When you come to church and hear lessons that tell of a (Lk 2) decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed; of Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem; of shepherds abiding in their fields being visited by angels proclaiming the birth of the Savior; proclaiming Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace good will toward men; you intuitively know that it is Christmas and we are celebrating the birth of Jesus, the long promised Messiah, (Jn 1) the Word made flesh, dwelling among us.
When you come to church and hear a lesson that tells us (Lk 24) on the first day of the week, early in the morning, women came with spices for embalming: found a stone rolled away from the sepulcher; found angels in shining garments asking them “Why seek ye the living among the dead?”, you know that it is Easter and we are celebrating that Jesus has risen from the dead – (1 Cor 15) that death has been destroyed by the victory of the Resurrection.
Jewish religious life in first century
Quote, “A king invited his servants to a banquet, but did not fix a time. The prudent ones among them adorned themselves and sat at the door of the royal palace, for they said “Is anything lacking in a royal palace?” The fools among them went to work, for they said “Can there be a banquet without preparations?’ Suddenly the king summoned the servants; the prudent ones went in adorned and the foolish ones went in soiled. The king rejoiced at the prudent, but was angry with the fools. He said, “Let those who adorned themselves for the banquet sit and eat and drink, but those that did not adorn themselves for the banquet are to stand and watch.”
Every Jewish person listening to this Talmudic tale would know that this was one of the teachings for the Jewish High Holyday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus was expanding upon the traditional Jewish commentary. (Mt 22:13) He ratchets up the consequences of being unprepared from just standing and watching at the banquet to being physically seized, bound hand and foot, taken away – cast into outer darkness, accompanied by weeping and gnashing of teeth. All knew that the heart of this message was one of personal and corporate repentance in preparation for a yearly judgment by almighty God. Further, it was understood that the white garments were not simply a liturgically appropriate color for a season or feast day, but that they symbolized purity, holiness and righteousness before the Lord. These garments were supposed to be an outward reflection of an inner spiritual life – one adorned with repentance of sins and exhibiting the living out of that repentance in observable deeds of love and charity towards one’s neighbor.
It is an appropriate theme for this time of the Church year as well. Trinity-tide will soon be coming to a close and we will begin to consider “the four last things” – death, judgment, heaven and hell.
Yom Kippur was the culmination of a ten day period called “the days of awe” by the Jewish people. They believe that this is when God annually judges the thoughts and intents of each person’s heart, as well as their actions towards others. These ten days provide a window of opportunity to seriously confront with brutal honesty those things that have been done in one’s life as well as those things that have been left undone. It is the time to attend to life’s unfinished business; a time for healing of relationships and reconciliation with friends and neighbors; a time to right wrongs, make restitution and perform acts of charity for individuals as well as the greater community.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, this kingdom parable of Jesus was spoken directly to the chief priest and Pharisees. In a very Jewish way of teaching, he was preaching their own Yom Kippur sermon back to them and calling them to embrace a life of repentance. Then as now, it is a tacit reminder that we are all called to practice what we preach and what we confess.
If we claim Christ as our Savior, if we claim membership in His family of faith, we too are called to regularly examine our hearts and our lives.
Do our daily actions reflect Christ’s Kingship in our lives? Do our attitudes toward our business dealings and co-workers, our relationships with family and friends honor the faith commitment we have made to our Lord?
As Christians, we have no need to wait for a once-a-year holyday to have the courage to face the thoughts of the awesome judgment of God. In the classical writings of sages and saints concerning the spiritual life, Christians are called to a nightly “examen”, or an “examination of conscience” – a brief overview of how we have lived out our day.
If we take a moment for honesty during our evening prayer and ask God for forgiveness of our many shortcomings, and for His help to live fully our life of faith, we need never fear the final judgment. A daily examination of conscience also can help pinpoint areas of concern that can be addressed in the Sacrament of Confession.
I encourage you to take advantage daily of the love and forgiveness God offers to us. Then, you too will be adorned and ready for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.