28 OTA 12 October 2014 – Come to the Feast
Have you ever felt left out? Maybe you or your child did not get an invitation to a party. Maybe you have been ignored because of your race, gender, religion, sexual orientation? Maybe you have been bullied because of your looks, your clothes, your name, your social class?
In today’s gospel we heard a story about the king who threw a party for his son. At first he wanted everyone to come. We can only surmise why people turned down the invitation. The author of the gospel lived in the Roman empire which was hierarchically ordered and had no middle class.
A few powerful men, like the king in the story, ruled the empire and had the all the wealth. They were supported by big business, the military, farmers and fishermen. Women, children and outcasts were at the bottom of the social pyramid. Jesus was an advocate of this lower class; he threatened the status quo. The kingdom of heaven in this parable is offered in contrast to the Roman empire. 
Perhaps this parable sets up an ideal. The past two weeks we heard about the vineyard. It was used by the gospel writers as a symbol of God’s people. It was not a reference to property or buildings but people. The king’s banquet this week is a symbol of what God is doing in the world. Or, to put it another way. What in the world is God doing? If God is inviting everyone to come to the banquet why do many people refuse or feel left out. Why are so many mistreated because of who they are or how they dress?
The wedding garment is a reference to having a change of heart rather than a change of clothes. Street people and outcasts would not have such a garment. Yet, they would be eager to do what it takes to get food and shelter. Still they were abused because they did not satisfy the dress code on the invitation.
There are many examples today of people being shut out of the feast because of who they are or what they do. The Third Extraordinary Synod of the Family, now taking place in Rome, offers one illustration. Among other topics clergy and very few laity are currently discussing family life, same gender marriage, premarital cohabitation, divorce and remarriage.
The Catholic church is not sensitive to the marriage of same sex couples or the reception of the eucharist by someone who is divorced and remarried without an annulment. Further, family planning is thought of as something that follows natural law and not any artificial means. Some church leaders are challenging each other about the definition of marriage. One was quoted as having said, “I will stick with what Jesus said.” Another remarked in so many words, “I will stick with everything that Jesus said!”
One of the bishops made a statement during the Synod that offers a glimmer of hope and, perhaps, that a change of heart might be on the horizon. The statement indicated that pastoral care must not be exclusive, of an “all or nothing” type, but must instead be merciful, as the mystery of the church is a mystery of consolation.  Could this be a clue that new attitudes and teachings about family life and human relationships are emerging?
Another Synodal conversation had to do with “gradualism” as a theory in Catholic moral theology and pastoral practice.  Often unmentioned in local Catholic church circles, the concept suggests that none of us is perfect and that we grow gradually in our understanding of the teachings of the church, which can be demanding. When someone falls short of perfection it is better to encourage positive elements in that person’s life rather than chastise their flaws.
Gradualism would apply both to church leaders and the membership. We all grow “gradually” in our understanding of what God expects of us in helping to build up the kindom of heaven on earth.
We think of our eucharistic liturgy as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. This language is beautiful but mysterious. The readings from Isaiah and Matthew today suggest that the banquet is for everyone and that God will provide for everyone. Not everyone on this planet has experienced this merciful God for one reason or another.
Theologian Karl Rahner was a great exponent of the theory that our liturgy is for the world. What we do together at Mass is a celebration of the life, the cosmos, the animals, nature and the humanity we enjoy. Our liturgy is not intended to be the adoration of a distant God but the expression of our relationship with that God and one another.  Thus, any judgements about who may or may not participate in eucharistic banquets borders on the sensitive acknowledgement that community life is dependent on and develops out of personal relationships.
Membership in this community has its advantages. Invitations to the banquet of life are not about the clothes we wear on our human body but the spiritual values that hold and enfold us throughout each long day of our lives.  In other words, membership in our church is all about open-hearted inclusivity  Come to the feast!
1 Dennis C. Duling in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper, 2006) p. 1666
2 The seventh general Congregation, The Synod on the Family, The Pastoral Challenges concerning an openness to life. Vatican Information Service, Vatican City, 9 October 2014
3 See John Allen’s Crux: Covering All Things Catholic, October 8, 2014. <http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2014/10/08/the-synods-key-twist-the-sudden-return-of-gradualism/?s_campaign=crux:rss>
4 Jerry T. Framer, “Ministry in Worship” in Declan Marmion and Mary E. Hines. The Cambridge Companion to Karl Rahner (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press, 2005) p. 151 ff.
5 Sandra “What Will You Be Wearing?” in Catholica. October 11, 2014. <http://www.catholica.com.au/forum/index.php?mode=thread&id=162911#p162911>
6 Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 1995, pp. 148-150.