Say ‘Yes’ to the invitation

To believe that all are invited to heaven, and to recognise that some accept and some decline, is not the end of the matter.

Oct 13, 2023

Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10;
Philippians 4: 12-14, 19-20;
Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14

It’s quite a story. First, we have a wedding — the setting for many a romantic-comedy — think Steel Magnolias, Crazy Rich Asians or My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

After the complexities of courtship, the happy couple are ready to tie the knot. They secure a reception venue, settle the guest list, send out posh invitations. So far, so good. But then we hear the invitees, even perhaps the relatives, decline to attend: perhaps the venue was known for bad catering! What’s worse, the postmen end up dead. The father of the groom is furious and has the trouble-makers rounded up and executed, razing their town for good measure. Romantic comedy turns to horror movie.

On its own, this first episode of our Gospel story is exciting enough, with its romance and mayhem. But in the sequel, as in many a feel-good movie, a rag-tag group of nerds and misfits saves the day. They might not know the happy couple, but they’re up for a free feed. The reception hall is filled with guests — festivities begin; the grief turns to joy.

But then there’s another mood swing. In the series conclusion, the revelry is interrupted. The host notices something jarring: a badly dressed guest — a crooked bow tie, too-skimpy gown, maybe he hadn’t bothered changing. He demands an explanation and there’s an awkward silence. Then he tells the bouncers to cuff the guy and throw him out. Back to party time.

It’s a wedding none will forget – certainly not the bride and groom! Nor, I think, should we, for this is no rom-com, horror or feel-good movie: it’s an intimate look at the to and fro between the human and divine. It’s about invitation and response, salvation and damnation, sin and virtue.

Look again at our trilogy, this time with the eyes of faith. As in today’s First Reading and Psalm, the regal Father-God invites the People of Israel to a heavenly wedding banquet (Is 25:6-10; Ps 22/23). Crucially, He invites: He doesn’t force Himself upon anyone. God offers humanity His friendship, and we are free to accept or not. But just in case we don’t really hear it or don’t respond as we should, He renews the invitation. He gives us another chance, many more chances, in fact. He sends lots of ‘messengers’: prophets, missionaries and saints. Perhaps we keep refusing, or more likely sometimes say YES, sometimes NO, mostly MAYBE. Lots of chances, lots of choices. Bottom line: don’t squander them.

Next up, God extends invitations beyond the Old Israel to the New Israel, that is the Church — and even beyond that. We should harbour no illusions that we are the only ones God loves. Our invitations are personal but not exclusive. If the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was essentially for Israel, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed to be for all humanity. Not just the high and mighty, or even the low and holy, but for the rag-tag band found at the crossroads, ‘the bad and good alike’. There’s comfort in this: that no-one is predestined to hell, all are called to heaven. But if we give up our place at the heavenly banquet, someone else will gladly take it. If we renounce heaven, we cast ourselves into that “outer darkness where there is weeping and grinding of teeth”. The history of divine invitation and human response is also the story of salvation and damnation.

In the third and final episode, God has a good look at His guests. Tradition calls this the Particular Judgment, God’s assessment of a person’s life immediately after their death. In our story, a man has said YES to the invitation and come along for the ride. But his heart’s not in it; he behaves like a gate-crasher rather than a wedding guest. So, he’s cast out.

To believe that all are invited to heaven, and to recognise that some accept and some decline, is not the end of the matter. For to say YES to the invitation, by assenting to the Creed or receiving Baptism, Confirmation and the rest, but then go on living exactly as before, as the world lives, is to fail to change your clothes. To go through the motions of good works while your heart is far from God is not to join in the spirit of the party. We should not imagine we are on the way to the heavenly banquet if we do not live in the spirit of God’s kingdom here and now on earth.

The person without a wedding suit, says St Gregory the Great, is the one who believes in Christ and His Church but lacks Christian love. St Augustine goes further: only ‘love that springs from a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith’ is the right gear for that banquet; so dress yourselves in those clothes. — Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney homilies archive (Reproduced with permission)

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