In his book “Beginning to Pray” Orthodox Archbishop Anthony Bloom shares a little story about Moses from Hebrew folklore:
Moses finds a shepherd in the desert. He spends the day with the shepherd and helps him milk his ewes, and at the end of the day he sees that the shepherd puts the best milk he has into a bowl, which he places on a flat stone some distance away. So Moses asks him what it is for, and the shepherd replies, “This is God’s milk.” Moses is puzzled and asks him what he means. The shepherd says, “I always take the best milk I possess, and I bring it as an offering to God.”
Moses, who is far more sophisticated than the shepherd with his naive faith, asks, “And does God drink it?”
“Yes,” replies the shepherd, “he does.”
Then Moses feels compelled to enlighten the poor shepherd and he explains that God, being pure spirit, does not drink milk. Yet the shepherd is sure that he does, and so they have a short argument, which ends with Moses telling the shepherd to hide behind the bushes to find out whether in fact God does come to drink the milk.
Moses then goes out to pray in the desert. The shepherd hides, the night comes and in the moonlight the shepherd sees a little fox that comes trotting from the desert, looks right, looks left and heads straight toward the milk, which he laps up, and disappears into the desert again.
The next morning Moses finds the shepherd quite depressed and downcast. “What’s the matter?” he asks.
The shepherd says “You were right. God is pure spirit, and he doesn’t want my milk.” Moses is surprised. He says, “You should be happy. You know more about God than you did before.”
“Yes, I do,” says the shepherd, “but the only thing I could do to express my love for him has been taken away from me.”
Moses sees the point. He retires into the desert and prays hard. In the night, in a vision, God speaks to him and says, “Moses, you were wrong. It is true that I am pure spirit. Nevertheless, I always accepted with gratitude the milk which the shepherd offered me as the expression of his love, but since, being pure spirit, I do not need the milk, I shared it with this little fox, who is very fond of milk.”
In his new encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti”, Pope Francis dedicates a few sentences to the relationship between truth and charity (#184). Charity needs the light of truth (both the light of reason and the light of faith) in order to not be boxed-in and stymied to mere personal feeling and inclination. Truth, we learn from the Hebrew folk story, needs charity in order to avoid the danger of a cold calculation and manipulation that often wounds the little and the most vulnerable.
In this Sunday’s gospel (Mt. 22:1-14) we have the strange scene of the king at a wedding feast for his son – a feast where all sorts of people were brought in because the originally invited guests refused to come – casting out a guest found not wearing a wedding garment. In light of the little folk story and in light of Pope Francis’ reflection on truth and charity could the wedding garment found lacking be charity?
The wedding guest had the truth that he was invited to the banquet. “Go out,” said the king to his servants, “into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.” So, the man had this going for him; yet, it seems the man lacked the charity born of an honest and humble relationship with God. Paul alludes to his own wedding garment of charity when, in the second reading (Phil. 4:12-14, 19-20) he writes, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.” Paul is not boasting in his own truth here but humbly expressing his gratitude both for God’s grace and for the love and care of his brothers and sisters. Truth without charity will often boast that its isolation is a sign of its rightness and strength and because of this it cannot honestly enter a banquet with others. The king knew this. Truth and charity can celebrate in the banquet because – when the two are humbly held together – it is recognized that all is pure gift. That both Moses and the humble shepherd are welcome and have a place in the banquet. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines…”
We live in the graced truth of being invited to the banquet. May our wedding garment of charity always be found worthy.