Who would ever turn down an invitation for a banquet that features “rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines?” We all have our favorite excuses that we use to turn down even the best invitations. These images from the Prophet Isaiah we hear on the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time are meant to be enticing. “Every tear will be wiped away and death will be destroyed forever.” All I can say is wow! As good as this sounds, we could still find an excuse. But why?
Most of us love to receive invitations to fabulous events but sometimes they come with a catch. What’s the saying, nothing is really free? The banquet to which God invites us has an expectation. Even though everyone is invited, rich or poor, there is an expectation that the attendees would be wearing the proper wedding garment. But what is that wedding garment and where does a person get it?
Take a look at the guest list: Everyone is invited. All the groups of people who think they are better than everyone else are invited. Everyone who has a home and those who don’t are invited. Those who have a homeland and those who are away from their homeland are invited. Those considered public sinners and those of us who are better at hiding our sins. The rich and the poor will be allowed in the feast, if they are wearing the proper wedding garment.
Jesus isn’t using this Gospel story as a fashion statement. He is trying to get us to look at more than outer appearances and the usual criteria for who is and who isn’t important. Strip away the money and prestige. Take away the cultural status and the codes of purity. Take away the social lists and badges of honor. Take away anything that separates us from one another in superficial ways. What is left but the proper wedding garment. Jesus asks us to come with a humble and contrite heart. He asks us to live as one family, under His name. He asks us to have no division among us. He asks us to “put on Christ.”
We would all love to accept the invitation, but we have so much work to do before we can appear dressed correctly. Take a look at your own world. It is made up of those you love and those you hate. It includes those you think are valuable and those you think are not. There are those who you would gladly sit next to at the banquet and those who you wouldn’t even be willing to share a table with. There are those who we don’t even notice and hope we never have to. We have so much more work to do before we can walk into that banquet properly dressed. Thanks be to God we are all still breathing. We still have the opportunity to be ready when the banquet is given to us. Each day, we can choose to have a more humble and contrite heart, if only we follow the dream of God “that all might be one.”
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.