Translation of the Epistle for the Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Brethren, Be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, who according to God, is created in justice and holiness of truth. Wherefore, putting away lying, speak ye the truth every man with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and sin not. Let not the sun go down upon your anger. Give not place to the devil. He that stole, let him now steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have something to give to him that suffers need.
Continuation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew
At that time, Jesus spoke to the chief priests and the Pharisees in parables, saying: The kingdom of Heaven is likened to a king, who made a marriage for his son; and he sent his servants, to call them that were invited to the marriage, and they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying: Tell them that were invited: Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come ye to the marriage. But they neglected and went their way, one to his farm, and another to his merchandise; and the rest laid their hands on his servants, and having treated them abusively, put them to death. But when the king heard of it, he was angry and sending his armies, he destroyed those murderers, and burnt their city. Then he saith to his servants: The marriage indeed is ready, but they that were invited were not worthy, Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as you shall find, call to the marriage. And his servants going forth into the ways, gathered together all that they found, both bad and good and the marriage was filled with guests. And the king went in to see the guests, and he saw there a man who had not on a wedding garment: and he saith to him: Friend, how came thou in hither, not having on a wedding garment? But he was silent. Then the king said to the waiters: Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.
Transcription of Homily
The saving words of the Gospel.
Many are called but few are chosen.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost. Amen.
This parable, like a number of the parables, seems to be almost the entirety, a distillation, of salvation history. In it, we see Our Lord speaking of Himself as a prince, of a marriage feast that has no end in Heaven, and this invitation is given. It’s spurned at first and we know that… Thomas Aquinas, in a commentary on this passage, he says that the first wave of those who are inviting to the wedding feast are the patriarchs. And then there’s a second wave, who are also rejected and dismissed, and those are the prophets. And then, it jumps to the Apostles. And Our Lord gives them, in the in the last words of Matthew’s Gospel, Go ye therefore, baptizing all nations. And so, this last wave are the Apostles who will, to a man, with the exception of John, be put to death. And then, we see the destruction of the City which corresponds to the destruction of Jerusalem. It says that Our Lord was angry. We know that God and angels do not have emotions. So, it’s all intellect or wills. So, this anger is simply the justice that has befallen those who have rejected the Logos. And this is just a cause and effect. Right? Our Lord doesn’t desire the death of the unjust. He doesn’t desire sin. These are all of a piece when one sins that’s just part of the package. Right? This rejection of Christ then brings with it all sorts of consequences that are substantially united to the sinful choice. So, Our Lord is not vindictive, as we’ll see. And then, the parable skips to the General Judgment at the end of time in the eschaton; of the coming of the Bridegroom in glory, and one man is picked out. He’s scrutinized by the King, when God the Father comes and scrutinizes his soul, and notices that he’s not dressed in the wedding garment.
What is the wedding garment?
The wedding garment is the life of grace. Paul speaks about this. He says in baptism we put on Christ. We see this in Galatians 3. We see this in 1 Corinthians Chapter 13. Christ is called a garment, which we put on ourselves. In other words, He covers us, but this covering is a spiritual covering that we received in baptism. And we see a reminder of that with a pall over a casket in the funeral rite. So, this is the shroud. This is a death shroud. It’s a new garment. It’s Christ Himself. So that’s really kind of a Patristic explanation of what’s going on here.
But let’s go back to the very beginning because the context of this parable is going to give us a keen glimpse into the heart of this Divine Lover, this Spouse, this Divine Spouse who’s chosen you to be His bride.
This chapter begins with the words, and He responded to them saying this parable. So, what is the response, and who is the response to? It’s to the Chief Priests, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. And what is this response to? He had just told them some other parables in Chapter 21, and they were so incensed that they wanted, as it says in the Gospel, they wanted to lay hands on Him. Not in the charismatic way. They wanted to lay hands on Him. Right? To do Him violence; to arrest Him.
And this is His response.
His response is an invitation into His own joy. An invitation to be married to Him. Now sometimes we can become jaded by certain terms, we can become a little, so to say, have an antipathy for certain terms like joy and mercy, not because we are at odds with the concepts, but rather because of their misuse. And sometimes, we can allow the evil one to win the day in our hearts by making us see those terms as problems. Okay? If we see those as problems we got the problem. And this is a danger we all are at risk of.
