Oct 12, 2014: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

1st Reading – Isaiah 25:6-10a

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
a feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
the web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord GOD will wipe away
the tears from every face;
the reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.
On that day it will be said:
“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

Today’s reading from Isaiah depicts a scene of permanent victory, abundant feasting, and life without end.

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples.

The mountain is Zion, a symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Note the universality of the scene: all peoples, not just the tribes of Israel.

A feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.

The imagery is of a celestial banquet as a symbol of eternal happiness, most likely the eschatological banquet.  The emphasis on rich food and choice wines signify the fullness of life.

On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever.  The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces; 

It is also on this mountain that God destroys death, along with the pall and shroud that are symbols of death.

Again, note the universality of the vision, which supports the idea that this is indeed the eschatological banquet: God destroys death for all peoples, all nations, all faces.  

The reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.

The diminished distinction between the people and the earth should not be overlooked; eschatological fulfillment embraces not only the entire human race but all of natural creation as well.

On that day it will be said: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”

Death has been destroyed, and there is no longer cause for tears.  Instead, there will be great rejoicing.  The people will acclaim the God to whom they looked for salvation.

Another indication of the eschatological nature of the scene is the use of the phrase “on that day,” which usually refers to the time when all promises are kept, the time of ultimate fulfillment.  Here, “that day” is the day of salvation.

For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

The “hand of God” is the symbol of God’s power.  As it rests upon the mountain, it brings fulfillment of all God’s promises and blessings.

2nd Reading – Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20

Brothers and sisters:
I know how to live in humble circumstances;
I know also how to live with abundance.
In every circumstance and in all things
I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry,
of living in abundance and of being in need.
I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.

My God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.

Today we complete our study of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In this reading, part of Paul’s closing statements, he expresses his gratitude for the aid the Philippians have sent and for their concern toward him.

Brothers and sisters: I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. 

Paul insists that the demands of his ministry have taught him to be adaptable.  He has experienced humiliation that often accompanies proclaiming the gospel as well as the adulation it frequently generates.  He can live with and minister in either of these situations.

In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.

There have been times when he has had enough to eat — either because of his own ingenuity or the generosity of others — and there have been times when he has known hunger.

I can do all things in him who strengthens me.

These have all been external matters, matters that hold very little importance for Paul.  He is convinced that his commitment to ministry was inspired and directed by God, so he is confident God will provide whatever he needs to fulfill his responsibilities.

Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.

Paul does not make light of the help the Philippians must have offered him.  They probably did meet some of his physical needs.  In acting in this way, they have participated in his ministry, and he is grateful.

My God will fully supply whatever you need,

Acknowledgement of the Philippians’ assistance when he was in need leads Paul to comment on their own needs.  God met Paul’s needs, and he will meet their needs as well.

in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

The glorious riches in Christ Jesus, from which they are to be supplied, are much more than food and drink and shelter.  In fact, this may be a reference to the glory that will be revealed to all at the end of this age.

“They were artisans and paupers. They had wives, reared children and owned houses. They had given these gifts freely from their small means. There was nothing absurd in praying that such people so situated should have sufficiency and plenty. He does not ask God to make them rich or affluent. He asks only that God may `supply their every need’ – so they will not be in want but will have what they need.” Saint John Chrysostom (between. A.D. 398-404), Homilies on the Epistle to the Philippians 16,4,19]

To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul concludes his teaching with a doxology.  The glory of which he speaks is the glory that belongs to God.  It has been God’s from the beginning and will continue to be God’s from age to age.  Only out of the graciousness of God are humans invited to participate in it.

Gospel – Matthew 22:1-14

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people
in parables, saying,
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.
He dispatched his servants
to summon the invited guests to the feast,
but they refused to come.
A second time he sent other servants, saying,
“Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet,
my calves and fattened cattle are killed,
and everything is ready; come to the feast.”‘
Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business.
The rest laid hold of his servants,
mistreated them, and killed them.
The king was enraged and sent his troops,
destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come.
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.’
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Recall that Jesus has journeyed to Jerusalem for his passion and made his triumphal entry.  He has upset the religious leaders, and for the third Sunday in a row, we hear of his confrontation with the leaders of the people.

Two weeks ago, we heard that repentant sinners will enter the kingdom before the supposedly righteous ones.  In last week’s gospel, those responsible for the supervision of the vineyard plotted to appropriate it for themselves.  Today, we are shown the severe consequences of refusing the invitation to a royal wedding banquet.

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.

