Colleen Hartung’s Homily from October 11, 2020

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Solidarity: A public yes to the invitation to stand up and be counted.

Homily: Matthew 22:1-14

October 11, 2020

By Colleen D. Hartung

The stated purpose of Solidarity Sunday, which was started back in 1995 by Dignity USA, is to stand against the physical, verbal, emotional and spiritual violence perpetrated against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.  And there have been advances in the 25 years since its inception; marriage equality is the law of the land, there is greater visibility for the struggle of gay, lesbian and transgender youth and we have raised a generation of young people who support gay rights with a recent Gallup poll (May 2019) indicating that 84% of people under the age of 30 support gay marriage.  However, in spite of this apparent progress, C. Samuel Sinnet, Chair of Dignity USA’s Solidarity Sunday efforts, notes that what we’ve seen from leaders of the Catholic Church and others this past year qualifies as a continuation and even an escalation of spiritual violence and more.  For example, in a series of statements and releases, a number of US bishops and Vatican officials have questioned whether gay mean are fit for Catholic Priesthood.  The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has begun to enforce a new policy that bars transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming students from enrolling in more than 60 Catholic schools in Indiana.  And the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barret, an outspoken opponent of gay rights, puts hard won legal rights for gay, lesbian and transgender people at risk.  The march forward toward a more inclusive society that reflects the possibilities of a hoped for and realized reign of heaven seems at risk in these chaotic, upside down, crazy making times.  Which brings me to today’s gospel.

The parable of the royal wedding banquet for a much-loved son is hyperbole for sure.  All of the honored guests, every single one of them, refuse the invitation to this lavish party of the year and even more they abuse and kill the king’s messengers.  In response, the royal couple declares war on these intransigent guests responding in kind with murder and mayhem.  And with that taken care of, the King and the Queen send their servants in to the streets, indiscriminately inviting everyone who is left – good and bad.  An inclusive gesture that might redeem this story.  However, when they notice that one of these guests is not wearing the required wedding robe, they bind the guest, hand and foot, and throw the guest into the outer regions where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  The wedding invitation in this story functions less like an invitation and more like a demand for public solidarity with the royal couple and their son where there will be hell to pay for a refusal of any sort.  Which begs the question, how is this royal wedding banquet like the reign of heaven?

A few historical facts help a little.  It was the custom in the Ancient Near East for the wedding guest to wear a garment that publicly demonstrated respect and allegiance.  And often the host provided a rack of garments at the entry for those who had come without.  So the offending guest in our story actually chooses to enter without a wedding robe.  The guest is, in fact, an interloper, making a statement of sorts by refusing to whole heartedly celebrate the joyous occasion.

But still, banishment “into the outer regions, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth?”  It all seems more than a little harsh – a cautionary tale, perhaps, telling us how not to respond.  But as an allegory for the reign of heaven?  It is a stretch.

Yet a homily with some elucidating remarks is required. And so in preparation for this Solidarity Sunday where the focus is on inclusion in the context of a divided and fractured world, I kept asking myself over and over again; What is the lesson of this crazy gospel whose thematic focus appears to be rejection and vengeance?  And then it hit me – the familiar feel of the story.  I hate to admit it in front of this august community of spiritual seekers but this story of a mother and a father inviting their family, their friends, their neighbors and their associates to their son’s wedding reminded me an awful lot of a fantasy or waking dream I have played with, more than a time or two, in the face of my personal doubts about who among my network of relationships is truly in our corner, in solidarity with our son, when it comes to his rights and the rights of others, to love who he loves in ways that are publicly supported and celebrated.  If we ever have the occasion to play hostess and host at a wedding banquet, who will come in their finest wears, who will throw rice and cheer, who will clink their glasses for the couple to kiss, and who will cut in and ask for a dance with one of the grooms?  Binding those who refuse to celebrate and banishing them to the outer regions of my circle of trust isn’t part of the fantasy.  Because this fantasy isn’t really about rejection and vengeance but rather about a desire for a public accounting and a display of solidarity. Who counts themselves as part of the beloved community I hope for my child and for all our children and who does not?

Mathew’s parable does indeed call Jesus’ followers to an accounting that requires a public celebration of an inclusive reign of heaven. And in the parable, it turns out that it isn’t enough to just show up.  Inclusion at the banquet requires that one stand up, put your wedding robes on and be counted publicly, in solidarity with not only the king and the queen and their son but with all the people from the streets found wanting by ruthless social structurings.

The gospel ends: Many are called and few are chosen.  Standing in solidarity with our LGBTQI family, friends and neighbors, is not for the faint of heart.  The current pushback against the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people is unrelenting.  And solidarity requires courage, determination and persistence.  Ruth Bader Gindsberg worked for equality under the law, persistently, until the day she died.  Her efforts defined her.  We knew what she stood for.  We knew she could be counted on.  Just this last week, the #proudboys courageously hijacked the name of the white supremacists group called the Proud Boys, (made famous in the first presidential debate). The #proudboys posted pictures publicly displaying their pride and their love for one another – embracing, kissing, dressed to the nines — with the #proudboys.  They stood up, they were counted and together they put a serious dent in the divisive hate-filled efforts of the original Proud Boys by turning the meaning of their name on its head.  We can’t all be RBG or the #proudboys but we are all invited.  We are all called.

Gatherings like Solidarity Sunday are only a rehearsal and perhaps a little sustenance for the journey.  But the real task that distinguishes the many from the few is how we align ourselves in public.  How do we, each of us as individuals and as a community, support and celebrate in ways that define who we are and make clear that we stand in solidarity and that we can be counted on to come to the banquet and party joyously for all to see?  And so, it turns out, after all that the reign of heaven is like Mathew’s wedding banquet, we accept our invitation or we don’t and if we do, we find ourselves choose, we done our best party clothes and make a public display of our solidarity with all those in this community, in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our country, and our world, who are marginalized because of race, class, gender and most especially on this Solidarity Sunday because they identify as LGBTQI. 

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