28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Prince of Peace Parish, Old Forge
October 11, 2020
There’s a story told about Saint John XXIII – “Good Pope John” – when he was still Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, serving as papal representative in Eastern Europe during the Second World War.
Roncalli had become increasingly disturbed by the growing number of reports revealing the atrocities being inflicted upon European Jews by Hitler and the Nazi party. As the persecution of Jews increased, Roncalli grew frustrated by their desperate plight, writing this about the Holocaust, “Poor children of Israel. Daily I hear their groans around me. They are relatives and fellow countrymen of Jesus. May the Divine Savior come to their aid and enlighten them.”
Eventually, in an effort to do his part in saving Jews, Roncalli concocted a rather interesting plan. He would offer to any Jew – no strings attached – a forged baptismal certificate, in the hope that lives would be spared. While some of his advisors suggested that the plan was deceitful and others wondered aloud why he would go to such extremes for those outside of the Church, Roncalli was determined to do what he could to save innocent lives. For him, it mattered little that his plan was imperfect or that those who might be spared were outside of the Church. All that mattered was that he act as quickly as possible in the face of evil, persecution and hatred to save lives that – like his own – were made in the image and likeness of God.
This powerful story about Saint John XXIII, in its own way, captures the lesson of today’s gospel parable of the wedding feast to which many were invited but refused to attend.
Essentially, the parable is addressed to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and age who questioned Jesus’ authority and sought to discredit him. They, sadly, had come to see themselves as righteous, believing that they had cornered the market on God and could limit God’s ability to forgive, to change hearts and to save. They alone were worthy of God’s grace – but those outside of their fold were not.
To their surprise – and perhaps to ours as well – Jesus articulates a radically new vision of humanity that ignores suspicions, doubts and stereotypes and, instead, recognizes every person, first, as a child of God, worthy of respect, love and compassion. Fortunate for us that God invites all of his children to his life and love – distinctions drawn according to economic class or influence, discrimination by race or origin, reservations due to mental or physical disability all disappear before God. From God’s perspective – we are all his beloved children and we are all in need of his mercy.
Now lest this understanding of God’s love and mercy be regarded as cheap grace, not demanding much on the part of the recipients – you and me – there’s a second parable told by Jesus within the story of the wedding feast that is also worthy of our attention. The guest who was thrown out of the feast because he failed to wear an appropriate garment reminds all of us that our reception of God’s saving grace demands something of us in return. As disciples – followers of Jesus – we’re called to conversion of heart and to live our faith with authenticity. In other words, we are called to live as Christians not just in the words we profess but in the manner of lives and the depth of our love.
Friends, in these challenging times fraught by so much anger, polarization and bitterness, we would all do well to reflect upon today’s Gospel parable a bit more carefully. Our world needs peace and healing – not just from a virus – but from the hatred and division that seems to permeate so much of our lives.
As blessed recipients of God’s saving grace, may we, in turn, walk with one another as brothers and sisters – the way in which God intends for us to walk.