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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

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Understanding the cultural setting is essential for interpreting the meaning of a parable

Understanding the cultural setting is essential for interpreting the meaning of a parable

Jesus parables often need an explanation to understand their true meaning. The parable of the King inviting people to his son’s wedding feast is a good example. After the invited guests refused to come, some even abused his servants, the king invites the street people to take part. When the king meets his guest, he finds a person not wearing a wedding garment.

He then has this street person bound and thrown out into the darkness. The story makes the king, and God by analogy, look like some type of monster. Let us reflect on the clothing problem.

The movie, As Good As It Gets, contains a scene that used to be much more common than it is today. Jack Nicholsons’ character goes to a restaurant and is told that they cannot serve him without a coat and tie. As many restaurants used to do, they offered him a loaner for the evening. This was often done to preserve the decorum that the other customers had come to expect.

In Jesus day a similar custom was in place. The host provided a wedding garment for the guest who did not have one. Again, this was to preserve the decorum that went with these kinds of celebrations.

God, the eternal party-giver, has an atmosphere in mind that he wants to preserve. His is to be a kingdom of love and peace. It is a kingdom where people accept each other without drawing lines of separation; it’s a place where forgiveness is the rule, and the virtues Jesus displayed are the way of life. Just as the restaurant owner provides what the guest needs to fit in, so God gives us what we need to wear as people invited to the kingdom.

The required “robe” that God expects of everyone in his kingdom is a behavior befitting someone who claims Jesus as their Lord. It is not enough to claim to follow Christ. Our actions must speak louder than our words.

When we were baptized, we were given a garment as a sign that we were clothed in Christ. We were wrapped up in him. Have we integrated Christs teaching into the whole of our lives? Do we wear Christ’s garment with pride?

When we bury someone in the Catholic Church, we drape a white cloth over the casket to remind everyone that this person is clothed in Christ. He or she is wearing the wedding garment of the Lord. At times a veteran’s family wants the American flag to be on the coffin instead of the Christ garment. At the time of death, people are not thinking clearly. Why would anyone want to appear before the throne of God wearing the garment of their country, instead of the garment of Christ?

This story did not begin with the guest who did not dress properly. It began with the would-be guests who never became guests for all sorts reasons they thought were good. The underlying message of the would-be guests is always the same: “They have something better to do.”

God is still inviting people to the wedding. Weddings are about relationship and love. They are about trust and commitment. They are about oneness. The problem is that oneness does not sell well in a world addicted to separation. Trust does not gain acceptance from people who live in fear or behind walls. Commitment does not make sense to a world that demands instant perfection from everyone except them. Even an invitation to relationship and love is not inviting to those more concerned about “what’s in it for me.”

“Are we ready individually, as a nation, as a culture, as a church to accept the invitation that God is still holding out to us? Are we ready to answer “yes?” Are we ready to clothe ourselves in Christ’s garment?