Sunday, October 12, 2008

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Eating In/Out

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10a; Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14 or 22:1-10
Picture: CC soham_pablo

My sisters and brothers, which do you prefer? When given a choice, do you like to go out for a meal, or do you much rather eat at home? If you’re like me, your answer will probably be, well… it depends… Sometimes I prefer one and sometimes the other… It depends because, of course, there are pros and cons on both sides, aren’t there?

Whether it is to a restaurant or to a friend’s place, going out can be quite pleasant. Not only does it offer a break from routine, but it also means you don’t have to cook for yourself. You don’t have to spend much time and energy in the store and then in the kitchen assembling something resembling a meal. You’re also spared from having to clear up afterwards. No need to fill and empty the dishwasher. No need to clear the table and mop the kitchen floor.

Even so, although you do have to work a little harder, eating in does have its attractions too. Quite apart from the money you might save, cooking your own meal also means you have a better control over what you eat and drink. You’re limited neither by the breadth of the restaurant’s menu or the culinary skills of your host. And, just as important, eating at home usually means you don’t really have to bother with dress codes. Not only don’t you have to dress up, but you’re also spared from having to put on your going-out-face. No need to make too much of an effort to be pleasant and charming, if you’re not really up to it. You can simply relax and be yourself. After all, you're at home.

Yes, there are pros and cons either way. So, for me, it depends. Sometimes I like to go out, and sometimes I prefer to stay home. It depends on my mood.

And there are no prizes for guessing the prevailing mood of those to whom Jesus is speaking in the gospel today. For the chief priests and elders of the people, there really is no question about it. They much rather eat at home than go out. So attached are they to their own cooking, that they refuse to budge even when invited by no less than the king himself. So stubbornly do they cling to their own favorite recipes that they turn up their noses even on a delicious wedding feast, a joyous celebration, in which they need do no work. Indeed, according to Jesus' parable, so scornful are they of the king’s invitation that they even go to the extent of killing the servants sent by him.

This behavior sounds almost too farfetched and unreasonable to be believed. Until, that is, we reflect a little further on our readings. For although the banquet of the king has already been prepared, something is yet required of those invited. Consider first that the banquet is held in a very definite location. To attend it, one has to leave home and proceed to this appointed venue. And notice too, how this special location is described in the first reading. There we’re told that the feast is laid out on the mountain of the Lord. Which seems to imply that, to attend this feast, to accept this invitation, not only must one leave the familiar comforts of home, but one also needs to climb a great height! Not only that, consider also how the parable ends. Even after people have accepted the invitation, they are expected to follow a strict dress code. They must put on a wedding garment, or face expulsion. Many are invited, but few are chosen.

Can we blame the chief priests and the elders for not being in the mood? Would we not make the same choice if we found ourselves in their shoes? Faced with such fearsome inconvenience, wouldn’t we much rather eat in than go out? Indeed, don’t we often face similar difficulties ourselves?

When, for example, God beckons us to savor the sumptuous feast of reconciliation with our enemies, how many of us will jump at the chance, and joyfully accept the invitation? How many of us will respond immediately to such a summons, by leaving the familiar confines of our own, often petty, grievances and hurt feelings, in order to climb the high mountain of forgiveness? How many of us will willingly put on the garment of Christ’s example, that saw him praying for his persecutors even as he hung upon the cross?

Or when we might hear God inviting us to join in the banquet of fraternal love and concern, how many of us will leave the comforts of our sheltered and often self-centered lives, in order to reach out to those in need, whether near or far away? How many of us will bother to climb the high mountain of mercy and compassion and put on the same garment worn by Paul in the second reading? How many of us can say with Paul, that we have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need? How many of us can be like the Philippians in seeking to share in the distress of others?

Are we all then doomed to a similar fate as the man without the wedding garment? Are we inescapably destined to be bound hand and foot and cast into the darkness where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth? How are we to find the strength to accept God’s invitation in the face of such formidable obstacles?

Even as we beg God for help, perhaps we might also ponder over two further considerations. The first is found in our scripture readings, the second, wherever we may care to look. From a closer reading of today’s scripture, we find something crucially important about God’s invitation. Despite appearances to the contrary, it is not really an invitation to eat out. For, as we are told in the responsorial psalm, God spreads this feast for us not just in any restaurant, however posh, but in the house of the Lord itself. And it is in this house that we are all destined to live all the days of our lives. This is where we can be most completely relaxed, most fully the persons we are meant to be. For in the Lord’s house we find our true and ultimate home.

Even so, we do need to dress up to go home. We do need to put on Christ. And to discover how this looks like, how this could feel like, we have only to look at the many examples around us. I think, for instance, of 25-year old John Hancock, who was featured in a news report on MSNBC some days ago. John has left the comforts of his California home and devoted a year of his life to volunteering with a non-profit organization dedicated to disaster relief. His work has brought him to Peru, Bangladesh, China and, most recently, to Haiti. In Haiti, he was filmed knee deep in mud, laboring to help the locals recover from the terrible devastation wrought by a recent cyclone. This is what John said about his work: I get so much out of it for myself that I worry I don’t give enough back.

Of course, we don’t all have to do exactly what John is doing. Not many of us can. But what we can do is to allow his example to strike a chord within us, to inspire us to put on Christ and so, in our own way, to respond to the Lord’s invitation.

Sisters and brothers, today how is the Lord inviting us to dress up and to go home?

1 comment:

  1. The "Parable of the Wedding Feast" often puzzles and sometimes frightens me and others I know, especially the part that says "Many are invited, but few are chosen". I've wondered why our loving God would choose such a punitive way of treating people who don't respond to His invitation. The murderers... kind of understandable, but the others? And for the believer whose life wasn't up to par (and so didn't have the 'wedding garment'), surely God would forgive the one who tried but somehow didn't manage to do so?

    Thanks, Fr Chris for this enlightening homily. It's integrative, touching and yet gently challenging.

    Integrative in the sense that now I see how all four readings are linked by the common thread of feast / table / abundance / banquet, and how we are called to live the values of the kingdom (our true 'home' on the 'mountain'). Touching to know how much God loves us and continually invites us IN ('home') to an abundant life. To reject such an invitation is choose to be OUT, to a much poorer life. Our choice, our fault, our destiny then. Gently challenging in that it's clearer now what we need to do, though it's not easy (a 'mountain' to climb!): Reconciliation and concern for those in distress.

    We can easily give/forgive out of equanimity, plenty or convenience. But when things get painful, scarce or inconvenient, may God grant us the trust, courage and generosity to continue to give/forgive!


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