What Does It Mean to be Christian?
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, Sj (The Freeman) - October 14, 2017 - 4:00pm

In ancient times, kings announced the approximate time for a wedding banquet weeks in advance.  The exact day of the banquet was given at a later date.  To say “yes” to the advance invitation and then say “no” at the later date was an insult.

A contemporary example may help illustrate the point.  Suppose your son is coming home – a balikbayan after 10 years away from home.  He’s scheduled to arrive sometime next week, but he’s not sure whether he can get a flight on Thursday or Friday.

You call two of his closest friends and invite them to a welcome party.  You explain the situation and ask them to keep both dates open.  They agreed enthusiastically.

When news comes that your son will arrive on Friday, you call his friends back and say, “The dinner will be Friday night.”  They shock you by saying, “Sorry, we’ve made other plans for Friday night.”

It was this kind of situation that Jesus had in mind in today’s parable.  The audience for whom Jesus intended his parable were the Jews of his time.  Ages before, they had accepted God’s invitation to be his chosen people – his special guests at the banquet of the kingdom of God.

But when Jesus came to announce the banquet, they rejected his invitation.  It is clear how Jesus’ parable applied to the Jews of his day.

Today’s Gospel actually contains two parables:  The parable of the great messianic banquet with all the ‘bakya’ crowd, the squatters, the slum dwellers feasting on lechon baka and drinking their fill of beer and champagne, and singing the equivalent of “For he’s a jolly good fella.”

The second parable is the parable of the “Guest Without the Wedding Garment,” a fellow from the streets, who did not find time to wash himself and his clothes clean, coming to the banquet with his stinking outfit.  You find this only in Matthew’s version of the parable.

Now, why did Matthew take another parable of Jesus, and insert it here?  Fr. Walter Burghardt of Georgetown University explains that once the parable of the “Great Banquet” was applied to the Christian community, it ran the risk of being misunderstood.  Did the life of the community have nothing to say to the sinner?  Did Jesus’ invitation not call for change, for conversion, for clean clothes?  Were the baptized free of any moral responsibility?  The evil persons were as welcome as the good, and could they remain evil?

The second parable told the community, “You don’t have to buy a tuxedo, a coat and tie, or a barong Tagalog, but whatever you wear has to be washed, has to be clean.   You have to change.

So back to the main parable, what is the king’s banquet all about?  In short, it is salvation – the salvation of the world.

But to understand it, we must go back to history, the situation in which Matthew wrote the Gospel.  Remember Matthew and the other apostles did not follow Jesus during his public life

with notebooks and laptop to take notes of everything Jesus said and did. No, Matthew was writing for a community in transition, a community in a process of change.  They were mostly Christians of Jewish background.  It was about the year 85 AD.

And the community was confused, in tension and conflict, confused by false prophets and teachers.  The question was what does it mean to be a Christian?  Were they a special sect within Judaism?  The non-Jews were persecuting them.  There was betrayal and hatred within; widespread wickedness causing love to grow cold.  In response to all these, Matthew retold the story of Jesus from the conception to after his resurrection.

Today, the Church faces a somewhat similar situation as the Christian community of Matthew’s time.  Like Matthew’s time, people ask, “Have we lost our Catholic identity?  What would Matthew have to say to our Church today, beset with so many doctrines and different practices?”

First, he would say, “You do have an identity, a Catholic identity.  Part of it is an identity you share with other Christians.  With them you profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Like them, you are united to the Father and to one another through Christ in the Spirit.

“In part however, you are different;  for you express your commitment to Christ through a body of beliefs, a system of Sacraments, an order of authority that other Christians cannot totally share.  I think deep inside us, we experience what it means to be a Catholic Christian.”

Second, Matthew would say, “You have a wider mission than to your own parish community.

You are a community of love, alive with and for one another.”

In this context, if you ask, “Is your mission just you’re immediate parish?”  Matthew would have answered, “No, the world is your parish!”  No priest can tell you where your mission is concretely.  Perhaps it’s right in your home, your family, or in your school, or work place, where you relax and recreate, your shopping mall, or the sick in the hospital.

In our modern technological world, perhaps your mission is in the cyberspace.  I’ll leave that for you to discover with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Third, Matthew would repeat, “Whatever your mission is, it will fail if you cannot coexist with your divisions.

Today there is a certain confusion within the Catholic Church.  There are a variety of spiritualities and practices from the Opus Dei to the Jesuit spirituality, from the Charismatic to the very traditional practices, from the strictly sacramental Church to a socio-pastoral Church.

The point is, this kind of tension that tends to divide us can be redemptive.  Whether in our local parish or in the diocese, our nation, or the universal Church, we will have hurts and wounds to bind – our own and others’: the fears and tears, frustration and anger, loneliness and loveless-ness, bitterness and envy, even the frightful feeling that I am lost.

This is not really something new.  This has been the human condition of the Church for more than 2,000 years, since the time of St. Paul.  We confuse unity with uniformity.

With the number of fanatical groups that claim that they are the only ones to be saved, hell must be so overcrowded and overpopulated. Christ must be weeping over how Satan is gaining so much more without even trying.

But since God is so generous in creating us, He will be generous in redeeming us.  A healthy tension must exist between the charismatic and the institutional elements of the Church for our faith to grow.  The Charismatic is alive to the movement of the Holy Spirit.  And the institutional discerns and regulates our response to the movement of the Spirit.

We receive the King of the Banquet in the Holy Communion.  The number of people that come to partake of the Banquet each week at each Eucharistic celebration must tell of the sweetness of the Lord.  Much of that sweetness depends also on all of us who partake – how well, how lovingly, how joyfully you and I party in Christ.

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