I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
Jesus again spoke to them in parables, saying: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, 'Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.' But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. "But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."
Ezekiel talks of Israel becoming a purified People of God, using the classic symbol of washing with water, referring to God's lavish grace of renewal. This divine Action will prepare them for re-entry into the Promised Land, after their Exile in Babylon. It is a symbol taken up in the litufgy of Baptism, where the newly baptised are prepared for entry to the Christian community.
The gospel asks us to act firmly on a good conscience, properly guided not just by tradition but by sincere obedience to God. Jesus, in the punch-line of the parable, shows how gentiles from the byroads will share in the feast that once was reserved for Jews alone. In a later revision of the parable, the Evangelist added the phrase “bad as well as good” to describe the people from the byroads, thus reminding the reader of the final judgment. Eventually God will straighten out everything, in His all-wise, compassionate way. Till then we must wait and believe, conscious of His abundant goodness towards each of us, called in from the byroads.
An invitation is not a command. We receive many invitations in life, either verbally or in writing and we probably ignore or decline a good number of them. We are free to accept an invitation or not. God's way, relating to us is shaped more by invitation than by command. The parable Jesus speaks in the gospel this morning is about God's invitation to all of us to the banquet of life. In the story, the king who invites chosen guests to his son's wedding banquet does not cancel the meal when those who were invited all refuse; instead he invites a whole new group. That aspect of the story speaks to us of God's persistence. When the human response to God's invitation is not forthcoming, God does not cancel anything; he simply intensifies his invitation. God continues to work to ensure that as many as possible approach the banquet of life, embodied in the person of Christ who is the bread of life. The second part of the parable reminds us that saying 'yes' to the God's invitation is not a something we do once and then forget about. We have to say 'yes' to God's invitation everyday day, our lives. In the language of the parable, we have to keep putting on the wedding garment. Having been clothed with Christ at baptism, we have to keep clothing ourselves with Christ and all he stands for, day by day. [MH]