Thursday August 21, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Judges 11:29-39a) Gospel (St. Matthew 22:1-14)
The readings today, if one looks upon them at face value, do not seem to be filled with very good news: a man who is sacrificing his own daughter as a holocaust; those who are not allowed into the wedding feast, the ones the king sends his army against to destroy; and a man who is thrown out into the darkness to wail and gnash his teeth. When we see these things, we wonder where the good news is in all of this and what the point is.
Well, in the first reading, we have to recognize that this vow that Jephthah made would not have been binding, as he seemed to think that it was. The only way a vow would be binding is if it were a public vow, and the Jewish people would never have allowed someone to make a public vow that he would sacrifice someone from his own house. As human sacrifice was completely forbidden by the Jewish people, this is not something that could have been a binding vow. Nonetheless, since he had every intention of murdering whoever it was that came out of his house (assuming it would be a servant), it was the fact that it was his own daughter and he had to follow through with that.
But then when we look at the Gospel reading and we put it into context for ourselves, we realize that we are the children of God and we have been invited to the banquet of the Lamb. That is exactly what the Eucharist is, and that is what Heaven is going to be: the wedding banquet of the Lamb. And the only ones who can get in are the ones who are properly clothed, that is, those who are in the state of grace. And so even though we are children of our heavenly Father, if we choose to cut ourselves off from God by mortal sin, by being unrepentant of what it is that we have done, we will find ourselves being cast out. Or, even worse, we will find ourselves coming up with excuses as to why we do not want to go to the wedding banquet. Now, for most of us, we would say, “I would never come up with an excuse not to go to Heaven.” But I assure you, for most people in the state of mortal sin, they will come up with every excuse in the world for why they do not want to go to Heaven.
For the ones who are arrogant enough to think that they do not have to confess their sins, that they do not have to do things the way that God wants to do them, they will attempt to take Heaven by storm. They will attempt, in their arrogance, to go before the Lord and tell Him that He is wrong, that they did not need to do things His way, and that it was okay for them to commit mortal sin without being repentant. And He will say, “My friend, how is it that you got in here not clothed in wedding garments?” And they will be cast out into the depths where it is utter darkness and they will wail and gnash their teeth.
So the point of the matter is for us that we realize that even as God’s own sons and daughters we can disown God or we can be disowned by Him. And we can be sacrificed – that is, we will sacrifice ourselves. It is not that God is going to sacrifice us, but we can sacrifice ourselves by choosing mortal sin over God, by choosing the self over eternity. We have to understand that it is a very real possibility, and we need to make sure we recognize that, first of all, we are not the ones originally invited to the wedding because all of those people came up with excuses as to why they did not want to go. We are now the ones on the highways and the byways who have been brought into the wedding banquet to fill the hall so that the King would have a wedding banquet filled with people who would be rejoicing in the banquet of His Son.
But there is still a stipulation: In order to enter into that wedding banquet, one must be clothed in wedding garments, that is for us the Blood of the Lamb, sanctifying grace, the very life of God Himself. If we do not have that we cannot enter into the wedding, which is why the Church does not allow one who is in the state of mortal sin to receive Holy Communion. It is the same reason the Church is absolutely clear that anyone and everyone who dies in the state of mortal sin will go to hell. At the same time, anyone and everyone who dies in the state of sanctifying grace will go to Heaven. There are only those two possibilities – it is mortal sin or grace; it is hell or it is Heaven – and they are completely correlated. Each one of us has been invited into the wedding banquet of the Lamb, and each one of us recognizes very clearly that we must be clothed in the proper garments if we are going to enter the wedding banquet. We need to keep our souls in the state of grace, we need to seek to do God’s Will in all things, and be humble enough if we sin to come before the Lord and confess our sins so that they will be washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb and, once again, we will be clothed in the festal garment of God’s own life, of His sanctifying grace.