The weekly meeting in the Chapter Room always shakes me up as we face the scriptures and allow them to work upon us.
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (12.10.2014)
Readings: Exodus 32:1-14; Phil.4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14;
Last Wednesday afternoon as a small group of us sat in the Chapter Room chatting about the readings for today – every time we looked at the gospel my heart sank and I complained ‘I just don’t understand it, it seems so unfair.’ To put it simply, thinking at the most literal level, if you invite all and sundry without any warning to come to a party, who are you to complain if someone’s dress code is not up to scratch?
The reading from Exodus presented no problems. Think of it this way: the Israelites have been left to their own devices. Big mistake! After all, despite everything, they have been the most difficult community to lead to freedom and a new life – grumbling, complaints and rebellion have marked their journey. N0w Moses is off the scene and God is out of sight – and how do they now fill that void? The answer seems very familiar, even contemporary, as, like a class of school children with the teacher out of the room, all hell breaks loose. Without Moses for oversight, instruction and guided spiritual formation, the vacuum is suddenly filled with the golden calves – which we can translate as various forms of materialism, greed, hedonism and conspicuous consumerism – ‘These are your Gods O Israel!’, ‘These are your Gods, O people of the 21stcentury!’ This is not just a story in the remote past but an ancestral memory that holds up a mirror to us now.
The passage from Philippians is very much a closing shot of advice from Paul to the church in that region and, especially in the context of the other readings one can make sense of it as the kind of advice that, if adhered to, starts to form moral and spiritual character. ‘Whatever is true,…honourable…just… pure … lovely etc – ‘Think about these things.’ We are used to promoting good dietary habits by reminding people ‘You are what you eat.’ The same applies here for the moral imagination and the spiritual life ‘You are what you think about’. Now that’s a sobering thought! What are we becoming?
So with the story Jesus tells us this morning when he says “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son…” What does he try to tell us? When I try to make any sense of that phrase ‘the kingdom of heaven’ my brain turns to slush – this is something beyond all imagining. We could say it differently today, and replace ‘kingdom of heaven’ with, say, ‘the Omega Point’. Look it up on Google – Wikipedia summarises the idea: "The Omega Point is the purported maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which some believe the universe is evolving. The term was coined by the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)."
So, if we imagine the whole purpose of creation as leading toward some tremendous completion or consummation – imaged in the parable as the ‘marriage feast’ of the ‘king’s son’ – then the summary of invited and expected guests with the misadventures suffered by the servants with their invitations can be read as a gesture towards the story of Israel with its botched opportunities and abused prophets. Then the invitation is extended beyond Israel to include all humankind and across all time.
It is when we come to the encounter of the king with the guest who has no wedding garment that we come to grief: as I said – it simply seems unfair to issue a sudden (and mandatory) attendance and at the same time to harshly enforce an unforeseeable dress code.
But if the story of the universe is heading toward some great moment of cosmic completion, then this parable cautions us that our part in it requires our readiness; urges our participation in a lifelong task of formation, of evolving that formed and whole person in whom the necessary work has been done. It is realistic: since we cannot foresee the instant of our death, it becomes vital that our spiritual and moral formation is seriously addressed so that we take our part in the evolving work of the Kingdom. This ‘wedding garment’ of the parable is our life’s work. We weave, design, cut and sew it through the multitude of choices and actions of our lives. This is the person we are becoming … have become or have neglected entirely. Who are we becoming? Lord have mercy!