OCTOBER 15TH, 2017: TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
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.
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
To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.
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.
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."
Meals obviously play a big role in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. They appear in all three of today’s readings. But our sacred authors look at them from three different perspectives.
Though our first reading is often proclaimed at funerals, Isaiah isn’t talking about heaven. The concept of an eternal reward awaiting us after our physical death wouldn’t enter mainstream Jewish thought until about 600 years after his prophetic ministry. He’s simply looking forward to an ideal age when there would be no death, when that “veil” which entraps all people will finally be destroyed. When that day arrives, everyone will gather on Mt. Zion – the mount on which Jerusalem’s temple is built – for the most terrific banquet anyone could ever imagine. Yet I presume Isaiah knew such a day would never arrive during his lifetime. It was just his “when-my-ship-comes-in” dream, an expression of his faith in Yahweh’s eventual care, no matter when and how it would appear.
Still, meals – and especially banquet type meals – were significant events in the biblical world. That seems to be why the gospel Jesus uses the metaphor of a big feast when he’s trying to explain his insight into the “kingdom of heaven.”
Before this story appeared in Matthew and Luke’s gospels, scholars believe it was originally included in a now-lost collection of Jesus’ sayings which they refer to as the “Q.” Both evangelists changed it around a little to fit their unique theologies. Luke, for instance, who seems to have had problems with “Mrs. Luke,” leaves out the meal’s wedding aspect, and also adds another excuse for not attending: “I’ve just married a wife, and therefore . . . .” But in either case, gospel readers are reminded that lots of people miss the boat when it comes to recognizing God working effectively in their lives.
By the way, don’t worry about the poor guy who was just walking down the main street, suddenly pulled into a wedding banquet, and then thrown out into the “darkness outside” because he’s not wearing the proper clothes. Matthew has obviously meshed two separate stories into one, simply because they had something to do with wedding celebrations. The second story has nothing to do with the first.
Ignoring the second story, Jesus’ message is clear: “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” Matthew’s readers can prove the point by just looking around. Few people are willing to die enough to themselves to actually experience God in their everyday lives. Though they’re probably longing for such a heavenly encounter, they easily can find excuses for not following through on such a demanding invitation.
On the other hand, Paul of Tarsus is one of the few who has actually accepted the invitation. He’s stepped into a life he could only have dreamt about before he came face to face with the risen Jesus on the Damascus road. By forming the giving relationship with others which that invitation requires, he discovers his value system has drastically been transformed – even about such basics as food. As he tells the Philippians, “I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.” He has a new focus in life, a focus which actually brings life, no matter the circumstances he experiences.
Obviously Paul’s disciples in Philippi have the same focus, else they wouldn’t be sharing what they have with him.
It’s more than interesting what people are able to do when they start to experience the risen Jesus among them, especially in the needy people among them. “I can do all things in him who strengthens me,” Paul proclaims. But he would have accomplished nothing had he found an excuse to ignore God’s invitation.