Matthew 22:1-14; 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
April, Spring of 2017. An event supposedly meant to stamp itself as the festival of musical festivals was about to take place. Not unlike Tomorrowland in Belgium, or the Glastonbury in the UK, the Fyre Music Festival (spelled F-Y-R-E) was to be held in the Bahamian Island of Great Exuma. Initially promoted by social media influencers Kendall Karadashian Jenner and Hailey Baldwin, now married to Justin Bieber, the Fyre festival thus attracted immediate attention. Drawn to this honeytrap, many party goers immediately grabbed tickets to the event; costing hundreds and thousands of dollars. This event later turned out to be fraudulent as expectation met reality. You can actually watch this unfold on Netflix as a documentary entitled, “Fyre: the greatest party that never happened”. Instead of luxury villa accommodations, participants were instead housed in tents. Instead of being served gourmet meal buffets, guests ate sandwiches from styrofoam packs.
Beyond the fraud and deception surrounding this party, however, there seems to be an underlying and disturbing theme of exclusivity which seems to underpin such events. At further glance, this exclusivity seems to have pervaded our thought and culture as well. Resulting in gated subdivisions, VIP clubs, top ranked schools, and privileged memberships. The theme of exclusivity has – for better or for worse – even dictated how our politics have played out; or how the world’s economy has turned out. You just have to see how trolls play the ‘we against the other’ playbook on social media or how the economic and social problems boil down to how the ‘other’ has been the cause of the nation’s ills, whether it be migrants or drugs.
Today’s Gospel reading seem to critique this exclusivity and promote its opposite, inclusivity, instead. In the Gospel today, we find Jesus narrating a parable of a king who gave a wedding feast and invited guests. Notice how this was an exclusive invitation at first. But for some reason or excuse, the invitations were turned down. Guests refused to come despite the summons from the King. Amidst conjectures of whether it was politics at play, the bottom line was that the King decided to do the opposite. The invitation thus shifts to inclusive. He commanded his servants to invite everyone, regardless of rank and class.
Perhaps in this time of the pandemic; during these very divisive and turbulent times we live in, the principle of inclusivity seems a practical and wise way forward. When we begin to treat each other with kindness and respect, regardless of our upbringing and education; regardless of our politics and ideologies; regardless of our beliefs and idiosyncrasies, perhaps we may yet see the promise of salvation and plenty proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah in the first reading. For the prophet who promised us a savior tells us that the Lord God will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and will destroy death forever. But of course this is easier said than done. For more often than not, we would find ourselves in a disconnect between the good we intend to do, and the harm we actually do to ourselves, to others and the community. And so St Paul, in the second reading, tells us that with the principle of inclusivity lies the principle and value of Ignatian Indifference. When we begin to treat riches and wealth, power and influence, and honor and prestige, as a means to an end, rather as an end themselves, then we become more free to place ourselves in the shoes of the other. As St Paul cites his own narrative of sharing of this indifference – of being well fed and of going hungry – St. Paul cites his secret of being inclusive in dealing with others. He tells us, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” Mind you, St Paul shares this truth not as a mere concept, but as an encounter and experience of Jesus. We can do all things in Jesus who strengthens us.
We still do not know how the narrative of the pandemic will turn out but if there is one inspiring individual living at the present who has shown us how to live out the principle of inclusivity, it will be Pope Francis. To counter the narrative of deception and exclusivity depicted in the Fyre Netflix documentary of “the greatest party which never happened, “you may want to tune in to a documentary narrative of authenticity and inclusivity. Thus I would highly encourage you to watch “Pope Francis: A man of his word” on Netflx, if you have not done so yet. Whereas the Fyre Musical Festival put emphasis on the fleeting and shallow joy of the moment, this documentary embraces the pain and suffering of humanity. Contrary to critiques made against him, Pope Francis does not call attention to himself. People reach out to him because they want a glimpse of how the cross becomes a portal to the eternal. How the timeless questions of why there is so much suffering in the world; of the seeming prevalence of evil and corruption; perhaps finding strength in Jesus who was nailed on the cross seemingly helpless and suffering can help us find meaning to such questions. But perhaps this becomes more meaningful when having been invited to the Lord’s banquet, when we ourselves have experienced mercy and compassion, perhaps we can also start inviting others not from our own. Perhaps in becoming more authentic and inclusive in dealing with others, can we find our redemption.
*image from the Netflix documentary “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened”