Today’s gospel invites us to enter into the wild heart of God’s all-embracing love! I say “wild,” because it certainly is not the heart of one who calculates the dangers of risk-taking. God doesn’t seem to operate with a long-range strategic plan. In fact, those who have too much of their lives focused on success and getting the highest possible return on their investments, simply don’t understand this wild love of God.
The first ones invited to the wedding feast that the king in today’s gospel threw for his son were too busy to attend. One of the invites had to tend to the farm, another to his lucrative business. Others chose violence, pretending to know better than the king himself how to run the kingdom. They took up arms and murdered the very ones who had been sent out to welcome everybody into the great banquet hall!
So the king had no other option but to switch to Plan ‘B’: Let the little people into the hall! The good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the holy ones and the sinners! All they need to do is to show up!!
All of us have been invited to the wedding feast of the king’s son!! Yes, it sounds wild, but it’s true!! I was shocked recently to hear that a very well-known religious song in the United States, entitled “All are Welcome,” had been banned by the local bishop! I suspect that once he reads today’s gospel he will want to amend his mistake! The king in the gospel invited everybody to the party! Only those who were too busy making money were left out of the great party. All were welcomed!
But this same parable throws in a surprise towards the end. One man entered without his wedding garment on. My reaction, and I suspect most of you have the same one, is that the king needed to cut the guy a bit of slack. After all, if you welcome everyone to your banquet from the local homeless shelters and soup kitchens, you certainly can’t expect them to all come with their Sunday-go-to meetin’ clothes on! All of a sudden it sounds like maybe all are not welcome. So what happened?
Well, this parable brings to mind a piece of my childhood! In fact, I bet lots of us had this experience as kids! I remember many times, after being given a cookie or a new toy to play with, my Mom would glance at me with an expectant look on her face and say, “And what’s the magic word?” Realizing that once again I had forgotten the most important thing of all, I’d look up at my mother and say. “Thank you, Mom.”
That would be followed by the best part of all – a hug and a kiss, or at least a great big smile and pat on the head!
Everyone is welcomed into the banquet hall of God’s love. God does not close the door to anyone. But! To stay in the wedding feast, we have to know how to say the magic word – “Thank you.” This is something that we are reminded of every time our faith community gathers to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving. When we gather as God’s people, we gather to say the magic word, to give thanks for the free gift of grace – God’s all-abundant love. If we are unable to recognize that God’s love is a free gift, and cannot bring ourselves to give thanks, then we exclude ourselves from the Eucharist.
Today the Church remembers St. Rose of Lima, the first person born in the Americas to become a saint. Her life is often misunderstood. It is told that as a young girl she cut all her hair off and rubbed hot chili peppers on her lovely face so that she would not have to marry. Her family was part of the high society of colonial Peru, and it was simply expected that she would wed one of the aristocratic sons of Lima. By not marrying, though, she was able to do what her heart really felt called to do: turn part of the house into a little hospital for the poor – a hospital where everyone was welcomed!! And against all odds, that’s exactly what she did! Just imagine the gossip floating around high-class Lima when it was learned that little Rose, the daughter of Don Gaspar Flores and Maria de Olivia, had opened a clinic in their living room!
Rose of Lima, like her friend, Martin de Porres, who lived four blocks away in the Dominican priory, joined forces to make sure that no one would be left out of the banquet hall of God’s love and mercy. God’s heart does not exclude anyone. All that life offers us is a gift. All that God offers us is a gift. Our response is to join hands around the table of God’s infinite love, the table where Jesus breaks open his body and pours out his blood, and give thanks. The Eucharist is not a place of exclusion. In the wedding banquet of God’s Son, all are welcome. Our response is to say “thank you.” Yes, it is as simple as saying the magic word.
Brian J. Pierce, OP