There's No Shame in Being Poor, Only Poorly Dressed.
The Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Lessons from the primary dominica, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Isaiah 25: 6-10.
• Psalm 23.
• Philippians 4: 12-14, 19-20.
• Matthew 22: 1-14.
The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
Lessons from the dominica, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Ephesians 4: 23-28.
• Psalm 140: 2.
• Matthew 22: 1-14.
The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (the Fourth after the Holy Cross);* the Sunday of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council;** the Feast of Our Venerable Father Euthymius the Younger; and, the Feast of the Venerable Martyr Lucian, Priest of the Great Church of Antioch.***
First & third lessons from the pentecostarion, second & fourth from the menaion for the Council Fathers, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• II Corinthians 11: 31--12: 9.
• Hebrews 13: 7-16.
• Luke 8: 5-15.†
• John 17: 1-13.
8:43 AM 10/15/2017 — “Jesus said to his disciples.…” Whenever we get a gospel lesson that begins with that phrase, we know we're about to get a parable. Over the centuries, the Church has given these parables names, which is how we typically refer to them today. Today's gospel lesson, for example, is familiar as “The Parable of the Marriage Feast” or “The Parable of the Wedding Banquet” or something similar. That's a lot less cumbersome than calling it “The Parable of Matthew, Chapter Twenty-two, verses one through fourteen.” When I post my homilies on my personal web site for anyone to read I tend to give them my own titles, which you would only know if you went to read them there, since I don't mention it at Holy Mass; and, this morning I gave this parable the title, “There's no shame in being poor, only poorly dressed.”
Of course, our attention is right away drawn to the circumstances of the invited guests refusing to come to the wedding, of the king having his servants drag in all these strangers off the street to replace them, then one of these being tossed out because he's not properly dressed; and, as I mentioned to you two weeks weeks ago, if we allow ourselves to judge our Lord's parables as we would some drama we read in a book or watch on Television, we would judge them pretty harshly, especially today's lesson, since the behavior of the king doesn't make any sense: how could he legitimately expect someone to be dressed properly for a wedding when the only reason he's there is because he was dragged in off the street at the last minute?
And here's another good opportunity to try to understand exactly what a parable is, especially as they are used as teaching tools by our Lord. Part of the problem is that the parable as used by our Lord is a particular Middle Eastern form of teaching which, for one reason or another, has a hard time penetrating our literal, Western minds.
One of my closest friends is a priest stationed some distance away, and once in a while we will watch an old movie on television while talking on the phone, and pick apart what we think is wrong with the movie, saying things to each other like, “Did they really expect the audience to buy that?” It's very easy to do that with the parables of our Lord because, like most Middle Eastern parables, they don't make logical sense. They're not meant to.
One good way to look at a parable is to consider it to be a sort of verbal icon. Most of you know that I spent many years serving in an Eastern Catholic Church and, as you know, icons are a very important part of the spirituality of Eastern Christianity; and, while most of you, I'm sure, would be able to identify a Byzantine icon when you see one, very few people truly know how to read them properly. They are not meant to be realistic representations. When our Lord or a saint is depicted in an icon, he does not look like a normal human being: the head and eyes are much too large, the mouth is much too small, almost as if the saint being represented is some sort of space alien; but, those distorted features speak volumes. The head is large in proportion to the body because the saint contemplates the will of God; the eyes are large and the mouth is small because the saint's eyes of faith are always alert for the will of God, which he obeys without question or comment. If he's a bishop, he holds one hand in a blessing and the book of the Gospels in the other; if he's a martyr, he'll often hold instruments of the passion. The icon is not meant to show us the saint as he actually looked when he walked this earth, but rather to show us, in a symbolic and mystical way, the primary features of why he's a saint.
A parable is the same sort of thing, except it's all done with words instead of pigments. The story of the parable is not supposed to make sense; the events of the story symbolize deeper realities. In the case of today's Gospel lesson, it's not supposed to make sense that the king in the story drags people in from off the street to attend a wedding, then throws one of them out because he doesn't have a tuxedo; it's a lesson about the history of salvation. The invited guests who refused to attend represent the Israelites, who were God's chosen, but who rejected salvation; the poor people dragged in off the street to take their place were the Gentiles; and the poor guy who gets tossed represents those among the Gentles who, even after being offered this great gift of salvation, rejected it anyway. And we can liken him to our own situation by contemplating that most of us were born into the Church;—we didn't choose the life of a Catholic for ourselves—but, even though the decision was made for us as children, we still, at some point, had to make a decision to either live according to that choice or to reject it. And that decision can be made at any time. Which is why it's so important to educate our children in the faith and give good example of Christian living to them; because, without this preparation, there is the danger that, without the knowledge of the true faith and good example to follow, they'll reject it the first chance in their lives they encounter temptation.
