Posted by: Fr Chris | August 25, 2018

Divine Judgment which none can escape

Texts:  2 Corinthians, 1:21-2:4 Matthew 22:1-14, Byzantine Rite

The Parable of the King’s Wedding Feast (22:1-14) This is the third parable in the series of Jesus’ responses to the challenge  by the Jewish clergy to His unique authority (21:23-27), preached at the Temple in Jerusalem during the first Holy Week, and it is likewise a parable of judgment. There is a divine judgment. No one can escape it.

Matthew is the most quoted gospel among the ancient Fathers of the Church, because of its rich content. It was written for a Church composed of both Jewish and Gentile Christians: chapter 1 presented St. Joseph’s ancestry, presenting Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, and in chapter 2 the wise men come from Persia to worship the Christ Child. So in the opening we have both the Jews and the Gentiles as part of Jesus’ life. Matthew is answering the question of how Jesus was rejected by the Jewish leadership, and that He is truly the Son of God, far beyond any expectation of the first-century Jews looking for a royal king. Christ is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the leadership at the Temple is confronted by Jesus after His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and when He cleanses the temple with His holy anger at what that leadership has allowed to happen in the areas where worship and prayer should be going on. He drove out the money changers, all the signs of commerce, to restore the Temple as a place of worship. He is consumed with a holy righteous anger at what has been done to His Father’s House. In short, He claims divine authority, exousia, to do that, and the parables of judgment answer the questions of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and the Sanhedrin: Who is this who dares to condemn us?

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The parable of the wedding feast helped to explain the mixed reception of the gospel within Israel (as in chapter 13). God through his ser­vants the prophets, then through Jesus, and finally through Jesus’ disciples issued the invitation to the banquet.

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The Lamb of God in heaven

Heaven is not described in the bible as a place of angels playing harps and everyone sitting on clouds – there are two descriptions, of it being one giant party, and of one giant worship of the Lamb of God. In that Liturgy, the Cherubim and Seraphim sing the thrice-holy hymn, the Sanctus: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts.” In the Byzantine Church, we will soon sing the Cherubic Hymn: Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim and sing the thrice-holy  hymn” – we are to spiritually be like the Cherubim close to the altar of God in heaven: that is our goal, that is our destiny, that is what Christ promises us!

The invitation Jesus gives is not to an earthly wedding, but the marriage of Himself to His Church. The Jewish leadership, He was warning in all of these parables, each stronger than the previous, was rejecting Him and was going to pay a price: the Kingdom of God was going to go to those Jews who accepted it – especially the Jewish tax collectors, prostitutes, poor, and sick –  and then to the Gentile outsiders, the people despised because of their paganism, the poorest of the poor.  Those who rejected the King of Kings are punished: their daily life of business was more important than participating in the banquet of the messiah and they deliberately ignore that Jesus is the Son of God – just what a lot of people in Europe and North America do today, as church attendance has plunged, as survey after survey shows people doubting that Jesus is divine, that Jesus is the long-awaited savior, that Jesus’ teachings are in fact binding on our souls. Business flourishes – the economy is booming, the bull stock market is historic, unemployment is down, but our moral life in the Western World is incredibly bankrupt on so many levels, and has been decaying now for decades. Pope Paul VI warned in 1968 what would happen to the world if it broke with God’s commands on sexual morality, and here we are, in a royal mess. There is a divine judgment. No one can escape it.

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One of the invited comes in without a wedding garment and is thrown out into darkness: I always felt bad for the guy. The servants went out into the hedgerows, bringing in the homeless – of course he didn’t have a wedding robe! Why throw him out? But the custom of the time was that people were given a festive robe when they came to a wedding. He chose not to wear it. He represents those who think that they can get into the Savior’s banquet, the Savior’s liturgy, into heaven, just by showing up. God made me, God loves me, I’m in.

