Brief synopsis of the readings: We begin in Isaiah where God promises rewards of great value: rich food, fine wines, freedom from mourning and death, etc. In response the people will exult and rejoice. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus (once again) spoke with the chief priests and elders of the people. He described a parable of a king who gave a feast for his son’s wedding. But when he sent his servants to call those who were invited, they declined. Much like last week the king sent other servants. The invited guests again declined and some attacked the servants while others went to their farms or businesses. The king then became furious; he sent others to kill the guests and torch their town. The king then instructed his servants to find anyone, good and bad alike, and fill the hall with both.
What happened here? Things were going so well in the first reading. God provided everything the people needed and they rejoiced. As a matter of fact God gave them more than they needed. Most people, especially commoners, lived on a diet of simple grains and vegetables, not rich food and fine wines. As a matter of fact, the possibility of famine was a constant companion.
Additionally, grief was also a constant companion. Childhood mortality was high and many died at ages we would consider young. The idea of living without grief over a loss was probably a rarity, and let’s face it, that’s also true today. I believe that much of what we describe as stress is really grief (in my hospice work I’ve often described grief as “anything that changes your life without your permission”). Living in a pandemic is an experience of grief.
No wonder the response of the people was gratitude. No wonder they exulted and rejoiced.
But fast forward to Matthew’s Gospel and we see a different scene in today’s parable. The king clearly has achieved what Jesus promised. The reading doesn’t give many details but anyone who can give a feast for his son’s wedding clearly ate rich food and drank fine wine. And we can also assume that those he invited ate rich food and drank fine wine simply by the fact that they were invited to the wedding.
There is much in Scripture that we have a hard time understanding. Most of us are not farmers, or shepherds, or servants. But if there is one constant in the universe, it’s weddings. When a couple decides to spent the rest of their lives together, when they decide to create a family that will survive them, it’s a good thing. Weddings also give us an opportunity to invite two communities to come together. Everyone important from your family and everyone important from your spouse’s family come together for a day to celebrate.
But it’s also an event of terrific stress. Will everyone have a good time? Is the DJ or the band going to be good enough? Will the photographer get drunk and fail to photograph the reception? (this actually happened to someone I know)
Most important, will everyone come? The invitation list often causes terrific stress because the desire to invite everyone runs against the reality that the place can only fit a finite number of people or the budget is finite. From the perspective of the host, anyone who agrees to attend had better show up. The king in this parable noted that “I have my banquet all prepared, my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, everything is ready.”
When those invited declined to come the deeply insulted the king and cost him a great deal of money. And I give the king props. Instead of fuming and thinking about how much money he lost, he told his servants to go out and find people who would be thrilled to attend. These were people who hadn’t expected to be invited and were almost certainly grateful to the king. He build a great deal of good will with this act.
So what are we to glean from this? The king and invitees were certainly blessed by God: they ate the rich foods and drank the fine wines and we certainly hope the king and his son acknowledged their blessings. But the invitees apparently didn’t. One blew off the king to go to his farm and one blew him off to go to his business. This tells us that they were people of means.
We don’t often think of this, but God’s generosity comes with only one requirement: that we recognize that generosity and show gratitude. But the fact is that God’s revelation is itself a gift. God could give generously to us and remain hidden.
But God didn’t. From the beginning God revealed Himself and allowed us to love Him. God has chosen to be relationship with us. And we ignore this relationship at our own peril. Too often we’ve seen people who have been blessed and yet still claims to be “self made.” There’s a baseball joke about the guy who comes into a game as a pinch runner on third base and tries to convince everyone that he just hit a triple.
All these invitees needed to do was attend the wedding and express gratitude to the king. Instead they attended to their affairs and no doubt told themselves that their success resulted in their hard work and genius.
And you can bet that those who did attend the wedding recognized how blessed they were. Interestingly enough he invited “the good and bad alike.” God wishes us to be good, and does not abandon us when we are bad. All God demands is that we recognize that while we may be smart and hardworking we must never forget that without God’s blessing and generosity we would not have anywhere near the success we have.
Oh, and by the way, let me speak as someone who used to be a priest: if you receive an invitation for a wedding, respond whether or not you can go. Don’t assume the couple knows your availability. When I was a priest I would often receive an invitation and I always made a point of returning the envelope. And if you accept the invitation, make every attempt to attend. If you can’t, contact the wedding party and let them know. It’s the height of rudeness to force someone to buy your meal and learn after the fact that you couldn’t bother to come.