STRAYING INTO THE GUEST LIST (Mt 22:1-14): 12 October 2008 (Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
In his book What’s So Amazing about Grace? Philip Yancey talks about an interesting article that came out in The Boston Globe back in June 1990. The article, which was called “A Most Unusual Wedding Party,” tells the story of a wedding—or at least what was supposed to be a wedding. Everything had been prepared, including the expensive wedding ring. Months before the wedding, the bride and the groom-to-be planned a great reception. The couple had gone to the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Boston and painstakingly picked out the menu, the china and silver, and even the flower arrangements that they liked. The bill came to $13,000, and for something like that, they had to leave a 50% down payment.
The next few months were spent on ironing out the remaining one thousand and one details: the immaculately-white wedding cake, the limousine, and of course, last-minute finishing touches on the wedding gown. Everyone was so excited.
Then the day the invitations were about to be sent out, the groom-to-be suddenly got cold feet and told his fiancée that he really wasn’t sure if he was ready. To make a long story short, the wedding was canceled, and the woman, our potential bride, as expected, was upset.
To make matters worse, her ex-fiance disappeared altogether from the scene, leaving her the painful task of canceling all previous arrangements, including the wedding party. As if things were not bad enough, when she went to the Hyatt to cancel the reception, the Events Manager shook her head sympathetically and told her, “The contract is binding. You’re only entitled to $1,300 back. You have two options: to forfeit the rest of the down payment, or go ahead with the banquet. I’m sorry.”
Guess what the bride decided to do? She decided to go ahead with the party—not a wedding party, of course, but a big blow-out. She had the wild notion of inviting not her family and friends, but the poor people of Boston just because! So she invited the aging from the nursing homes—and still not content with that, she also sent out invitations to rescue missions and homeless shelters! Her friends, of course, thought she had gone out of her mind. “Are you crazy?” they told her, “throwing a party that’s free for all?!” “Yup,” she quipped, “all in honor of the groom.”
And so in June of 1990, the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Boston hosted a party unlike any other held there before. The homeless came; the elderly were wheeled in from their nursing homes. People who were used to picking up half-gnawed pizza from trash bins feasted instead on chicken cordon bleu. Hyatt waiters in tuxedos served champagne to senior citizens in wheelchairs and aluminum walkers. Bag ladies, drug addicts, and beggars took the night off from the streets of downtown Boston, relished the wedding cake, and danced in the most unusual wedding party of all.
I don’t know about you, but this true story sounds suspiciously like today’s parable when the king who wanted to throw a big party got regrets for RSVPs from his original guests and decided instead to invite “whomever they could find” in the streets until the party hall was filled with guests–“bad and good alike.”
What does the Lord mean by the parable? I don’t think he expects us to literally spend money and throw a party for people we don’t know—although if we did that like the bride in our story, we would certainly bring so much joy to people who have become strangers to joy. But I think there are two lessons we can draw from the gospel, and we can get the lesson depending on whom we identify with in the story.
If we identify with the party host, the king who throws the party, then our Lord is teaching us to give authentically–i.e., to share what we have, not only with our family and friends because that’s the easy part, not only with people we know or people we like, but people we don’t know because they are the people who needwhat we have to share. The real meaning of sharing—perfect sharing—is giving what we have to people who need our help and who can’t give anything to us back in return. This is authentic giving and perfect sharing—because there are no strings attached. Ours is simply not an exclusive kind of God!
But we can find yet another message in the story if we take the perspective of the party guests. When we really think about it, we are very much the guests who can’t believe our good fortune in being invited to God’s extravagant banquet of life. Don’t you sometimes feel like our names have somehow strayed into the guest list? We, all of us, have done nothing to deserve the invitation, but by God’s mercy and grace, here we are, enjoying his blessings and his generosity! Our Lord, who is the Groom of the Banquet, wants us—even us sinners and yes, especially us sinners—to be part of his celebration.
I think that is the most important lesson of all: That against our every expectation, God’s love comes to us free of charge, with no strings attached, yes, even and especially to us who don’t deserve it. And only when we realize this can we in turn give authentically and share perfectly and transform our lives into a party where everyone too is invited.
Here’s a Quick Question for you: “How do you feel about straying into God’s guest list–i.e., being a recipient of this undeserved gift of his love? What do you think can we do in return for this?” Think about it, and if you feel up to it, share a thought, a feeling, or a question.