Not so fast. Those who rejected the invitation stayed away, and made light of it – who cares if we go or not? This guy says, who cares if I put on the robe or not? The Fathers of the Church write in their commentaries on this parable that the wedding garment represents our behavior, and that our behavior better be rooted in the virtue of authentic Christian love and a love that was acted upon: repentance, conversion of heart and mind, a life of good deeds. The Jewish rabbis of the day told a story of a king, representing God, who gave people beautiful robes, representing the soul. The wise treasured those robes, the fools wore them to do daily work in the fields and got them dirty. When the king wanted the robes back, the wise were given blessings, and the fools were thrown into a filthy prison. God wants our souls back clean, as a sign of a life well lived.

There is a divine judgment. No one can escape it. None of us will escape God’s judgment. Saint Peter Damian dealt with a major crisis in the Latin Church of the eleventh century in western Europe. The Church was threatened by kings who wanted to control the appointments of bishops, pastors and even the election of popes; by clergy who not only broke their vows of celibacy by taking mistresses but also abused adult men and women as well as children: sound familiar? There was also the issue of clergy who sold access to the sacraments and sold the appointments of bishops and pastors. He laid the groundwork for the Gregorian Reform that eventually delivered freedom to the Church from secular powers.  Peter Damian had called for many reforms, and wrote that one of the problems was that there were bishops who were more afraid to be despised by men than to be judged by God. So those bishops covered up scandal, hid the sins of wayward priests, and went along with the powerful instead of protecting ordinary believers. Part of the whole mess of the early medieval era was that the failure of the bishops to stop such behavior by priests and bishops dragged the reputation of the Church into the mud and people lost respect for priesthood and bishops. Sound familiar? There is a divine judgment. No one can escape it.

                                                                                            Related imageThe Last Judgment: Sistine Chapel 

            It is not enough to show up at the banquet; one must be prepared to enter into the banquet as a full participant, wearing the robe of a soul that has sought to respond to God’s holy will. Grace gives us liberty, God’s saving grace gives us freedom, but always with a free will. I accept all of it, or just part of it. If I accept part of what is taught by Christ’s Church, then I better remember: There is a divine judgment. No one can escape it.

St.  Gregory the Great wrote that “We shall be separated when we reach our goal. Only the good are in heaven, and only the bad are in hell. This life is situated between heaven and hell. It goes on in the middle, so to speak, and takes in the citizens of both parts. But at the end of time, God will separate them.”   In the Epistle today, Saint Paul writes in 2 Corinthians about the problems they had, and how he refrained from making another visit because he knew he was going to have to pass a judgment on them. They had abandoned by the seal of God imprinted on them at their baptism and Confirmation/ Chrismation – when the priest anoints the infant or convert with sacred chrism saying “The seal of the Holy Spirit.”  When the priest anoints the convert or infant, he repeats that phrase and everyone says “Amen”, which means Yes, I believe it is so. Just as we will after the Words of Institution to be uttered shortly at this altar, we believe Jesus Christ comes to us in the consecrated bread and wine, in His Body and Blood. Saint Paul  refrained from making that visit, but he wrote, as we heard in chapter 2, verse 4,” I wrote you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears …  to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” He had authentic Christian love. True Christian love.

People who are wicked can have a warped kind of love -they commit sins together: robbery, corruption, violent beatings of innocents, genocide, or the kind of abuse as described in the Pennsylvania report. But that is not Christian love. Christian love is the love that comes with tears, with anguish of heart, with passionate attachment to God above all else. Saint Paul warns in his famous passage in 1 Corinthians that a Christian can lay claim even to interpreting the gift of tongues, but if that Christian does not have the self-giving virtue of love, the love that impelled God to take on our weak human condition so as to save us, then he is a clanging gong, worthless. There is a divine judgment. No one can escape it.

We are angry at the mess in the American Church, and indeed throughout too much of the world. I have had to deal with this garbage since I entered seminary in 1977 and I am sick of it all. I am sick that it has gone on so long with nobody stopping it with serious reforms. But our anger  must be a holy anger, an anger like that of Christ, not of Man. May we pray fervently for our own conversions, for the conversion of our parish, for the conversion of the leaders who have failed the Church, and for the gift of humility – but for the grace of God, there go I – so that at our own personal judgment by God, Jesus Christ will step forward and wrap His arm around me and say, This one belongs to Me.

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