I can’t remember where I heard or read this story—probably someone logged on at the moment told me—but there is a story about the English writers Hilaire Belloc and J.B Morton visiting the Carmel at Lisieux. I think the story goes that after they visited the convent, they were having afternoon tea in the village, when Belloc said to Morton something along the lines of: “People think they know what is happening in the world.”
He was of course speaking of the Little Flower, whose feast day we celebrated recently. Her Little Way revealed the truth of things in a way that completely undermines a worldly vision. Belloc realised that St Therese’s desire to be the heart of the Church was the real way to see the truth of things. Her interiority, her life with God, created and revealed a life that is eternal, one that showed up as passing fads so much that passes for important in our world.
We see something similar in our Gospel today. The truth is the wedding feast the King is holding for his Son, to which we are invited. Yet the invitation is declined by those on the outside. So many on the outside feel like they have more important things to do. They are too busy. Others take umbrage at the invitation, and attack the messengers. Perhaps they are enraged because the invitation makes what they are doing seem trivial in the grand scheme of things. So their anger is turned on the messenger.
We also see this inside and outside, this truth and triviality, in the man who gets thrown out of the feast. What seems trivial – the failure to wear a wedding garment – is considered supremely important. One who has accepted the invitation stands mute when condemned for not making the requisite effort.
But perhaps there is more to this picture of the wedding banquet. Marriage is a major theme in the Bible. It is trite to say that the Bible begins and ends with weddings. Marriage is one of the key ways we approach the Incarnation, the covenantal relationship between God and Israel, the bringing together of the Divine and the human in the person of Jesus. This marriage is most fully revealed on the Cross, when God gives us his only Son, and Christ gives his humanity to the Father, the betrothal of God to humanity and humanity to God. Now let us compare that scene to today’s Gospel.
We remember that at the Crucifixion, there were many bystanders. There were those there simply for entertainment. There were those who cursed Christ. Those who said stupid, meaningless things. Those who could not see what was happening. Those who could not see the central moment of history. Those who could not hear the invitation. Those who were outside the truth.
Then there was another group. Those who were participating in the wedding feast. First, and foremost our Lady at the foot of the Cross, but also the other women and St John, who had laid his head on the breast of Christ at the Last Supper – that great symbol for so many Saints throughout the history of the Church, that great symbol of closeness to Christ, of interiority and of prayer. They were on the inside. But on the outside seemed silent, weeping.
And so we have this juxtaposition between today’s Gospel and the Cross. Those on the outside talk like they know what is going, but are mute on the inside. Their talk is worthless, because it has no centre. And this chatter, this lack of direction leads to anger, violence and dissipation. In the end and in the heart of the matter, the Word of God reveals the emptiness of their “words”.
Meanwhile, those who are silent on the outside, those who suffer on the outside, on the inside they know what is going on. They are in relation to the truth. They have heard the invitation and accepted it. More than that, they have known what is required of them to accept the invitation, what their wedding garment is. They have brought it and worn it. They have done their bit, tiny though it may seem in the world.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has a great quote somewhere: “the worth of a soul is its capacity to suffer”. Now, he is pretty confusing on suffering, but I take him to mean in this instance that suffering is the great test of freedom. Will I remain true even when I suffer? This I think is the meaning of the crown of thorns. That we encounter real nobility when we meet someone who has remained true even in the face of extreme suffering. That’s the real crown. Where the interior shines out and reveals the exterior suffering to be a lie, to be nothing in the face of love.
We also hear some of this in our second reading. St Paul says riches or wealth, health or suffering, it doesn’t matter, because he knows how to live. But he has learned this truth through suffering, through staying close to Christ on the Cross. And he would not want that gift to be taken from his friends.
In fact, might I suggest this week chasing down a picture online of Tintoretto’s masterpiece in the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice. His painting of the Crucifixion is the perfect depiction of this inside and outside, of the still centre that transfigures all else, the word that renders all others besides praise mute in its presence.
And when you are looking at it, perhaps surrounded by the noise of daily life, trying to keep your head above the flood of information – information that so often does not help us live, maybe we can reflect on the question: are we spending our time inside or outside? Do our words matter? Are we avoiding suffering, but in doing so perhaps missing truth? What is the holy mountain we must climb, the wedding garment we must wear, the baptism we must endure such that our own baptism may truly take flesh?
Let’s pray then that we hear God’s invitation in our own lives. And also let’s pray that we can see how God seeks to dress us, as he seeks our cooperation, our flesh, our lives to become incarnate in the world.