28th Sunday in Ordinary time

Over the last 20 years I’ve seen my fair share of weddings, and I’ve attended a good number of wedding parties in Poland as well as here in Scotland. Generally speaking, weddings in both countries look outwardly pretty similar. There is one significant difference, though. In Scotland there are a couple of complimentary drinks provided at the start of the wedding reception. If the wedding guests want more, they put the hand in the sporran for the drinks at the bar. In Poland, food and alcohol are both provided freely and are paid for by the newlyweds. The Polish model is closer to the biblical one. Surely you remember that wedding at Cana, when the wine ran out and Jesus turned gallons of water into wine? Without his miraculous intervention, the newlyweds would have been deeply embarrassed and ashamed. That model, with newlyweds covering all the costs, is very expensive indeed. So, when suddenly the guests who have been invited to the wedding don’t bother to turn up, it affects the couple and their families negatively on many levels. I hope you now understand the context of the parable in today’s gospel a bit better.

Because it’s a parable, it shouldn’t be considered as Jesus’ advice on how to organise weddings, or how to deal with those ungrateful guests who fail to show up after having accepted an invitation. There again, inviting random strangers to a wedding reception could certainly be asking for trouble. We know that sometimes even invited guests can stir up, particularly when alcohol consumption is heavy. So, what does this parable mean to us then?

First of all, Jesus addresses his parable to ‘the chief priests and elders of the people’; in other words, he directs it towards those in official religious or communal authority. So, then it hardly applies to any of us, does it? Personally, I can exercise my authority only over my dog – and that’s where it stops. Back to the parable, another group of people Jesus mentions includes those random passers-by, ‘bad and good alike, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.’ Finally, there’s one of those incidental wedding guests not properly dressed for the occasion, who is eventually thrown out. It seems to be rather difficult for us to identify with any of those people that the parable mentions. Or is it?

Let’s put the literal interpretation aside and dig a bit deeper. The chief priests and elders of the people were religiously and morally rigid and strict. They considered themselves to be the very models of righteousness and integrity. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that perception. But, entirely unrepentant themselves for their own shortcomings, from their self-regarding high moral ground they despised, disdained and scorned those they considered to be less-than-perfect or even downright sinners. The latter were trapped in a moral Catch-22. In Christendom there’s no shortage of people with similar attitudes; ‘good Christians’ who otherwise have little sympathy or understanding for those ensnared in their own Catch-22s such as a broken marriage, or a troubled past or a challenging present, or maybe holding attitudes that don’t fall within a strict and rigid code, and so on. As far as those ‘good Christians’ are concerned, the Church is no place for such waifs and strays; they are not perfect.

In today’s parable, Jesus offers a completely different vision of the Church: ‘the servants went out on the roads and collected together everyone they could find, bad and good alike; and the wedding hall was filled with guests.’ The Church is supposed to be a community of people who are imperfect, weak, anxious, doubtful, troubled – you name it. Such people gather together to support each another, to grow together spiritually, either to find a way out of their troubled lives or to find a way forward. It’s like helping one another to make the essential spiritual garment in readiness for dressing appropriately for the occasion when the time finally comes. Can we do this as a community? Yes, we can! I’m going to tell you what the first step in the right direction actually is. You won’t like it. The first step is to challenge your perception of yourself as a decent Christian. Discern your own weaknesses and shortcomings and then you might become less judgmental, more sympathetic and more understanding of others. Will you take up that challenge? The final line in today’s gospel is this: ‘many are called, but few are chosen.’

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