Oct 11, 2020: 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.

In today’s first reading from Isaiah, the prophet is offering a message of hope to his fellow Israelites. Their nation is being besieged from all sides, and their king, Ahaz, wants to put his trust in a political alliance with the Assyrians rather than in God.

His hopeful vision 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.

God is described as one who provides for all peoples, (note the universality: God’s generosity is not limited to 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 signifies the fullness of life.

(If the banquet metaphor doesn’t deeply resonate with us, it’s perhaps because our country has more plentiful food than anywhere else on earth, and spends less for it as a percentage of income than any other nation.)

On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; 

God destroys the blindness, division, and animosity between nations.

he will destroy death forever.  

God destroys death itself, giving eternal life.

The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces; 

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

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

Now we see that this 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!

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.

Isaiah is encouraging the king and the people to look to God, not a political alliance or anything else, to save them.

This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”

Isaiah’s image of salvation is the fulfillment of our deepest longings: the absence of hunger, mourning, death, and shame. Our tears will be replaced with great rejoicing. The people will acclaim the God to whom they looked for 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 is the last installment of our four-week study of Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In this passage, which is 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. 

The demands of ministry have taught Paul to be adaptable. He has experienced both the humiliation and the adulation that proclaiming the gospel frequently generates. He can live and fulfill his ministry 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.

In a verse not included in the lectionary, Paul expresses his gratitude for help the Philippians provided: “I am very well supplied because of what I received from you through Epaphroditus…” (Philippians 4:18b).

Paul does not make light of this assistance, of which he was probably in serious need. In acting in this way, they have participated in his ministry, and he is grateful.

My God will fully supply whatever you need,

Just as God will fully supply all that Paul needs, so will God full supply all the Philippians need.

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.”

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 Jesus call the Jewish leaders to conversion by telling them a parable.

Two weeks ago we heard that repentant sinners will enter the kingdom before the unrepentant self-righteous ones. In last week’s parable, 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 often referred to in the Old Testament in terms of a wedding feast (dating back to the ancient prophetic tradition we heard in today’s first reading). The wedding feast was the high point of the festivities and to be invited was a distinct honor. Failure to accept an invitation constituted a grave breach of courtesy, to the point of being considered a hostile act.

He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast,

In the time of Christ, a specific time for the feast was not provided with the initial invitation. As the detailed preparations made it clear when things would be ready, a final invitation was issued to let people know a precise time to arrive.

but they refused to come.

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.””

There is a sense of urgency; the feast is ready.

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

The invitees are preoccupied with material things. Their culpable negligence or indifference was no insignificant matter: if refusing any invitation was a hostile act, to refuse an invitation from the king was tantamount to political insubordination.

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

This behavior is shocking, but it serves to reveal the perversity of those invited. Jesus is warning the Jewish leaders that in rejecting him, they are also rejecting an invitation to the kingdom of God. (Recall that throughout Israel’s history, God’s prophets were often rejected and many were killed by the very people they were sent to assist.)

For their bad conduct, the original guests in the parable shall pay dearly; the king’s retaliation will be swift and thorough.

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

By the time Matthew includes this parable in his gospel (85 AD), Jesus has been killed, Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Romans (70 AD), and Gentiles have been invited into the kingdom. All of these events helped shape the parable in its present form. Matthew is probably referring to the destruction of Jerusalem when he says that the king was enraged and burned the city.

Many people make an unconscious mistake in interpreting this passage that can lead to serious error. Instead of interpreting the story as a parable (where the details are not stressed), they interpret it as an allegory (where every element of the story stands for something in real life) and assume the king represents God. This leads to the image of a God who kills and destroys, who throws people out, rather than a God who saves. The basis of this mistake is a misunderstanding of literary form. Many parables, if interpreted as allegories, lead to similar mistakes.

We can look to the objective of a given teaching to guide the proper interpretation. This parable is intended to teach the chief priests and elders that they must respond to Jesus and his invitation if they want to enter the kingdom. It is not addressing the question, “What is God like?”

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.

This is probably a reference by Matthew of the invitation of Gentiles into God’s kingdom.

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 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 also appears in Luke’s gospel (Luke 14:15-24), this section about the garment is peculiar to Matthew. Some see it as a distinct parable on its own.

Commentators disagree about its meaning, but the wedding garment probably conveyed some aspect of righteousness: namely the repentance (change of heart and mind) that is required for the entrance into the kingdom. Eschatological fulfillment will only be granted to members who are not only present but able to withstand 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 Church to whom Matthew was writing.

Connections and Themes

I cannot come.  As incredible as it may seem, some people turn down the invitation to enter God’s kingdom. 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 aren’t. 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 connects all three readings this Sunday is our total dependence on God. It is God who spreads the table and invites the guests. Paul testifies that it is God who supplies whatever we need in whatever circumstances. Jesus still invites the chief priests and the elders into the kingdom even though he knew they wanted to kill him. We don’t have to bargain with God or make reservations. All we have to do is accept what God has to offer.

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