28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 15, 2017 [Matthew 22:1-14]
“Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find!” (Mat 22:1)
Jesus is already in Jerusalem. The confrontations between Jesus and the Jewish authorities have turned bitter, and Jesus is approaching His final days on earth. With this context, the parable may be understood easily. The invited guests stand for some elite Israelites who refuse Jesus, and thus, reject God Himself. The burning of their towns and cities may point to the invasion of the Roman Empire and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The commoners who are later invited represent the people from all nations who accept Christ. Yet, some people who are already at the Wedding banquet do not wear the expected wedding garment. This proper dress decorum is a basic sign that the guests are honoring the host, and also becomes the symbol of our faith, our good works and our holy lives. For those who fail to honor the King through their garment are thrown out from the banquet.
At that level, the parable is indeed easy to comprehend. We are called not to imitate the example of some elite Israelites but to receive eagerly God’s invitation. As to the wedding garment, we are also expected to live out our faith to the fullest. However, something continues to bother me within this interpretation. It presents a conflicting image of a king that is authoritarian and vengeful and a king who is exceptionally generous, seen in his persistence to invite his first set of guests, and his openness to accept the ordinary people. As to the first image, he exacts his justice in violent ways. Like any king in ancient times, he will destroy the people who dishonor him, to the point of burning their towns or throwing them into darkness. If we are not careful enough, we may identify this king with our image of God. We may believe that our God is a God who rewards the good and punishes the wrongdoers even with severe and violent ways. He is easily offended by simple mistakes, and is not compassionate enough as to give a second chance.
We remember that we are created in the image of God. Now if we have this kind of vindictive and unforgiving God, then we gradually behave like that image of violent God. In the Philippines, where the majority are Christians, the killings of alleged criminals are in steady rise. Surprisingly, some people seem to approve it and even happy with this bloody happenings. This attitude might be a reflection of our image of God that is vengeful and violent.
This kind of God’s image may manifest also in more subtle ways. Despite their sincere apology, it is difficult to forgive a friend who has hurt us, a husband who has betrayed us, or a boss who has acted unjustly. As husband and father, we act like a supreme leader, and refuse to listen to our wives and other family members. As priests, religious sisters, or lay leaders, we think that we are always right and do not accept any correction. We focus on the weakness of others, rather than their struggles to become better. Instead helping them to rise from their failures, we ridicule them and enjoy gossiping about them. These are some instances that we are influenced by the false image of God. This kind of image is only preventing our growth in faith, but also destroying our healthy relationship with others.
I believe that some asects of the parable remain true and relevant, like God’s radical openness to all people, and our faith that has to be lived fully. Yet, in more profound level, the parable challenges our false image of god, the god who is vindictive and violent. It invites us to rediscover God’s image in the person of Jesus who loves us to the end, and dies so that we may live.
Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP