Sunday, October 12, 2008
Homily for 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Although it’s nearly 2,000 years since Jesus preached in parables,
stories about sheep and prodigal sons and vineyards and lost coins
have stood the test of time pretty well,
including the image of the wedding banquet in today's story.
All except for that last bit about "proper dress required."
That poor guy who shows up improperly dressed for the reception
gets tossed out on his ear.
and that offends our egalitarian sensitivities:
it sounds elitist, un-American - even un-Christian!
Dress codes are passé.
Restaurants that once required men to wear a jacket and tie
now have to insist that they wear shoes and a shirt!
A more disturbing feature of this parable is trying to imagine
that Jesus would care about how someone was dressed -
Jesus whose interest is the shape of our hearts,
not the cut of our clothes.
But it’s a parable!
And in a parable not all is as it might seem to be at first glance.
Jesus gives it away when he says up front:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.”
Those who are invited first, the King’s A-list, fail to R.S.V.P.,
but that's not all!
They kill the letter carriers who delivered the mail!
And then the King kills them and burns down their city!
A little overkill – literally! But it’s a parable!
And Jesus is making a point:
when the King invites you, you’d better show up!
In the parable, the A-list of guests
are understood to be the chosen people of Israel.
Like us, they often failed to respond to the Lord’s invitation
- and they mistreated the prophets who delivered it.
So, in the parable, the King then defaults to his B-list of guests.
And that would be us: the gentiles!
It’s important to see here
that while the King may seem too demanding
in his expectations of his guests,
what he’s really doing is expanding the invitation list
and opening the doors to the wedding feast ever wider.
And so the tables at the reception begin to fill up
with the folks the servants brought in from hither and yon.
And don’t miss this one phrase in the parable:
“The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found,
bad and good alike…”
Sounds like the doors couldn’t have been opened any wider!
But then along comes this poor bloke
who apparently didn’t see the sign:
“No shirt, no shoes: no service!”
Here, then, is the question we have to grapple with: if the bad and the good alike were welcomed to the feast, why was this guy’s clothing such an issue? Remember: it’s a parable!
What does this man’s dress represent? What was lacking?
Something about this man distinguishes him
from even the bad guys who had been admitted to the feast.
Right there might be the lesson in this parable for us,
some 2,000 years after Jesus told this story.
Yes, the bad and the good alike are invited to the King’s banquet;
yes, the doors are wide open for all to enter –
but something else is required.
And if something else is missing, entry may be denied.
What is the something else?
What is required?
Jesus answered this question often, and in many ways:
If you want eternal life (if you would come to the feast)
you must love God and love your neighbor as yourself;
keep the commandments, give to the poor and follow me…
• Required for admission to the banquet, then,
is generous, loving obedience to the Lord’s great commandments.
Isaiah, also speaking of a banquet the Lord has prepared,
says the feast is for those who have been saved from their sins
by God’s pardon.
• Required for admission to the banquet, then, is the mercy of God
for the times we have been unfaithful to Word and his law.
The prophet Micah answered directly and beautifully,
when he wrote:
This is what the Lord requires of you:
that you do what is just, love what is good
and walk humbly with your God.
If we fail in these required things
we may find ourselves at the banquet door,
not properly dressed for the feast.
Our King is a great and generous lover – have no doubt about that -
but he calls us to live by his word
and to seek his mercy when we fail to do so.
The Lord has expectations of us
and they are of his making, not our own.
- if we choose to ignore his word, his commandments
- if we choose to live by some other code, or our own code;
- if we believe our circumstances nullify the law of the Lord
or absolve us of responsibility for our deeds;
- if we fail to acknowledge our sins and thus our need for his mercy;
we may find ourselves at the banquet hall
without the proper garment for entering.
Our culture increasingly succeeds
in draining our deeds of moral content
by naming each self the royal arbiter of truth.
When we believe that everything is basically good
and nothing is really wrong;
when we think it wrong even to call something wrong:
we fail to understand both the law of the Lord
and the depth of his mercy for those who transgress it.
None of us is the King:
we are the King's subjects, beloved and forgiven.
We, the bad and the good alike,
we are among those who have been invited to dine at the royal table.
Owning up to our sinfulness
and seeking the mercy of the King’s Son
clothes us in the garment that admits us to the banquet,
and even to this table, the banquet of the Eucharist.
Proper Dress Is Required here – not by the cut of our clothes –
but by the beauty of hearts humbled and dressed
in the mercy of the King, our Host, who forgives our sins.
Happy are they who are called to his supper!
My homily ends there, but I couldn't resist posting this sign
from St. Peter's Basilica in Rome:
Posted by Austin Fleming at 1:59 PM