The messianic kingdom was referred to in the Old Testament in terms of a wedding feast  (dating back to the ancient prophetic tradition in today’s first reading). The wedding feast was the high point of the wedding festivities and to be invited to it was a distinct honor. Failure to accept the invitation constituted a grave breach of courtesy — to the point it could even be considered a hostile act.

The king in this parable is certainly God, who has planned the eschatological celebration.  The king’s son is Jesus.

He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come.

The servants are the prophets and other religious leaders who serve God by calling others to union with God.  Note that the invitation is a free act of kindness: God isn’t obliged to invite anyone.

The original set of guests appear to be respectable people who were preoccupied with their own affairs.

A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.”‘

This connotes urgency; the feast is ready.

Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.

They are preoccupied with material things.  Their culpable negligence or indifference was no insignificant matter: to refuse the invitation of the king was tantamount to political insubordination.

The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.

This behavior is incredible, but here it serves to reveal the perversity of those invited. Recall that the servants are God’s prophets, many of which did pay for their mission with their lives.

For their bad conduct, the original guests shall pay dearly; retaliation will be swift and thorough.

The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

If the banquet is a metaphor for the delights of eschatological fulfillment, then the delay between the initial invitation and the announcement that the banquet is ready can be seen as the interim between the announcement of God’s promises and one’s actual entrance into those promises.  Within the metaphor, the punishment meted out by the king would be the final judgment and distress that will accompany the entrance into the age of fulfillment.

Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’

The people who finally filled the banquet hall were picked up at random.  They were street people, not distinguished persons who conducted their business within the city walls.

The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.

Just as there were social outcasts at this royal banquet, sinners too are invited to God’s eschatological feast.  They may not have enjoyed the same status as the first group of invitees, but at least they accepted the invitation.

But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. 

Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’

While the parable of the wedding feast is also presented in Luke’s gospel (Luke 14:15-24), this section about the garment is peculiar to Matthew, and some see it as a distinct parable. Commentators disagree about its meaning, but the wedding garment probably conveyed some aspect of righteousness: the repentance, change of heart and mind, that is the condition for the entrance into the kingdom.  Eschatological fulfillment will only be possessed by members who are not only present but able to stand the scrutiny of a final judgment.

In other words, even though the invitation to the banquet is given freely, there are still standards for its enjoyment.

Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

This final saying captures the essence of the entire parable.  The invitation to the wedding banquet was an offer to all; however, a much smaller number of people actually enjoyed participating in the celebration.  It stands as a warning of God’s judgment not only on Israel but also on the young Christian church to whom Matthew was writing.

 Connections and Themes

I cannot come.  As incredible as it may seem, some people turn down the invitation.  They either ignore it completely or become so involved in their own concerns they have no time for it.  Other people actually attack those who have been sent to deliver the invitation.  This is the case not only in the parable but also in our world today.  An invitation to the eschatological banquet does not seem to be as interesting as a sports event, the latest movie, or some social affair.  So much of our time and energy is spent either climbing the economic ladder or just trying to keep our heads above water.  It’s not that the concerns of our lives are ignoble; they are not.  But even if we are interested in the banquet, we do not seem able to afford the time and energy it might require.  And so we send our regrets: I cannot come.

What a shame! We seem to have forgotten that everything is tending toward the end; life itself is moving toward the time of the banquet.  All of our plans, all of our interests, all of our distractions will cease.  Only the banquet will remain, and we will have turned down our invitation.

The guests who came.  It’s the street people who fill the banquet hall.  The feast will be enjoyed by the ones who lack respectability, the ones who do not conceal their hunger.  True, they may have had nowhere else to go, but they could have chosen to stay on the streets.  Instead, they came and probably came gladly.  They would certainly have enjoyed the feast, thus greatly pleasing the one who provided the food and drink and even the appropriate wedding attire.  The people who finally came are not necessarily better than those who turned down the invitation.  However, they are the ones who recognized the value of the invitation, and they were also well aware of their own need.  It seems that all God asks of us is that we receive the blessings that have been prepared for us.  We need not work for them.  In fact, we cannot work for them on our own.  All we can do is enjoy them.

Dependent on God.  One theme seems to connect all the readings for this Sunday: our total dependence on God.  We have already seen that it is God who spreads the table and invites the guests.  It is also God who will punish those who are indifferent to or antagonistic toward the eschatological banquet.  Paul testifies that it is God who supplies whatever we need in whatever circumstances.  We do not have to bargain with God or make reservations.  All we have to do is accept what God has to offer.

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