Matthew 22:1-14 (28th Sunday of Ordinary Time)
A while ago I was visiting a new school when the fire alarm went off. The sound of the alarm was incredibly loud, much more piercing than I remembered when I was a student. Even if you covered your ears the sound was so uncomfortable that you couldn't stay in the building. Later on I asked why the alarm was so loud. I learned that all new fire alarms are like that. In the past, alarms would warn people that there was a fire, but some just ignored it and stayed in the building. The purpose of the new alarm was to not only warn people but force them to take action and leave the building. In today’s Gospel, as was the case for the past several weeks, Jesus uses some incredibly strong language. It seems so out of character. Jesus, however, is speaking like this to provoke a similar response as the fire alarms. More than warning us, He uses such strong language to jar us and compel us to take action. Before we can appreciate the danger Jesus warns us against, we need to appreciate the indescribable good that is offered to us.
|source, Ben Shumin|
If you have ever observed a couple looking at each other lovingly or seen a baby nursing who looks for his mother’s eyes as though it wanted to store up every smile forever, then you have some inkling of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is something of such incredible beauty, that its wonder can only be captured in parables. Jesus explains that the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet, an event which epitomizes love, union, peace and joy. The parable explains that all are invited to this wedding banquet. First the servants, which represent the prophets, are sent to summon the invited guests. The invited guests represent the chief priests, elders and others in good standing in the community of Israel. Next, the servants are sent into the streets to summon everyone the find, the good and the bad alike. The message is clear. Rich, poor, sinner, or saint, God wants all to be a part of His wonderful heavenly kingdom, both now and for all eternity.
Though all are invited, we need to freely choose to be a part of the kingdom, God forces no one. God's kingdom is one of love and love can never be coerced. Imagine if someone walked up to you dragging behind him four dogs on a leash and said, “look how much my dogs love me, they follow me everywhere I go.” The statement is ridiculous because the dogs have no choice; there is not love. Jesus’ parable makes it clear that though all are invited, our entrance into the kingdom of heaven is not automatic. We must respond to the invitation. Though some accept the invitation, others reject it in three different ways. 1) Some ignore the invitation, keeping busy with their work. Today it is very tempting to push God out of our lives because we are to busy with other things. 2) Others violently reject the invitation. Now, as was the time with Jesus, people strongly reject God, Jesus and their kingdom of love, peace and mercy by living lives of hatred, violence and greed. 3) Finally, one arrives at the banquet but is rejected because he is not wearing a wedding garment. This detail, which can seem quite confusing, is very significant. This wedding garment symbolizes conversion. Jesus explains that the acceptance of God’s invitation into His kingdom involves more than merely saying “yes”. When we truly chose to be part of the kingdom of heaven, which is God’s love, we begin to change our lives. As the YouCat explains, “The ‘Kingdom of God’ begins in those who allow themselves to be transformed by God’s love” (YouCat 89).
Jesus vigorously warns us regarding what rejecting God’s invitation to His kingdom entails. Here, Jesus’ language becomes quite startling. To those invited guests who mistreated and killed the king’s messengers, we read that: “The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” Later we read the fate of the one who appear at the banquet without the wedding garment. “Then the king said to his attendants, 'Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” The way Jesus is speaking seems so harsh, jarring and uncharacteristic. Jesus, however, has a good reason for doing this: He is sounding the fire alarm. We need to appreciate what it means to reject God’s invitation to enter His kingdom. If we reject this, we chose to separate ourselves from God both now and for all eternity. Of our own free will, we choose to be in a place where there is no love, goodness, happiness or joy. Simply, we choose hell for ourselves. If a parent sees their child reaching towards a hot element on the stove, they might call to warn the child first. If the child doesn't listen, the parent will shout. If the child still doesn't listen, the parent will run to the child and remove the child from danger. With His strong language, Jesus is trying to protect us from harm. Just like that those new fire alarms, Jesus isn't just trying to warn us of danger, He is trying to compel us to take action.
Jesus has sounded the alarm out love and for our own good. We have two options: cover our ears or take action. Which will be your choice?