TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2020)
Readings:Isaiah 25:6-10Psalms 23:1-6Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20Matthew 22:1-14
Our gospel for this Sunday, not unlike last Sunday’s gospel, is an allegorical parable on the kingdom of God. It is given by Jesus during the last week of His life, and surely is being used by Matthew to suggest the increased tensions which would lead up to Jesus’ arrest. There was no missing the point, for as the gospel states: “Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people.” It is they who would recognize the familiar imagery used in all of our readings; it is they who were already predisposed to be infuriated by so many of the things that Jesus would say, for Jesus did not hold back if He felt the Pharisees and Scribes and elders of the people needed to be challenged.
The imagery used in today’s liturgy is easily understood by us, who appreciate banquets and feasts, and whose mouths water when Isaiah’s “rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” are spoken of. No doubt, we have all been to banquets of many kinds, and there would be few who do not understand the implications of the gospel’s “wedding feast,” especially if you were the one picking up the tab.
In our context this Sunday we are talking about the “messianic banquet,” a banquet highlighted by Isaiah to give his people encouragement and something to look forward to. Notice that the banquet in Isaiah is meant for “all peoples,” not just the Jewish people who looked upon themselves as singularly “chosen.” The God who desires them to be faithful and look forward to a banquet “will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations.” The Lord of hosts “will wipe away the tears from every face,” and the “reproach of His people He will remove from the whole earth.” It took a courageous prophet to speak of a God Whose loving care extended beyond the Jews, who prided themselves on their status as the only Chosen people.” It is that same God, of the beautiful and memorable Psalm 23, who “will spread the table before us” when we one day get to God’s heavenly kingdom.
The allegorical parable in today’s gospel from Matthew is pretty straight forward. The king is God, and His son is Jesus. The invited guests are the Jewish people, and they have been invited by Moses and all the prophets who followed Moses. Today’s parable is placed by Matthew on the Tuesday of Holy Week, making the rest of the parable all the more poignant. It would have been considered an extraordinary insult in Jesus’ day to “ignore” such a wedding invitation, and the referenced “mistreatment” and “murder” of the servants we have already seen in last Sunday’s gospel.
What we have not seen, and at first glance might seem problematic, is an “enraged king,” who sends in his “troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” While this might seem a little harsh for a parable, critics are in virtual agreement that Matthew is alluding to what has already happened, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. Matthew’s gospel was written (compiled) after that time, and thus the illusion would not have been lost on his audience. It was the inhabitants of Jerusalem whose city “was burned,” and the destruction of Jerusalem was interpreted to be a sign of God’s judgment against the unbelieving Jews, or, better, against those who refused God’s invitation to attend the feast. (This is not unlike last weekend’s servant who refused to go out into God’s vineyard to labor!)
With the feast ready, and those who were invited being found “unworthy” to attend, the king (God) sends his servants “out into the main roads and invite whomever they might find.” Notice that, happy for us, the invitation is extended to everyone, “bad and good alike” – God makes no distinctions. It’s not a matter if you are “good or bad.” It’s not a matter if you belong to the ‘right religion;’ its a matter of how fully you accept God’s invitation.
Which brings us to the problem with the little ‘distraction’ of the “man there not dressed in a wedding garment.” At weddings in Jesus’ day, people were expected to dress nicely, and so much planning went into a wedding (not unlike today) that if people could ill-afford nicer clothes, the one sponsoring the wedding would send people to give or make them something to wear – this isn’t an issue between the wealthy and the indigent. Being invited to a “wedding feast” guests were expected to conform to the standards of the day, and the “man without a wedding garment,” we can assume, deliberately did not want to conform to what everyone would agree was necessary to be part of the wedding feast.
We are quite well represented in today’s gospel. We are the “good and the bad,” we are the people from the highways and byways, we are the sinners and the men and women who go out of our way to do what is necessary to be part of that heavenly feast, whatever it takes. We were clothed in a white wedding garment at the time of our baptism, and at the time God’s grace and Holy Spirit came down upon us to dispose us towards doing God’s will. That will was laid out for us when God’s Son shunned the “form of God” and took on the humanity that is so fundamental to who we are. Jesus would spend His public years in our midst teaching us what it means to truly be God’s children. God’s invitation to saints and sinners alike can only be accepted when we enter into a relationship of mutual love by loving God back, and doing what we can to be sorry for our sinfulness and to change our lives for the better.
Biblical scholar Daniel Harrington, who I had the privilege of taking several classes from, has said about God’s invitation: “mere acceptance of the invitation, however, does not guarantee participation in the banquet…. Guests at a wedding banquet would be expected to appear in clean and neat clothing. When the king (God the Father) sees a [person] who is not dressed properly, he questions him in a cool manner (like Jesus: “my friend”) and has him ejected from the hall. Being a tax collector or a prostitute is no more a guarantee of salvation than being a Pharisee or chief priest; rather, one must receive Jesus’ invitation and act upon it so that when the banquet actually begins, one will be properly prepared to participate…. The invitation to the kingdom has been offered to all kinds of people, but only a few of them act upon it in such a way as to be allowed to participate in the banquet of the kingdom.”
We need to be filled with gratitude for God’s invitation. The same obstacles which prevented the Scribes, Pharisees, and elders from entering the kingdom – pride, love of worldly things and wealth, arrogance, an imbalanced sense of self-importance, love of worldly power and pleasures – those same things can impede us also. Our love must be for God and all of God’s people, and we must give witness to that love by what we say and do.
Our churches, where we experience the foretaste of the heavenly banquet in the Eucharist, should be full and vibrant, made up the various people from the highways and byways that we find in today’s gospel. Above all, the churches are filled with people who see themselves as sinners and in need of God’s forgiveness. It is that grace of God’s forgiveness which clothes us with the right wedding garment, and makes us worthy of participating in the wedding feast of God’s kingdom. At its end, our gospel reminds us that “many are invited, but few are chosen.” Our good works of justice, charity, and holiness, will make it sure that not only are we invited to the eternal wedding feast, but we are allowed to stay, where we “will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come (Ps. 23:6).”