Oct 6, 2011

28th Sunday: A Divine RSVP


The banquet is ready, come to the feast.

If you received in your mail an invitation to the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, I would imagine that most would have moved heaven and earth in order to go. All the trappings, pomp and circumstance surrounding the entire affair would have made for once in a life-time memory. Regardless of how one may feel about the royal family, such an event would have been quite the affair. But, the obvious question would be "why?" Why am I invited? Who am I in regards to the royal family? The answer would come, "Because the Queen wants you there."

But, suppose that no one responded to the invitation and that all the Queen received were excuses.  It’s very hard to imagine such a turn of events but I doubt that Her Majesty would have been pleased.  In fact, she would have been insulted and most likely her royal anger would have been displayed through some un-royal expression.

The same feeling would come over any of us who had been stood up after arranging some major event, not to mention disappointment. 
The Gospel for this Sunday presents parable about a King who was stood up by his invited guests.  His reaction must have struck fear in the heart of his subjects.  No one refuses the King and why would you anyway? 

While we surely are somewhat thrown off by the violence of the parable, which reflects the historical context in which it was related by Matthew, Jesus offers this story of a King who doesn’t give up.  A King who insists on not eating alone and who is blind enough to false social status that he is willing to throw all that to the wind.

Rather than be concerned about his own royal reputation, he is determined to invite anyone who would come.  They receive everything that the original invited guests were to receive – and more in fact.  But one stipulation; you must be properly dressed for the banquet.

In the mind of the early Christians and in our own present day understanding, we see here a reference to the garment of baptism.  The early Christians were very mindful of who had joined their “way” and who did not.  Baptism was the entry and around the Eucharistic feast only those properly initiated into the Christian faith would share in the feast of the Eucharist.
The King (God the Father) offered his Son (Jesus) for the invited guests but rather than be concerned about privilege and status, this King desires that we all share in the bounty of salvation.  The Eucharist is an invitation to come to the feast but to also live a life of righteousness.  It is a banquet between equals in the eye of God. But, it is an invitation that requires a response.

To be “properly dressed” is to choose to respond to the invitation of the King and to arrive in the proper attire of a life lived according to the Gospel.  To be people who have nurtured the seed of faith and the Holy Spirit planted in their souls at Baptism.
In the new translation of our English language Mass we hear the phrase offered to the priest’s own address to the congregation, “The Lord be with you.”  As the people answer, “And with your spirit” they acknowledge the presence of the Spirit in the priest who has made him to be priest for the people he serves.  The Spirit who guided Jesus in his earthly ministry; the Spirit which descended on Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan; the Spirit which worked powerfully in the miracles of healing and the Spirit which Jesus breathed upon the Apostles after the resurrection.  Jesus passed on that same Spirit to his Apostles and they in turn passed it on to their successors who ordain priests into service. 

The people’s response of “And with your Spirit,” is addressed to the priest.  In effect the people answer, “May the Lord, who’s Spirit has made you to be priest for us, now work in you on our behalf.” It is the Spirit that Jesus has passed on to his ordained ministers and the people acknowledge that. 
While some may feel this smacks of a clericalism, it is not a commentary on the priests personality, his age, experience, or even his moral state before God.  It is a response rooted both in the spirit of liturgy and theology. 

Yet, proper dress here resides not only in the priest but also in the people. The Holy Spirit resides in the Church and in the heart of all believers through baptism and confirmation.  That same Spirit makes us to be one and unites the Church as one around the word and altar of the Lord. 
How beautiful and ancient a phrase that is.  We put on the Spirit of God given to each of us and we recognize the role of the priest who offers sacrifice not only for the people but also for himself, as the book of Hebrews reminds us: Hebrews 5: 1-3.

So, we hear “Behold, I have prepared my banquet . . . and everything is ready, come to the feast.” Am I properly “dressed?” Do I acknowledge the overwhelming generosity of the King who desires that all be with him? Such an invitation, that he would invite YOU to his banquet demands a heart of gratitude and a life lived according to his will.

Let's send back an RSVP with a "Yes" and be sure to check the wardrobe!