15 October 2023 | Frank Gillies
There are times when it is difficult to be optimistic about human nature. This is one of those times. Not only is there the ongoing war ‘by choice’ in Ukraine, and civil wars in various countries – Sudan, Syria – plus oppression in many countries, but now also the brutality of hatred and war in Israel and Gaza. Yes, human beings are capable of great good, but to quote lines from an Indigo Girls’ song, “it seems that darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable. And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear”. That light is replaced by a self-centred selfishness which views the ‘other’ as not of equal worth, as lesser, which leads to discrimination, division, oppression, to hate and violence, breeding a desire for vengeance and retribution. This is underpinned by false knowledge – secularism and atheism – that cuts people off from God, or by theologies of a false understanding that distorts God’s love.
But the world is crying out for that call of lightness that so often is not seen or heard. It is not a light invented by people, or founded on human institutions or ways of governing, but is the light that comes from the creator – a loving God who wants us to know him, to have a relationship with him, to know that he loves and cares for us and that the purpose – the real fulfilment – of our lives is found in knowing and experiencing love – of and from God and of each other.
In today’s Gospel reading where Jesus uses a parable of a wedding banquet to explain the Kingdom of Heaven, guests are invited to a banquet for the king’s son (in the king and his son, we can see God and Jesus) – but they refuse to come! The guests ‘made light of the invitation and went away’. They simply did not care. They were more concerned with their own interests – a farm or business – they ignored the invitation. Then the invitation is thrown open to everyone on the streets – ordinary people – people who previously had not been part of the king’s circle. Men and women from every background and social condition, those who don’t really know the king. Those guests represent us, all of us, because it is with each of us that God wants to celebrate. The Gospel message is not to a particular group but is to all peoples no matter their ethnicity or status – especially the poor, those at the margins, the forgotten … those on the ‘main street’ in life including the ‘good and the bad’.
The invitation that many had rejected is a call to a relationship with God. No one is excluded. God’s invitation to heaven is free and universal. It is God who takes the initiative offering us a relationship with him. Not that of a subject to a ruler; he invites us as a parent and a friend to not only do good and observe his commandments, but to find him, to know him, in love, trust and forgiveness. God is the opposite of selfishness. He continues to invite us, and in the face of rejection includes even more people – God responds with more love. Despite the wrongs and sins of this world, God sent his Son to live amongst us and to suffer and die for us, to redeem us. As we will say in the acclamation during the Great Thanksgiving, ‘…. we remember Jesus in whose life and death we see the meaning of love’. God does good in the face of sin, because that is what Love is – it makes Love and is the only way that evil can be defeated.
There is one final aspect that the Gospel reading emphasises, highlights, and that is the dress of the guests: in the parable, it is a necessity to wear a ‘wedding garment’. The guest who was thrown out of the banquet for not wearing a wedding robe represents those who do not ‘put on the garment’. What is this garment? It can be looked at, interpreted, this way: that it is not enough to answer the invitation and say ‘yes, God’, and stop at that. We have to put on the clothes of living and applying God’s will – the clothes of Love. St Paul explains it well in his 1st letter to the Corinthians, when he writes … ‘If I do not have love, I gain nothing’ (I Cor. 1: 13). It is Love freely given in living for ‘beyond ourselves’ every day, of applying God’s will to Love. That is what I think the wedding garment represents – what is needed to celebrate the banquet with God. The parable ends with, ‘for many are called, but few chosen’ – now we can see what that means: we are all called, but without love we are not among the chosen.
I began by saying it can be difficult to be optimistic about human nature. It too often has been, is, self-destructive. There is darkness. Yet there is a call of light revealed in Jesus Christ which is the answer to hatred and violence. The one real hope for human beings lies in following God – particularly the teachings of Jesus – to live our lives seeking justice, having a spirit of forgiveness and of acceptance of others despite differences, and by so doing, to nurture healing, peace and love.
God doesn’t lose hope and has not given up on us. He constantly invites us to himself. To live with an outreach of love to others, to overcome our inward-looking self-centeredness. Just as the king sent out an invitation, God sends an invitation to all of us, to be his witnesses in the World… so in what we say, what we do, how we react to and treat others, we show some of that light of God’s love to the world and the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus came to bring about.