Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Wedding Garment: 28th Sun A

 

Scholars find this story from Matthew’s gospel difficult to understand, especially when you compare it to the same story more simply told in Luke’s gospel. (Luke 14,16-24) Both evangelists describe a banquet in which last minute rejections by those invited cause the host to send out his servants to scour the land for others to come in.

In Matthew’s account the story is directed towards the “chief priests and elders of the people,” whose refusal to accept God’s invitation through Jesus leads others to take their place. “Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find… bad and good alike.” God’s big net, cast far and wide, brings Jews and Gentiles to fill the halls of his kingdom.

But there’s a cautionary part in Matthew’s account. An invitation to God’s kingdom doesn’t mean you’re safely in and automatically saved. Seeing a guest with no “wedding garment,” the king has him thrown into the darkness outside where there’s “wailing and grinding of teeth.”

A “wedding garment” is not something you freely get and freely wear. Once called to the banquet, you have to shed your old clothes of sin and clothe yourself in goodness. There were probably people in Matthew’s church (in our church too?) who thought being a church member was an automatic ticket to heaven. Not so, you need a wedding garment, and that means living a life of faith and goodness.

Are you wearing your wedding garment today

On to the Rhine

Rhine

I’m going with a group on a cruise of the Rhine River leaving Wednesday. Here are a few notes about the trip for those on the cruise and those who may wish to follow us.

The Rhine River is a living history book as it winds its way 820 miles from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea.

Look for signs of Roman forts along the way. The ancient Romans tried to make the Rhine a kind of “Iron Curtain” to contain the barbarian tribes that wanted to enter the empire. They also found the fertile lands near the river good for growing grapes and other crops, so some of the forts became centers of trade, like Mainz.

After the Peace of Constantine (312 AD), Christianity brought the gospel to the lands along the Rhine. St. Boniface is an important figure. (c. 675 – 5 June 754 AD) A missionary from England he preached to the various Germanic tribes, became bishop of Mainz, and established monastic settlements along the river to fulfill his mission.

Boniface

Should he be our patron for the trip? “In her voyage across the ocean of this world the church is like a ship pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship, but to keep her on course…Let us stand fast for what is right and prepare our souls for trial…Let us be neither like dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor servants who run away before the wolf.”

In the 12th century with the growth of cities majestic cathedrals, like those in Strasbourg and Cologne, were built. Castles and buildings of local rulers line the river’s banks as defenses against invaders and symbols of power.

In the 14th century, the shrines and churches of the Franciscans and the mendicant orders appear. The 16th century brought the Reformation. We hope to sample some cathedrals and churches along the river.

The Rhine was a battleground through the centuries; the last two world wars have left their mark on the lands along the river.

We land in Basel, where John Calvin wrote his “Institutes” in 1536, a defense of Protestantism which he sent to Francis 1 of France. Francis kept France Catholic, however, and Calvin fled to Geneva and made it into a key Protestant center that had influence worldwide.

I hope to reflect particularly during our trip on the Reformation and the relationship of Protestants and Catholics today. Much has changed since the stormy beginnings in the 16th century. Pope Francis recently remarked to a group of European bishops that “Speaking about God has become more and more marginal” in Europe. The pope, a strong advocate of ecumenism, hopes all Christians will come together to face the challenge.

We will see many churches and signs of its Christian past on our trip down the Rhine from Basel to Amsterdam, but I don’t think we’ll hear much about God or see many signs of Christian practice. Europe is increasingly secularized.

Some books that I’ll bring along on the trip.

“A Brief History of Spirituality” by Philip Sheldrake, Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Sheldrake has a wonderful gift for summarizing spiritual movements like monasticism and relating them to the world in which they take place.

“The World of Catholic Renewal 1540-1770” by R. Po-Chia Hsia, Cambridge University Press. The Catholic Church responds to the Reformation. A good study in social history.

“Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church” E.A. Livingstone, Oxford 1977 Just what it says: a lot of concise information about the Christian Church.

I also mentioned the Rhine trip in a previous blog:

27th Sunday A: News from the Vineyard

For audio version of the sermon, see below:

I visited the Holy Land some months ago and stayed for five days in East Jerusalem at St. Martha’s, a house belonging to my community, the Passionists. East Jerusalem is a crowded, predominantly Muslim part of the city, but once you go through the gates of St. Martha’s you’re in a world that reminds you of Jesus.

In his time the area was called Bethany, where Jesus stayed when he came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feasts. Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus lived there. Jesus spent his last days there before he was arrested, sentenced to death, crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried. The traditional tomb where Lazarus was raised from the dead is only a short distance away from that house.

St. Martha’s is on a hillside of the Mount of Olives; a grove of olive trees surrounds the house and the trees still produces good oil, the priests who live there say. You can see a cave where the olives were pressed, probably dug at the time of Jesus or before. On the western end of the property are the foundations of small houses that archeologists believe go back to the time of Jesus.

When I hear Jesus using a parable about a vineyard, which he often does, I see the vineyards and olive groves of Bethany. Jesus used the world around him when he wished to teach. He’s in Jerusalem shortly before his death when he speaks this parable, Matthew’s gospel says. The olive trees and vineyards of Bethany were there before him. Likely, some of the vineyards were let out to tenant farmers who were expected to make a return to the owners at the harvest.

So Jesus explains what’s happening to him through a parable, which the Prophet Isaiah also used before him. “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.

Notice how much the owner of the vineyard did before entrusting it to the tenants. He did everything. The vineyard is a tremendous gift that he put into their hands. Then, at harvest time the tenants seize the owner’s servants who are looking for his share. Those are the prophets who came to Israel before me, Jesus is saying. They were reviled and mistreated and killed.

“Finally, he sent his son.” And they will kill me, Jesus is saying.

The parable is a stark story about the goodness of God and the ingratitude of Israel. It’s about a lack of response to the gift that was given; it’s about the failure to see that God expects a return for his gifts. “No,” the tenants say, “This belongs to us.”

We can look at the parable as Jesus’ words to the chief priests and elders of Jerusalem long ago. But suppose Jesus was here speaking to us. What would he say? Would he look around and say, “You have a beautiful church here and you come from nice homes. This is a good area; you have good roads, good schools, a lot of nice things. Are you using all this the way you should? Are you using these gifts I’ve given you?”

Maybe we would say. “This is all ours. It belongs to us. We can do what we want with it all.”

Sounds a little like the parable then, doesn’t it?