Sunday, October 12, 2008
The English painter William Hunt drew a famous painting called The Light of the World. He painted it in 1852, as an expression of his personal conversion to Christ. It shows the large wooden door of a country cottage, which is located on the edge of a forest, far away from other houses or towns. Around the door weeds have grown up, and the landscape looks abandoned, uncultivated, and hostile. It is nighttime. In the darkness, the full moon forms a halo around the head of Christ, who is standing in front of the door. He holds a lantern in his left hand, and with his right hand he is knocking on the door. Hunt was part of the "pre-Raphaelite" school of painters, who were interested in complex symbolism. In this painting, the cottage symbolizes the soul, the door is human freedom, and Christ is the light that brings hope and meaning to the darkness within. It's a haunting painting in many of its details. First of all we see a stranger wandering the woods at night carrying a light. Usually, the light would come from inside the place of residence, and the strange wanderer would be seeking relief from the darkness outside. But another detail is even more eloquent: no doorknob or handle can be seen on the outside of the door. This implies that the door can only be opened from within.
Christ is knocking on the outside, patiently waiting to bring his light into the house, but only those on the inside can let him in. And that's how it is in all of our lives. God surrounds us with his good gifts and his love, but he will never force his way into our hearts: he simply knocks, invites, and waits patiently for us to open the door.
By refusing the king's invitation, the invited guests fell into the sin at the root of all our sins: ingratitude. The invited guests were so busy enjoying the peace and prosperity that the king's well-run kingdom provided, that they forget to honor the king himself - even going so far as to abuse the king's messengers. In so doing, they cut themselves off from him. As a result, they also cut themselves off from the peace and prosperity that he was so generously providing.
But there is also a second level to their ingratitude. In ancient times, you didn't send out just one wedding invitation, you sent out two. The first was a general announcement of the good news, but it didn't specify the date of the celebration. Then later, when all the preparations were made, the second invitation would go out, giving the specific day and place for the banquet. The guests who refused to come to the wedding were actually rejecting this second invitation. That means that they had already accepted the first invitation. Therefore, they are not only insulting the king by refusing to come, but they are also going back on their own word.
The parable applies in a special way to the Jewish leaders at the time of Christ, who had accepted God's Old Testament promises, but were now rejecting their fulfillment by rejecting Christ. It also applies to Catholics and Christians who are baptized and grow up in the faith, but then later on in life, when Jesus asks them to put their faith into action, they refuse to take the risk.
I know for me it’s hard to believe that the invited guests in this gospel reading are refusing to come to such a great and lavish banquet. We are invited to a feast even more lavish as we heard in the first reading and we, too, can fail to see its significance and fail to prepare ourselves for the lavish banquet. Our everyday living does matter—even the small things do help us put on the wedding garment. As we step away from sin in our spiritual journey we are preparing for the feast and what a grand feast it is!
While the messianic banquet is going to occur in the future but at the same time we share in the present time the banquet that is found in the Eucharist that we celebrate. This feast requires of us careful preparation. Not just physically such as the music selections, sacred vessels that will be used, vestments that will be worn but also internally in which we ponder and prepare ourselves for the most sacred moment we will encounter on Earth. Our challenge is to commit ourselves to come to Sunday mass ready, having prepared throughout the week for this moment with our living and loving God.