Sometimes God's Word in the Bible speaks to me so clearly, my heart cries out to share in thanksgiving. When that happens, I will publish a bonus post. That is what you are getting today. I am sticking to my plan to complete a post in one hour with a limited editing after, so I can be sure I don't take up too much time and fall behind on my commitment to write. I am still going to write on the pillars of Single Mom Smiling later this week, but for now, here is how I see Sunday's Gospel reading applying to strugglng single parents and families. Follow me on facebook for shorter, more frequent reflections and other single mom life hacks and inspirations.
Sunday's Gospel reading speaks of a king who invites his subjects to his son's wedding feast from the Book of Matthew 22:1-14. In the parable, the first group of people the servants were sent to invite view the honor with lukewarmness. They ignore the invite and go about their presumably more important or more pressing duties. The second group lays hold of the servants, mistreats and kills them.
The enraged king sends his troops to slay the murderers and destroy their city. He then extends his invitation to those we can presume would be considered less worthy than the original invitees. His servants were sent to the streets to gather all they coud find, the good and the bad, and fill the banquet hall. We can picture the joyful festivities that ensued.
Unfortunately, there was one downpoint to the celbration. We can imagine the king looking out over his guests singing, dancing, and eating their full. These would likely have been low income subjects unused to such lavish dining and fun. Their love for the king and the appreciation they would have had for him would make the celebration far more joyous than if those who felt the were entitled to the invite had come.
The king would be happy. His son would be happy. The bride would be happy. The simple folk would be happy.
All would be well in the kingdom.
Except for one stand out in the crowd. As the king looks over the happy people, he sees one man dressed in street clothes. The king does not immediately acost the man but instead approaches him kindly saying, "My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?"
The man does not respond and is then thrown from the shiny, happy celebratory hall into the darkness where we are told there will be a, "wailing a grinding of teeth" (MT 22: 14).
A Primitive Understanding the Parable of the Wedding Feast
I remember reading this story years ago and feeling varying emotions for the king and those he invited to his son's wedding feast. I felt pity and sadness and righteous indignation for the king and his son when the original invitees ignored the honor. I felt anger over the betrayal of those who murdered the servants and sadness for the servants and their families, but I also felt a shift in my emotions.
It was horrible for the servants to have been tortured and killed, but I questioned whether the king's response was appropriate. Did the retaliation of slaying the original murderers and then burning the entire city really fit the crime of killing a few?
As I read on, I was happy for the king and his son but also wondered about a king who would invite everyone who he hadn't felt worthy to invite the first time. I wondered if he was smugly watching the festivities or truly enjoying the alost childlike gaity of his guests.
Then came what seems to be the most horrifying part of the story. The king sees a man dressed inappropriately and tosses him into the darkness where he will, not only be denied a meal and fun party, but be sent to wail and grind his teeth.
I am still not exactly sure what a wailing and grinding of teeth is, but I am sure it is horrible and something I don't ever want to hear never mind experience!
Yet this man was forced into this for the mere crime of not being dressed in wedding garb! The king did not wait to see whether the man had enough money to buy wedding garb or if he had spilled wine on his cloth and it was being cared for by the servants or any other of hundreds of possibilities! He simply condemned the man to this horrible fate!
My sense of injustice pricked and my desire to move away from the king was fierce!
How Do We Judge the King?
Reading the story now, with a greater understanding of justice and gratitude, mercy and protection, I see what happened at the wedding feast differently.
I see that I had judged the king.
While I was criticzing the king for judging harshly before knowing why the man hadn't donned the proper attire, I had judged the king without knowing what the king saw in the man.
I had assumed the king was arrogant and unjust, judgmental and harsh, but what if he was different?
A good king knows his people. It is his responsibility to look out for them. He knows what goes on in his kingdom. He rules consistently and firmly but compassionately. He does not put himself on a pillar so far above his subjects that he is unreachable but greets them as friends and is willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
However, that is not all a king is or does.
A great and mighty king is first and foremost a provider and protector of his people.
This means that even while the people are celebrating and having a wonderful time distracted by music and dancing and fine food and the joyful wonder of the covenant of newly united love, the king is vigilant. He has a good time and celebrates, but he is always watching.
This watchfulness makes him take notice of the man without the wedding garb when it seems his guests and servants and even his troops have not.
How many of us would approach an unsavory character at a family wedding with the greeting of, "My friend..." and yet that is what the wise and benevolent king does. It is only when the man refuses to respond that the king condemns him. He does this, not to be cruel, but to protect those at his party who may not even be aware of what is happening at that moment.
The king is always willing to welcome any who respond to his call, but he is also fully responsible for his people.
Who is the King?
Of course we know the king in this parable is more than just any king of old! Jesus speaks of THE KING!
This should make any of us questioning the King's judgement take a second look at our own beliefs, thoughts, words, and actions. How we see God, even when we don't openly identify Him as GOD says a lot about what lies inside us.
Neural pathways in our brains form due to repeated connections. It is repeated action that helps us do things almost unconsciously. For example, going from our bedroom to our bathroom in the middle of the night is easily done without holding onto a wall or turning on lights because we have done this so many times both in the light and in the dark that our brains have formed that repeated pattern into strong neural pathways. Doing the same thing in a friend's house would not be nearly so easy even if we know exactly where the bathroom is.
When we judge others, we form similar neural pathways for good or for bad. While this parable may be just a story, we need to look at how we see things and where we can presume the good as Saint Ignatius tells us to do but instead jump to assuming the worst.
We must also see within each of us the call to join the Love of the Lord at His Wedding Feast. We must see in each of us times we ignore the call, times we reject it, abuse it, and kill it. We must see times we show up half heartedly and go through the actions rather than respond in full compared to times we bask in the utter thrill in the honor of being invited and the joy of full celebration that follows!
The truth is, inside each of us is a bit of everyone invited to the feast. Being aware of those different parts and learning to recognize and reframe them is an important part of tossing out what needs to be tossed out and inviting in what needs to be invited in. When we see God as our provider and protector rather than a dictatorial king, we trust Our King, rather than ourselves, to remove what needs to be removed even when it results in a painful wailing and gnashing of teeth.
By doing so, we form more and stronger postive neural pathways in trust rather than in skepticism. Positive neural pathways help us form better relationships with others, (including those we arrogantly deem unworthy and would fail to invite in), with ourselves (who we tend to judge as being either unworthy or over worthy and with an inability to see our true selves), and most importantly with THE KING, who is our all good, all powerful, all knowing provider and protector.
How we see The King impacts every relationship we have. In these times of trouble, it is important to know who He is and what His role is. It is important to accept His invite and joyfully and graciously respond according to the honor being given without thinking we know better.
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