Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.’ ” Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. (Matthew 22:1-10)
When I was a student, I took a class at the Greek Orthodox Center in Berkeley. As a way of engaging in the theology and culture of the class, I visited Ascension Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland. Too reticent to visit during Liturgy, I decided to go on a Friday night well after the conclusion of services. Upon arrival, I admired the beauty of the Cathedral’s signature golden dome, and was excited discover the church was wonderfully quiet. I took my time as I toured the vestibule and prayed in front of the vibrant iconostasis. Then I crashed a wedding. Actually, it crashed into me. As I was leaving, I heard the sounds of merriment coming from what looked to be an adjacent hall. Curious, I went to investigate, and found a wedding reception in full swing. I prepared to make a quick exit, but to no avail. A few of the family revelers caught sight of me and welcomed me into the festivities. Actually, they did more than welcome me, they insisted. No was not an option. Despite my initial protestations, I soon had a lavish cornucopia of Greek food in my hand. When I explained that I didn’t know the bride, groom or anyone of the wedding party, they said, “you’re not a stranger, you’re a visitor and visitors share our hospitality.” Disarmed by this welcome, I decided to join the party and enjoy the fleeting, if awkward, moment. The wedding baklava was nutty and sweet.
This weekend, we hear the parable of the royal wedding feast. Just as the king in the parable invites all to share in a great family celebration, so too, Jesus welcomes us to share in His blessings. The wedding feast is an image which promises the future joys of our eternal destiny as it inspires us to action now. While we are comfortable with the idea that God welcomes all to share in His life and love, we sometime don’t consider the ways which God’s invitation demands a response. Like the first guests invited in the parable, we can often make excuses for why we don’t respond to God’s promptings in our lives. We’re too busy, we have other concerns, and life gets in the way. As one person honestly shared with me, “I’m able come to Sunday Mass when the 49ers play on Monday night.” (I suggested the habit of the 7:30 a.m. Mass as a compromise!) If we’re honest with ourselves, we fail to accept God’s gracious invitation more often than we’re comfortable admitting. Yet God keeps inviting. He is not easily dissuaded and, if we are open to his presence in our lives, we are delightfully surprised by the ways he comforts us in prayer, encourages us through strangers and inspires us to serve even those whom we find difficult. The RSVP to our heavenly invitation is expected now.
That night I collided with an Orthodox wedding, God was a Greek mother-in-law, gently, if insistently, guiding me to the pita and tzatziki table. No excuse was possible, but it was up to me whether or not I enjoyed the moment. God is always inviting and eager for our response.
~Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.