Ez 36:23-28; Ps 51:12-15,18,19; Mt 22:1-14
Saint Bernard traveled all over Europe to invite laborers into the Lord’s Vineyard. He welcomed men of every age and ability to come and serve the Lord Alone. Into monastic communities that still cover the earth with a living sign of our future, “How good and how pleasant it is where brothers dwell as one.” The Cistercian and Trappist monasteries still seek the face of Christ and serve in his army of prayerful intercessors for those whose life is a daily battle in the world. Christian witness is never easy anywhere in our world, but it would no doubt be even more difficult without the constant and faithful prayers of the monks who follow Saint Bernard into the desert to be alone with The Alone.
The expectation we have for ourselves is so far from the expectation that the LORD has for us. The LORD has made us in his own image and likeness, and the LORD expects us to embrace our identity and grow in holiness and truth. He is the only one who can create a new heart within us; only the LORD can renew a steadfast spirit within us. To the LORD do we pray that he cast us not out from his presence and take not his Holy Spirit from us. We long deep within for the joy of salvation and for a willing spirit to do his will with great delight. Living in such joy will teach transgressors his ways, and sinners shall return to the LORD. Sacrifices and offerings the LORD will not accept. Rather, God longs for a true sacrifice of praise, a contrite spirit and a humbled heart. Such an offering the LORD will never spurn. The prophet Ezekiel wants to prove the holiness of God’s great name through our lives of pure love and holy joy. The many are invited, those for whom the Lord Christ shed his blood and broke open his body upon the altar of the cross, but few of these many want to be bothered with their wedding garment. There is no excuse for such an insult back then or, even now. The King and His Son can and do expect that we keep unstained the pure white baptismal garment given to us for the wedding supper of the Lamb.
Ezekiel was not well liked for this prophecy, “I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations, in whose midst you have profaned it.” Among the nations the People of God had not given a clear witness to the LORD and to the covenant life to which his people had been called. Indeed they profaned his holy name. Their witness was unfaithfulness not faithfulness. They took on the ideals and idols of the nations among whom they lived. Their hearts had become weighted with habits of sin and they had grown stony of heart. Their religion had become syncretistic and polluted. It does not take much effort to fall away from the path to perfection, and it is impossible to find your way home without the help of God. The LORD had to take Israel out from among the nations and take the nations out of Israel. He alone has the power to gather them from all the foreign lands and bring them back to their own land. The LORD promises to sprinkle clean water upon them to cleanse them from all their impurities and their idols. The LORD alone can give them a new heart and place a new spirit within them, so that they may live by his statutes and be careful to observe his decrees. Then they shall live in the land that he gave to their ancestors; then they shall be his people and He will be their God. Such is the desire of all who share in the New Israel. We too long for this marvelous transformation. Then and only then will our hearts be satisfied and our longings be made pure. Then the LORD will prove the holiness of his great name. Then and only then will our holiness reveal his holiness.
Neither the first group of servants nor the second group had any excuse for not wearing a wedding garment. The first group of important guests was much to busy about many things. This world and its distractions were much more important than the wedding feast. Attendance at a wedding feast is not just a matter of personal preference. There are many family relationships and social connections that have to be considered by accepting or rejecting such an invitation. Giving a negative response to your leader, monarch, king is bad enough, but to mistreat and kill the servants of the king is completely unnecessary. Indeed, it reveals their distain for the king. “The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” Such rejection and ingratitude did not destroy the joy of the king; he sent his servants among the hedgerows and alleyways to gather a crowd to celebrate with him and his son. Even among this group of party people there was one who had no respect for the occasion and who was not grateful for the invitation. The king challenged him about not wearing his wedding garment. People in every generation use clothing and accessories to reveal interior beauty and joy. However, this man’s apparel revealed only ingratitude and disrespect. The only response this man had was silence. He had no excuse, nor do we have any excuse. Each of us have been given a baptismal garment, and when we were given this festal dress the celebrant told us to, “keep this unstained and beautiful for the wedding feast of the Lamb.