October 15, 2017
XXVIII Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Today, also, the Gospel offers us a parable. We are in Chapter 22 of Matthew, at the heart of the difficult dialogue between Jesus and the leaders of the Pharisees. And this is the last parable Jesus addresses to them.
Let’s begin with some common elements that connect today’s parable with those read in recent Sundays.
Even here, as in the previous ones, there is an invitation at the core: the verb “to call” – and its derivatives – is repeated at least 6 times in our passage.
We can say that the kingdom of God is first of all a call, a gratuitous invitation to participate in the life of another: to work in his vineyard, to attend his wedding banquet. But there where everything could take place in the simplest and most convenient way – that is, that the invitation is welcomed – something can happen that makes the reply and the encounter problematic: in each parable there also arises the possibility that something may not work.
In the parable of the landowner who calls at every hour (Mt 20:1-16), it happens that the first-hired do not understand the landowner’s logic, and they murmur and leave discontented; in the parable of the two sons (Mt 21:28-32) one says yes, but doesn’t go; and in the parable of the murderous tenants (Mt 21:33-46), still worse, the ones sent are all mistreated, and the son killed. Where there is a free invitation, there is also the possibility of a refusal.
Even something similar happens today, and this refusal takes place in two ways, in two different ways.
First, there’s a rejection, that of the first invitees: we could call them the invitees of the first hour. Well, strangely, these invitees reject the invitation, despite the insistence of the master and he repeatedly sends his messengers (Mt 22:3-4), just like the several times the master came out to hire workers for his vineyard.
The Gospel speaks of three types of refusal. Some, simply, “did not want to come” (Mt 22:3); others “didn’t pay attention to it” (Mt 22:5) and went to their business. Others, in the end, reacted with violence (Mt 22:6).
Everything may seem odd, especially as the invitation is an invitation to a wedding banquet, or to a party: it would seem logical to us if they were called to a serious commitment, but why reject the invitation to a banquet? It’s not as strange as it seems: the free invitation to a relationship of trust and love, in which everything is offered free and is just welcomed, can be more difficult than any other heavy commitment. Gratuitousness also presupposes a responsibility, an equally free and also, for this reason, demanding response. And so it is not so strange that we prefer to go to our businesses, or do not bother at all, or even eliminate the bearers of such a simple invitation …
The master will say that these guests were not worthy (Mt 22:8): what does it mean? What does it mean to be worthy of it?
The answer comes to us from the next passage of the parable, in which we see that the king is not discouraged and extends the invitation to all, good and bad (Mt 22:10). So, you do not have to be good enough to enter, just accept the invitation.
But here too, there is a surprise: the king enters the room and sees a man (good or bad, no matter) not dressed in a wedding garment, and drives him out (Mt 22: 11-13). Why? What does it mean? It means, perhaps, that you cannot enter this party and remain the same as you used to be, as if nothing happened; the one who does not receive the gratuitousness of this undeserved invitation, who does not “adapt” to life, is in reality equal to those who refuse the invitation.
You can even enter the banquet, but if it doesn’t change your life, in living like one invited to a wedding, it’s as if you remained outside. It is not asked of you to be good enough in order to enter: all enter!
But it is asked of you that, since you entered freely, freely loved and forgiven, this same logic of forgiveness and gratuitousness enriches your life, from now on, more and more.
To enter the Kingdom therefore, the good/bad distinction no longer exists: all are admitted and for everybody there is place. But that does not mean there is no distinction.
Using a typical language of the Gospel of Matthew, we might say that the good are not as worthy as are the little ones to whom the Kingdom is revealed (Mt 11: 25-26); to the great, to the wise, to those who rely first of all on their own strength, access to the Kingdom is denied, because the logic of the Gospel is other.
Today’s Gospel ends with an apparently difficult verdict: “many are called, few chosen” (Mt 22:14). In the original language there is a wordplay between these two terms, called and chosen, and there is very little difference between them.
Also in reality there is the same very little difference: because the call is for everyone, while the chosen are those who welcome the gift, and let the gift transform their lives; and they are the little ones.