That's what the fellow who is thrown out of the wedding represents. He's like a baby who is baptized but who is given no appreciation for the great gift that's been given him. His parents thought they were doing right by him by bringing him to be baptized, but that's all they did for him. They didn't bother to teach him anything; and, even if they did make a minimal effort by making him go to Sunday school, they didn't provide the proper example of practicing the faith fervently themselves, so he had no reason to think that what he was being taught was important.
Whenever we hear a story about a priest refusing to baptize a baby because he doesn't know the parents—or he does know them but knows that they're not practicing—we tend to judge that priest very harshly and accuse him of “punishing the baby for the sins of the parents”; but, the priest who baptizes any baby who comes down the pike does that child no favors. When that child eventually stands before the judgment seat of Christ, as we all must one day, he won't be judged simply as a conscientious person who had no knowledge of Christ and his Church; he'll be judged as a baptized Catholic who should have known better.
In the beginning of our Lord's parable, the original invited guests give two primary reasons for not attending: as our Lord tells it, “…they paid no heed, and went off on other errands, one to his farm in the country, and another to his trading” (Matt. 22: 5 Knox); the two principle reasons people give for not coming to church on any particular Sunday: a family obligation or “I have to work.” It's a question of priorities, and the last priority is always the faith. Except that, years later, when they're on their death beds, suddenly they wish that they had had different priorities.
The last line of our Lord's parable is pithy enough: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” But it's important to realize that the chosen are not chosen at random; they make the choice themselves. They make the choice by deciding that they will not be among those caught not properly dressed for the feast. They make the choice by making sure that they know the faith, live their faith, and nourish their faith by frequenting the Holy Sacraments, and teaching their children to do the same, particularly by giving them good example.
* Today is called "The Fourth Sunday after the Holy Cross" because "The Sunday after the Exaltation" (Sept. 17th this year) is considered part of the Postfestive period of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and thus part of the feast itself. Following the feast and postfestive period of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14th through 21st), the Greek Church actually labels these Sundays as “Sundays after the Holy Cross” and begins to number them accordingly, calling today "The Fourth Sunday after the Holy Cross," while the Ruthenian and Russian Churches continue to number them as "Sundays after Pentecost" (though in some older Ruthenian typicons the Greek custom is observed). The historical context of this custom was the Greek practice of marking the birthday of the Emperor Augustus on September 23rd, which they regarded as the first day of the Church year. It was not until the fall of the empire that the new year observance was moved to Sept. 1st throughout the Churches of the Byzantine Rite.
** In the Byzantine Tradition, the fathers of the first six ecumenical councils are commemorated on the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, with the seventh council, the Second Council of Nicea, commemorated by itself on this Sunday. Originally, each of the early councils of the Church had its own commemoration on the Byzantine calendar. Over time, these various commemorations coalesced into one on the Eighth Sunday, except for Nicea II which retained its own day because of its importance in resolving the Iconoclast Controversy.
*** Euthymius the Younger, also called Euthymius the Thesssalonian or "the New," was born in Galatia, and moved to Mount Olympus in Bithynia circa 848. Sometime later he moved to Mt. Athos, where he gained a reputation as a preacher. He founded a monastery in Salonika, lived for some months in a tower, and then returned to Athos where he built another monastery and founded still another. A few months before his death, Euthymius retired to a solitary retreat, where he died.
Lucian, a zealous priest who tried to make his people love and study the Holy Scriptures, was martyred in Nicomedia under Emperor Maximianus.
† The four Gospels are all read in their entirety in the Byzantine Churches, and the reading of each begins with a great feast. The Gospel of St. John begins with the Feast of Feasts, Pascha, and is read until Pentecost. The Gospel of St. Matthew begins with Pentecost, and is read until the Feast of the Holy Cross, after which the Gospel of St. Luke is read all the way through until the Great Fast; but, because the Divine Liturgy is offered only on Saturday and Sunday in the Great Fast, the left-over passages are read in the last six weeks of the Matthean and Lucan cycles. This is why the Byzantine Churches begin the reading of Luke’s Gospel on the Sunday after the Holy Cross no matter where they are in the cycle of "Sundays after Pentecost." The Epistles, on the other hand, are read continuously without any adjustment, creating a discrepancy between Epistle and Gospel. This year, there is a discrepancy of two weeks. In the Byzantine Churches, this is commonly called "the Lucan Jump." Thus, today, the Epistle sung is the one for the Nineteenth Sunday, and the Gospel the one ordinarily sung on the Twenty-First Sunday.