For example, when I was young, I remember going into a church and seeing a bad felt banner in pastel colors. And on it, it said, “we are Easter people and hallelujah is our song,” and I thought, “Oh brother, what kind of a hippie wrote this?” And I go and look, and it says, “St. Augustine of Hippo.” And so, clearly, the problem is not with this Doctor of the Church. Okay? I had an irrational emotional response to something that is actually true, and beautiful, and good.
And what is this parable all about? Christ has created us for joy. He’s created us for joy and this joy comes from worshiping Him. We were created to worship Him. We’re good at compartmentalizing things, of fragmenting our hearts by thinking that the things that I do are at odds with Him, and maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, but everything has to be submitted to Him ultimately. So why not start now? And when we live this life of worship, of true worship of God, there is true life. There’s also true joy and as this becomes our way of being, a habit, the joy and the life become almost interchangeable. They blur. They’re kind of just one thing. We can’t even distinguish them.
So, Our Lord is vilified. He’s attacked. He’s threatened, and He makes this invitation to enter into His joy. And so, this parable not only describes our own vocation, to be married to God, and that subject is a very deep one, which we don’t have time today, we’ll go into that at another time. But it’s also revealing of His Heart. Right? He doesn’t respond in kind to those who would like to arrest Him, who would like to kill Him. Every new insult, every rejection, seems to stimulate a new creativity in Him: A desire to persuade, to call.
In fact, the word call, the word call, the Greek word call is used six times in this Gospel, which underscores — sometimes, you know, with an idiomatic translation, we can lose this notion of repetition of terms — but it’s used six times in different ways –call, invite, etc. — it’s the same root Greek. Well, why is this? Why is this word repeated six times? Because it’s a divine initiative. It’s His call. Right? He is the one who’s doing the invitation. It’s His project. It’s His initiative. It’s His great desire. His great longing for us to heed His invitation, to answer the call.
Interestingly, too, it says those who are called, then become something else: those who recline. So, there’s this participle in Greek; those who were reclining, those who recline. In other words, they’ve answered the call and now they’re enjoying this eternal wedding feast. And that’s exactly what He’s wanted all along for us: To enjoy Him forever.
We know, from the designs, from the words, and ultimately from the actions of the Chief Priests, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees that they are promoting a Kingdom of Man, ultimately. It’s a kingdom of man; something made to measure according to their own categories, their own preconceptions, and it’s always something that, you know, boxes things in, and creates very neat boundaries of inclusion/exclusion, and it’s always a set in abstract terms, and it’s intractable. On paper, when it’s discussed, it’s always in very abstract terms, but what shape does it take when it takes flesh? When that kingdom of man is incarnate, it’s always a tyrannical regime and a gulag. That’s how the Kingdom of Man always ends up.
The Kingdom of God is not at odds with His enemies. He wants to bring His enemies into the Kingdom through conversion. This is the difference. This is the difference between Our Lord and us.
When you tell a child a fairy tale, the child can imagine everything you tell him, and when you’re done telling the fairy tale, he sighs because he’s got the concepts, he’s imagined it, and he knows, ultimately, this is not real. On the other hand, this parable is so hyperreal, that Our Lord uses the least inadequate words possible to describe the Kingdom of Man, which is marriage.
Thomas Aquinas in his commentary on the Creed says the act of faith has four qualities, the first of which is akin to betrothal with God. I will espouse you in faith, Hosea says. God says in Hosea Chapter 2:20, I will espouse you in faith. And so, unlike the fairy tale, which every child can imagine, what Our Lord has prepared for us, as says Paul in Corinthians, No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind can imagine the wonders He is prepared for those who love Him. So, the problem is not His inability to express the truth. The problem ultimately is simply our inability to grasp what He’s telling us.
You know, you hear people sometimes say, “I think God is trying to say…” He’s not like Flipper who has, you know, a speech impediment. Okay? He He says things clearly, it’s true. His word is creative. Okay? There isn’t any communication problem on His side. Okay? We’re the ones with the problem that because we have a business, because we have our belonging, as we hear in the Gospel, we sometimes have better things to do than to be listening to His word.
What fairy tale has the king seeking out the lowliest scullery maid for his, for his son, the prince? What fairy tale has the prince seeking out somebody who has mental health problems? Somebody who is alone, who is forgotten, who has no voice, and nonetheless, exchanges places with that person, takes his sins upon himself, and dies for him to save him? What fairy tale has the one who has been killed come back to call the killers back to him?
This is the difference between the Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God. He’s called us to the Kingdom of God. Our task is to habitually respond to His call. And the more we do that the more sovereignly established we are in His Kingdom.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost. Amen.
— Fr. Ermatinger