and returned later that afternoon to find I could not get in the front door. More friends had arrived, the milkman, postman and binmen had been joined by the people despatched to find out where they were, and some nuns had also appeared.
My parents were so full of joy that they wanted to share it with everyone who came to the house that day. Their love bubbled over. That is often what couples feel when they marry, which is why Jesus often uses a wedding feast as a metaphor for the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is participation in God’s life, which is uncontainable, untameable, irrepressible love. We gather around this table because it’s a foretaste and promise of that wedding banquet – an encounter with our God, who bubbles over into bread and into wine to draw us to himself.
The parable of the wedding feast that we heard in the gospel today is carefully crafted around a pattern of action, response, reaction, response. I’d like to focus on three aspects of the parable.
We’re told that the guests invited to the banquet ‘made light of it’; the literal translation is they didn’t care. They cared more about their work than the wedding, and that care turned violent and destructive, indicating that it was misdirected. As I said a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been reading Meister Eckhart and he said the only prayer that we should say is the prayer to be taken up into the life of God. Any other prayer suggests that something is more important than that: your field, your business. But if your focus is to be a guest at the feast of the kingdom, to be part of the divine life, then you will find, says Eckhart, that you cease to pray to God and start to pray through God. That means finding your identity as an effervescence of God’s love. At the end of the passage we are told that ‘many are called, few are chosen’. Eklektoi, translated as ‘chosen’ here, may also be translated as ‘pure’, meaning single-minded. Participation in God’s life should be our primary focus. Everything else we should treat ‘lightly’, not the other way around.
Second, Matthew makes the point that the spurned host then gathers ‘both good and bad’ to his feast. As Isaiah had predicted, all are welcome at God’s feast. You can’t earn your way in and you can’t object to who you find yourself sitting next to. God will draw everyone to himself because everyone is an expression of his bubbling love. God has no taste and is totally indiscriminate.
God will draw everyone to himself because everyone is an expression of his bubbling love. God has no taste and is totally indiscriminate.
Third, what are we to make of the chap without the wedding garment? I think there are at least two ways to read this. It was up to the host to make sure that all guests had a wedding garment. The hosts were expected to supply for those who couldn’t afford them. So there was no excuse for not having the appropriate attire. Perhaps the point is that that person refused to change. Because to join the feast is to be changed: it is to be focused on one’s identity as an outpouring of God’s self. To refuse to change is perhaps to put yourself outside the feast. St Gregory the Great believed that the wedding garment was love. Perhaps the chap refused to love?
Or perhaps the point is that the king’s behaviour is shockingly inconsistent, welcoming everybody in and then throwing somebody out for being incorrectly dressed, for not fitting in, for not obeying the rules. Is this supposed to make us, the Church, reflect on the difference between our claim to welcome all and the way we treat people sometimes when they try to come in? God calls many; perhaps it’s us that choose few of them.
This passage breaks my heart because it reminds me that God sets an open table and desires to seat everybody at it. Yet thanks to Covid, we must now keep our doors largely shut, at best ajar. Only a very few now can eat at this table. It’s a situation that will sear our hearts at Christmas, when all sorts of people are drawn like magnets to the Christ-child.
But when our doors must close over, our hearts must open – wide enough for the whole world to fall in, as Mother Teresa put it. In every aspect of our lives we are called upon on to manifest the outrageous hospitality of the divine life. We are called to become living Eucharists, sacraments of God’s munificent heart. That will come naturally to us when we really know ourselves as products and examples of God’s over-brimming love. Looking back, I think my parents knew that.