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Declining with regrets

Gospel Commentary MT 22:1-14 

The big banquet halls used for wedding receptions try to offer their clients and guests an elegant and festive celebration. We can think of the fine tablecloths and good food served stylishly and with care. The guests are impressed, the host is proud. A good time is had by all, or not by all. Some tables have empty seats, the guests there look across to find no one to agree with their comments about the weather, the food, and, of course, the handsome couple. Adventurous guests, awaiting wedding cake, might make their way up to the table where the names of the missing are kept. The host himself might be annoyed to see the names of the invited ones who never came, especially, if you please, they actually responded.

The parable Jesus tells us today calls to mind the invited guests who have better things to do. The king in the parable invites his guests and sends servants out to remind them. He learns that they have refused the invitation. He learns that others have ignored the invitation in favor of work, and worse, some respond by murdering the servants.

The king has a great feast prepared. The king invites special guests. They are so special that they don’t give him the time of day, as we say. We can imagine the levels of emotion the king would experience. Surely he was disappointed at the empty tables. He was angry at the mistreatment of his servants and reacts in kind. Still, though, he wants the celebration to be right, he wants to see the banquet hall filled with guests.

Leaving aside the failed guest list (the list of failed guests?), he decides to try again. Anyone and everyone are invited now by his servants. The good and the bad alike (one wonders if the original list might have included them, too?) are summoned, everyone the servants can find. Imagine the difference in the tone of the celebration. The hall is filled with people who weren’t looking for a party but now find themselves at a very nice one. It is amusing to imagine that the newly married couple now would have an excuse for not knowing each guest. It seems that the celebration would have to be more fun, certainly more relaxed. In the jovial atmosphere there is only one negative note — one guest arrives improperly dressed, he is confronted by the king and dismissed.

What does it all mean? We are reminded that it is polite to fill out the RSVP cards we receive (even if the hosts haven’t stamped the return envelope). We are reminded that we should attend if we said we would attend. Of course, more than these, we learn that our King has prepared a great feast for us. He invites us to attend. He wants us to attend. He invites and wants everyone to attend. He wants to share with us and have us celebrate joyfully the fact that His Son has become like us and has come to save us. The truth of what has been done for us is made “celebratable” in the perpetual offering of the Holy Mass, the Banquet of His Sacrificial Love.

It turns out, as we know, that many people find other things to do. “We have lots going on right now, etc.” Or, “I just don’t get anything out of it.” When we respond this way it might help us to imagine the disappointed king, the joyful king who would not take “no” for an answer. That king is God, our Father.  When we are among the few who love the Mass we can act as His servants who have the task of bringing more and many others to share with Him His joy. At some banquet halls the food really is good. At this banquet they serve bread from Heaven. We should thank Him that there are seats available, even as we strive to make sure there are none left empty.

Fr. Zuberbueler is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017