God’s Invitation to us
Today’s Gospel (Matt 22:1-14) is a parable about an invitation to a wedding, not just any wedding, but the royal wedding of the king’s son.
In Michelangelo’s famous fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the finger of God is reaching towards Adam drawing him into life. It is a picture of invitation and free response. Adam must accept the invitation to life.
God invites but does not force us. Our response to God must be in love and love has to be free. That is the amazing gift of free will allotted to human beings, made in the image and likeness of God. It is free will that enables us to love. God invites us to come and be part of the divine family as heirs of the kingdom of heaven.
The king issued invitations to his son’s wedding. Matthew tells us that this parable of invitation and rejection was addressed to the chief priests and elders of the Jews. He addressed his gospel principally to his fellow Jews at the time when the division had widened between the Jews who accepted Jesus Christ and those who did not accept. The great wedding was in the unification of heaven and earth in the incarnation when God the Son is united with us in human flesh. Those who were invited to come to the wedding banquet did not accept. We are told that they were not interested. One went off to his farm, another to his business. I’m sure they regarded these as good excuses. Did you ever hear anybody saying, “I have a poor excuse”? It’s always a good excuse. There is great wisdom in the Irish word for an excuse, leathsceal, which literally means half a story. The full truth of this parable is that they were not interested. As the story proceeds, apathy turns into violence as servants of the king were maltreated and killed. Christian Jews were barred from local synagogues and persecution had begun when Matthew was writing.
The Joy of the Gospel
Let us move forward to our own time. Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation called The Joy of the Gospel, begins with God’s invitation to us. “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (Paragraph 1). As in the parable of the royal wedding, Pope Francis highlights some dangers causing people to be uninterested in God’s invitation: consumerism, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures and blunted conscience. “Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ” (Paragraph 2).
A Daily Encounter
Pope Francis proceeds to invite all Christians to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ and to do this every day. “Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace’.” This is the embrace of God who is wedded to us in the mission of Jesus.
Jesus invited various people to come and follow him. Many did follow but others turned the other way, like those who did not accept his teaching on becoming the Bread of Life for us. Another who turned away was the rich young man who rejected his invitation to sell what he had to share with the poor. His face fell at these words and he went away very sad because he was very rich.
The Lord invites us to come in quiet prayer to listen to his invitations.
Come to me when your burdens are heavy and I will give you rest.
Come to me in your loneliness and I will be your friend, your forever friend.
Come to me with your sins and I will grant you merciful forgiveness.
Come to me when you feel confused and let me be your way, your truth and your life.
Come to me when you feel lost, for I am the Shepherd who searches for the lost.
Come to me in your spiritual hunger for, in the Eucharist, I am the Bread of Life.
Yes, Lord, I answer, I hear your words and rejoice to accept your invitation, this day and every day.