28th Sunday in Year A. Isaiah 25:6-10a; Matthew 22:1-14.
AIM: To show the importance of centering our lives on God.
I am one of a dwindling number of people able recall the days, before universal air travel, when people traveling to Europe crossed by ship. Hardly had the vessel left port than the passengers were bombarded with “last chance” announcements on the public address system urging them to come to the Chief Steward’s office “right away’ to reserve a deck chair “before they’re all gone.” Novice travelers believed the hype and spent a long time standing in line. Seasoned voyagers knew there were plenty of deck chairs. They waited until the lines had disappeared and got their chairs without delay.
The people in Jesus’ story who ignore the king’s invitation to his son’s wedding banquet are like yesteryear’s seasoned ocean travelers. They see nothing special in this particular invitation. They assume there will be many more. Too late they discover that, for them, this was their last chance.
The story is Jesus’ warning to people who have failed to respond to him and his message. Like the heedless guests in the story, they were turning down their last and final chance. Soon they would discover that they were excluded from the joyful wedding banquet which God had prepared for his people, of which Isaiah writes in our first reading. Others, not originally invited, will take their places. There are, in every life, times when God offers us opportunities which will not come again. Can we identify them at the time? Often we cannot. We need not worry, however, about missing such opportunities, as long as we are trying to live with God at the center of our lives.
Where is God in your life? Is he at the center? Or is he somewhere out on the fringe? Are you more interested in finding out how little you need to do for God, rather than how much you can do? Is “avoiding sin” more important to you than finding opportunities to do good? Does the practice of your faith stop short when you have fulfilled your “minimum obligation”? If the answer to any of these questions is Yes, then God is on the fringe of your life, not at the center. Then Jesus’ story is addressed to you. You could be in danger of throwing away opportunities offered to you by God which will not come again.
There is a further danger when God is at the fringe of our lives, rather than at the center. Even when we do respond to the opportunities God offers, we may do so casually, like the man in the second part of Jesus’ story who came to the banquet unprepared, and was thrown out. That seems unfair. After all, if the man had just been brought in from the street, how could anyone expect him to be properly dressed? The scripture scholars speculate that Matthew may have combined two originally separate stories. The first was Jesus’ warning to those who failed to respond to him, that they were throwing away their last chance to join the banquet God had prepared for his people. The second story was addressed to people in the community for which Matthew wrote his gospel. Many of them were Gentiles — people not originally invited to the feast. This story warned them that though God had now extended his invitation to all, no one could accept the invitation casually.
Today’s Catholic grandparents, looking back to their own First Communion, remember hearing so much about preparing for Holy Communion that it was easy to think of Communion as a kind of reward for making a good confession. Back in those days Communion, for many, was associated with fears about receiving unworthily.
Today we emphasize that Communion is not a reward. It is medicine for sick sinners. The danger now is that people come to the Lord’s Table casually, with no preparation at all. Here is what the Catechism says about this: “We must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: ‘Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself’ (1 Cor. 11:27-29). Anyone conscious of grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.” (No. 1385)
God does not want us to be fearful when we approach his Holy Table. He does want us, however, to be careful. Listen, again, to what the Catechism says on this point: “Bodily demeanor (gesture, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.” (No. 1387)
Once again, dear friends, I have the privilege, though unworthy, of extending to you the invitation you have heard so many times before: “Everything is ready; come to the feast.” God, the host at this banquet, longs to have you with him. He wants to fill you with his goodness, his power, his purity, his love.
He cannot fill you unless you come.
He cannot fill you unless you are empty.
He cannot fill you unless you confess your need, which means preparing by acknowledging your unworthiness.
How often have you heard this invitation before? How often will you hear it again? One day you will hear it for the last time. Then you will receive another invitation: to appear before your divine Master, your King, your Creator, your Lord.
When you encounter him, will you recognize him with joy as your familiar host at this banquet? Or will you be encountering a stern judge, before whom you shrink in fear?
The answer to those two questions is in your hands — right now!