18th Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Isaiah 25. 1-9; Matthew 22. 1-14 (view all)
One of the side effects of living in a vicarage is that it is often a port of call for those who are in dire need of help, including for those who are rough sleepers.
Shortly after moving into the first vicarage I lived in in Newport, one of the first interactions I had on our doorstep was with a rough sleeper who also happened to be blind, and knocked on our door asking for assistance. His shoes were falling apart and his trousers were heavily soiled, and he left with a set of fresh clothes, including a pair of trainers that, to be honest, I was quite attached to.
Later on, feeling rather pleased with myself, I related this experience to someone else who was heavily involved in several outreach projects to rough sleepers, and it turned out that all may not quite have been what it seemed. I was told that this man was well known around Newport, wasn’t actually blind as he had presented himself and, in fact, had received an offer of permanent accommodation, which had failed to stick.
Honestly, I finished that conversation feeling really downhearted. Part of me felt taken advantage of — if I knew then all that I had now discovered, would I have still offered help? And had it even made a difference anyway — given how complex his situation and how unwilling he seemed to take up the opportunities he had been given?
The same is often true of our attitude as the Church towards those who are in extreme need. We ask ourselves: How can we ensure that our generosity isn’t taken advantage of? And how could our small efforts possibly make a difference?
What should our attitude be, and how should we respond to the complex issues surrounding homelessness in our society?
A lot of our issues around responding to the needs of others revolve around the concept of ‘worthiness’. How do we determine those who are worthy of our assistance, and those who aren’t?
Often this idea is even extended to our understanding of poverty. Especially in recent times, TV series like Benefits Street and other media and social media portrayals of poverty encourage us to separate the poor out into two camps. The deserving and the undeserving poor.
Today’s readings, though, refute this approach we so often take to other human beings. Isaiah tells us that one day God will provide a feast ‘for all peoples’ of rich food and wine — presumably both those who are deserving and undeserving.
And Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew’s gospel, challenges this also. Those who were originally invited on the first two attempts ‘were not worthy’, the King tells his slaves, ‘Go therefore… and invite everyone you find.’
Who is worthy to receive an invite? It turns out that those who seem worthy may not be as deserving as we thought. And those who appear unworthy may actually be the best guests of all. When it comes to God’s kingdom, thanks to the work of Jesus, none are to be excluded. All are welcome.
In fact, as we dig deeper we discover that Jesus is less concerned about the worthiness of the invitees before they are invited, and more about their response afterwards.
There is, of course, one guest who fails to respond appropriately. They haven’t taken the time to prepare their clothes correctly. And so, we too should be careful that we prepare ourselves correctly to respond to God’s invitation. That, in words elsewhere in the scriptures, we clothe ourselves with service, compassion and, most of all, love.
So how can we clothe ourselves correctly, in response to the invitation to God’s kingdom? How can we respond to Christ’s call to love and serve those who are poor, those who are marginalised, those who find themselves homeless?
This calling is more important than ever in the light of the year so far. What will be the impact of Covid-19 on those who are homeless? What new support will the government provide, now the initial crisis funding provided to support rough sleepers through Covid-19 has been expended?
And as we approach the winter, how can we support Night Shelters across the country, and in our city of Cardiff, to meet the additional requirements they face to prevent the transmission of the virus? How will rough sleepers be enabled to access additional support with mental health issues or addiction?
We must learn and listen, first of all. We can pray. And we can use our voices to speak out, keeping those who are so often last and least at the forefront of our minds in the coming months.
I’ll finish today with a five hundred year old meditation from St Teresa of Avila. A poem and a prayer which invites us to respond to Christ’s invitation through love and service:
Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks
with compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands,
yours are the feet,
yours are the eyes,
you are his body.