A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, October 9, 2011 | Carl E. Olson
• Is 25:6-10a
• Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
• Phil 4:12-14, 19-20
• Mt 22:1-14
When I was growing up, I often thought that being a Christian was boring, dull, and mostly about limiting what I could do. I was never an overtly rebellious kid and I would often defend my beliefs, on one hand, while privately lamenting, on the other, that they kept me from listening to certain music, reading various books, or hanging out with this or that person.
Oddly enough, some of the recent bestselling books attacking Christianity, many of them written by atheists, reflect a related perspective. Christianity is not only outdated and stuffy, we are told, but is fueled by hatred, anger, and the need to condemn those who aren’t Christian. Granted, there are some Christians who fit into that alarming mold. But, then, there are quite a few atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians who do as well. The problem, it is obvious to me, isn’t Christianity, but the human condition.
Being fallen creatures possessing free will, we often choose fear and anger over love and peace. But while Scripture is clear that eternal judgment is very real, it also emphasizes two facts: first, we are ones who bring judgment upon ourselves, and, secondly, that judgment is not the action of vengeful God, but a just and merciful God. The story of salvation history is not of a distant despot eager to destroy His creatures, but of a loving Creator seeking to bring us back.
Back to what? According to the prophet Isaiah, back to “a feast of rich food and choice wines.” In writing this, he drew upon the rich history of festivals among the Jewish people. The Mosaic covenant commanded six feasts and one fast, celebrated annually. These commemorated key events in the history of the people, especially the Exodus from Egypt and the forty years spent in the desert afterwards.
For Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other prophets, these feasts were reminders of God’s love and covenantal faithfulness, as well as signs of a future feast celebrating the end of death, the destruction of evil, and communion with God. Dull? No. Boring? Hardly. Depressing? Not at all! As King David expressed so poignantly in Psalm 23, the desire of God, our Shepherd, is to give us repose, refreshment, protection, nourishment, and everlasting joy.
But if we are given the gift of free will, we are also given a clear choice. Atheists may rail against the judgment of God and the doctrine of hell, but those realities reveal the rather astounding nature of God’s respect for us. Love cannot be forced; real relationships cannot be coerced. Love and communion with God are gifts that must be freely accepted.
Thus, the king in the parable heard in today’s Gospel summons the invited guests to the wedding feast. Did they have to attend? No. But if they chose to skip the wedding feast, they also chose to miss out on joy and life and goodness. The marriage, explained St. Gregory the Great, is that of Christ and His Bride, the Church. The wedding garment required for entrance is charity: “a person who goes into the feast without a wedding garment is someone who believes in the Church but does not have charity.”
We can do the right things and utter the proper words, yet be devoid of love. But if we are without love, how can we have communion with God, Who is love (cf., 1 John 4:8)? Yes, our actions are very important, but the reasons for our actions are equally important.
Jesus’ parable, like others in the Gospel of Matthew, was a warning to the Jewish priests and elders. But it also serves as a warning to us. If we sometimes think that being a Catholic is dull and boring, is the problem with God’s gift or with our understanding of it? When we attend the wedding feast and receive the Eucharist (cf, CCC 1617), are we humbled by God’s love? Filled with joy? Aware of our failings? “My God,” Paul reminds us, “will fully supply whatever we need.”
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the October 12, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)