A Rich Young Nation: the Challenge of Affluence and Poverty in Australia is the title of the 2008 Social Justice Statement, released last month for Social Justice Sunday. (See also the New Zealand Bishops’ statement Mindful of the Common Good: Thinking About Election 2008 also released in September 2008 for Social Justice Week and the parliamentary election on November 8, 2008 www.welcom.org.nz/?sid=944) It has increasing relevance in light of the near catastrophic financial crisis facing our world at present.
The title evokes Mark’s story of the rich young man. A parallel is drawn between Australia as a young and wealthy nation and the young man whose attachment to wealth inhibits the realisation of his potential as a follower of Jesus. In many ways, our nation is choosing to go the way of the young man who, in spite of a gracious ‘call’, cannot relinquish his hold on personal material wealth for the sake of a more egalitarian and just society. We might reflect on the section of the statement that addresses the economic status of our indigenous people. We might have something to learn from these people of the ancient ‘nations’ within the relatively new nation state we call Australia. If we are to hear the call to conversion of heart, then we might listen to their wisdom on respect for and proper relationship with the earth.
Today’s gospel offers a warning. Like the invited guests in Matthew’s parable of the wedding banquet, we are in danger of turning our backs on a gracious invitation or ‘call’ to share in and to share the riches of creation. The king’s invitation to successive and diverse groups recalls Israel’s prophetic tradition where God’s ultimate reign is imaged as a feast of the best food and wine, not just for a privileged few, but for all people. Many other aspects of the parable are quite troubling. The invitation to the less privileged comes only after those on the initial guest list have refused to come. The violent retaliation of the spurned host is hard to reconcile with an image of God’s reign. The same might be said for his treatment of the guest without a wedding robe in a situation where none of the guests had the opportunity to procure the right attire. It becomes clear that this is not a story to be taken literally.
So, what might this story be telling us? If we put aside the despotic aspects of the king’s character and put ourselves in the place of the original audience, we might find ourselves quite amazed at the inclusiveness of the king in a world where the people on the street would never have been invited to such a wedding banquet. If we think about the wedding garment as symbolic of a ‘right’ disposition or attitude in relation to the host, the company, and the riches to be shared, we might be drawn to handle earth’s precious resources with a little more care for the common good.