Matthew 22: 1-14
In today’s gospel, Jesus offers us another parable about the kingdom of heaven. This does not mean a kingdom located in heaven but a community of believers on earth who accept the rule of God and who hope to find a place eventually in heaven. Matthew often uses the term “kingdom,” and it is sometimes translated as “reign.” I think there is a problem here because these words suggest political power and many people have experienced such power as tyranny. I have my own more existential definition of the gospel kingdom: it is God’s dream for his beloved children.
In the parable, those who were first invited to the banquet would be the people of ancient Israel, who often violated the covenant and resisted the prophets. At the time of Jesus, they found it impossible to let go of their traditions in order to make room for his revolutionary message.
Those brought in from the streets to fill the banquet hall would be the outsiders; including the Gentiles who, in many cases, gladly responded to Jesus’ universal invitation. However, some of them too were unwilling to be fully converted and thus were lacking the proper “wedding garment” of unselfish love.
One of the most dangerous temptations for traditional Christians is an easy assumption that they have responded to God’s invitation and are now comfortably seated at the banquet waiting for their final and inevitable heavenly reward. This temptation is so insidious because it really is based on the fact of faithful religious observance.
Our lovely wedding garment begins to look somewhat soiled and shabby, however, when we begin to probe our hidden prejudices. Most of us claim not to be prejudiced, of course, but it is almost certain that such a claim is in fact the worst prejudice of all, for it means that we are not even conscious of our biases. It is much better to be aware of them so that we can at least try to correct our attitudes.
It is precisely traditional and confident Christian communities that are most likely to be burdened by racism and sexism. It is so easy to forget that Jesus associated freely and lovingly with all kinds of people who were considered unworthy by the “upright” folks of his day. This reminds us that the true characteristics of followers of Jesus are love and tolerance and respect for others, regardless of their social status or perceived unworthiness.
This does not at all imply that one should condone unseemly or sinful behavior. But, as Matthew also reminds us, we should spend at least as much time removing the log from our own eye as in searching for the speck in our neighbor’s eye (Chapter 7: verses 3-5). Pride is such an insidious attitude that it can spoil even our best efforts. I find it helpful to consider that definition of pride which notes that it is not so much the tendency to think too much of oneself as it is to think too little of others. How we think of others, and how tolerant we are of their shortcomings, will tell us a lot about whether we think too highly of ourselves.
Father Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.