For a fourth consecutive Sunday, we again read about Jesus confronting the authorities using a parable. The difference is that we leave behind the image of the vineyard, as Jesus compares the Kingdom to a wedding banquet. The invitation to the Kingdom, a Kingdom that needs to begin to be a reality in the here and the now, is open to everyone—but three things are needed: Joy, a sense of search, and responsibility.
Sometimes reality surpasses fiction. We had a wonderful wedding at Sacred Heart this Saturday. It was a good one: lots of happiness, a very engaged congregation, lots of smiles and laughs during the service. At the end of the celebration, this woman comes to talk to me. I could tell she was distraught, and hesitant to talk to me. She was a bit upset about the wedding being without Mass, is that valid, Father? She was also upset about hearing me saying that the husband is equal to the wife. To be clear, this is not me preaching, it is part of the Nuptial Blessing right out of the Ritual. I also added that I was a Canon Lawyer and that the Church teaches equality between the parties, and has done that especially since the Second Vatican Council. To that, she said that a lot of things have gone wrong since then. I mentioned earlier that there were a lot of smiles and laughter at this wedding. She complained about this also. Then she went on to complain about our lack of respect to the Tabernacle, and about my “allowing women to dress this way,” to which I answered that while I did not have any problem about how women dressed for the wedding—seriously, there were all dressed properly, in my opinion—I also had no control over how out-of-town people would dress for a wedding. At this point, realizing how adequate this conversation was for the Gospel this weekend, I asked her if she was planning to attend Mass here—as many of the guests had told me they would come to Mass on Sunday. Mind you, I am not inviting her. Well aware of the gospel for the weekend, I just want to make sure she is not coming so I can preach about this conversation. She said she did not think she could attend Mass with us, as she was sure that we would give communion in the hand “in this place.” We actually give communion in either of the forms accepted by the Church, in the hand being one of the two.
How does this dialogue connect with the parable? In her concern for rules, most of them rules she has made up herself, she forgot her real role during the ceremony, which was to share in the joy of the sacrament of marriage, and to pray for the bride and the groom. She could not experience the joy of the wedding banquet, the image that Jesus gives to explain the Kingdom.
This image of the wedding banquet reminds us that our way of living faith, from coming to Mass to everything else, should be done with a sense of joy—a joy that is a choice. We all have problems and difficulties, but we can opt to be joyful. The invitation to the banquet is open to those who are able to participate joyfully. Interestingly, the first document the Holy Father promulgated was titled, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
The second condition to attend the banquet of the Kingdom is a sense of search. Those invited first did not make it, but then the King of the parable sends his servants to look for anybody, bad and look alike, on the “main roads.” The ones who end up filling the hall are those who were “on the road,” still searching. This attitude would be in contrast with the woman at the wedding, who had reached a place of self-righteousness (the sin of the Pharisees) from where she thought she could judge everything and everybody. To participate in the banquet in the Kingdom, we need to be a people with more questions than answers; more doubts than certainties; people still seeking, searching, wondering, questioning. A people on the move—mentally and physically—pilgrims in a pilgrim Church. The contrary of this is the sin of complacency, which affects so many Christians today.
Lastly, responsibility. The last part of the parable tells the story within the story of the guest without the wedding garment. The problem of this particular guest was not the lack of garment, but that when the King asks him about it, “he was reduced to silence.” This silence, this lack of a response is what takes him out of the banquet. Thus, we are asked to be individuals who are able to respond, able to give reasons for what we do and say, and also individuals able to respond to the constant questions that life throws at us. Interestingly, the word “responsible” has the same root of “response.” A responsible person is someone able to give a response.
These days, the Vatican is celebrating a Synod on the Family, which will be completed next year in a second session. If anything, this is an effort led by the Holy Father, to respond to the new realities affecting our understanding of the family. It is a Church making an effort to respond with new answers to the questions of today, instead of resorting to concepts forged centuries ago—as we have done so many times in the past.
Back to the beginning, the parable was addressed to the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were simply unable to experience joy; they had forgotten to keep searching; they had become unable to respond.