Thanksgiving is just about here and then, of course Christmas! Regardless of your personal spiritual identity (or lack thereof), the joy and light of this season cannot fail but infect most of us with the blessing and warmth of a monthlong celebration — a wonderful party that comes but once a year.
Recently a friend, Deacon Mike Monagle, related a story found in Matthew 22, verses 1-14. This was when Jesus was confronting the Pharisees — you know, those arrogant, self-obsessed policy makers — the “important people.” Jesus recited a parable commonly called the Wedding Feast. The story goes like this:
The King sent his servants out to invite all the “important people” to an upcoming wedding feast. The King prepared a most bountiful meal and celebration. The servants return with the disappointing news that none of the “important people” would have the time or inclination to attend—they were all too busy with their land and businesses and servants. In fact, one of the “important people” captured some of The King’s servants, abused and killed them.
The King was enraged. He took revenge on the offender by burning his city.
Then, The King sent his servants into the country to invite EVERYONE to the feast — rich, poor, healthy, disabled, young and old. On the appointed day, the Great Hall was filled. The celebration and the joyous feast commenced. The party goers must have felt blessed indeed to be attending one of The King’s wonderful events!
I was struck by the fact that the holidays are a party to which we are ALL invited. Some of us are so fortunate, while many others struggle every day, whatever the season, just to survive. Yet, we are all invited to share the bounty and the generosity that springs from this celebration of faith and love. Whatever our status in life. Whatever faith we profess, or deny. Whomever were our parents. Wherever we were born. Whatever our past.
And then the story takes a twist.
The King entered the Great Hall and observed all the guests feasting and reveling in the joy and goodwill of the event. However, The King sees that one person at the party has not dressed appropriately (nor is he likely, I believe, to have brought a gift). The King approaches the person and asks, “Why are you not dressed for the feast?” The individual is speechless. The King orders him bound and thrown out into the street. The parable ends with, “Many are called; few are chosen.” I found this disturbing and not exactly representative of The King I revere.
This is where I had to ask Mike for help understanding the parable.
The King of course is God. The Feast we understand by many names—heaven, salvation, the great transition, self-realization—all the blessings that await us and infinitely more. Now, what about the clothes? What is so important about what you wear to this party?
Deacon Monagle points out, “God has been inviting us for a long time (thousands of years) to the banquet, so we too have had plenty of time to dress ourselves appropriately. The ‘garment’ we are to adorn ourselves with is righteousness. Later in Matthew (Chapter 25, verses 31-46), we learn that our ‘cloak of righteousness’ is fitted by how we treated the least among us. In other words, did we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, nurse the sick, visit the imprisoned? We are all invited (called) to the banquet (heaven), but only those who cloak themselves ‘appropriately’ will be allowed in (chosen). Note, it is not God who chooses — it is us. He lays out the invitation, but we choose whether or not to accept it.” We can put on the cloak of righteousness or not. We can BE the prayers we speak or simply recite them.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded 185 years ago by a small group of young Catholic students at Sorbonne University, Paris. As their inspiration, they took the words of Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Let’s rejoice again this year that we still receive the eternal invitation. Let us not forget the rest of the family during this wonderful party. God bless us all!
• Dan Austin is the General Manager of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Juneau. Deacon Mike Monagle is spiritual adviser to the St. Vincent de Paul Society Board of Directors.
My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.