Is 25:6-10a; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20; Mt 22:1-14
Anecdote: 1) “When I am grown up I should like to fill the whole house with sick people.” The venerable servant of God, Canon Cottolengo, when but a boy of five years, was measuring with a cord one room after another. His mother, rather confused, asked him what he was trying to do. “Dear mother,” was the reply, “I want to see how many beds can be placed in this house: when I am grown up I should like to fill the whole house with sick people.” A tear of emotion glistened in his mother’s eyes. In 1832 he founded at Turin the ‘Little Asylum of Divine Providence’, and today it is world famous. It shelters 5000 men and embraces within its precincts a church, a number of houses, terraces and courtyards. [Joseph Aloysius Krebs How to Comfort the Sick (New York: Benziger, 1898) in Kelly Library, University of Toronto; see Google, USA Archives] -Like Canon Cottolengo, there are some who respond to God’s call with passion and reach out to others to realize God’s vision for the human race. But there are many who, like the invited guests in the parable (Mt 22:5), are complacent in their response to the Lord’s invitation. (Vima Dasan in His Word Lives).
Introduction: Today’s Scripture readings offer us a standing invitation to the everlasting joy of the Heavenly banquet and a loving warning to stay ever ready for this Heavenly banquet by constantly wearing the wedding garment i.e., remaining in a state of grace by avoiding sins and by doing good.
Scripture lessons summarized: In the first reading, Isaiah describes the Messianic banquet on the Lord’s mountain in the Holy City of Jerusalem, which Yahweh is preparing for His people. The “good news” is that it is a great feast of “rich food and choice wines.” But for the children of Israel the “bad news” is that Yahweh invites all people, including Gentiles, to the banquet. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 23), presents God as the Good Shepherd Who nourishes, leads and protects His flock. In the second reading, St. Paul advises the Philippians to put their trust in the power and goodness of a providing God, Who, in Jesus, has given His Church everything needed to enable His followers to participate in the Heavenly banquet. In today’s Gospel, by telling an allegoric parable of judgment in the Temple of Jerusalem two days before his arrest, Jesus accuses the religious and civil leaders of rejecting God’s invitation to the Heavenly banquet given through him, God’s Son. They have rejected the invitation by not listening to the Good News preached by Jesus and by not reforming their lives. This invitation was repeatedly extended to Israel through the prophets, including John the Baptist. But the leadership contemporary with Jesus rejected the reality that Jesus was the fulfillment of all prophecy, refused to accept God’s invitation to righteous living given through John the Baptist and through Jesus, and is now planning to kill God’s own Son, Jesus. Hence, God is inviting the sinners and Gentiles for His banquet, and that is why Jesus is keeping the company of sinners.
The first reading (Is 25:6-10) explained: The prophet Isaiah (742-700 B.C.) describes, under the image of a great banquet, the blessings and happiness that the Messianic Kingdom will bring.
Isaiah is referring to Heaven, the second and final stage of the Messianic Kingdom. He gives a graphic description of the great banquet that the Lord will prepare for his people, expressing a grand prophetic vision of the universality of Salvation. The imagery Isaiah uses is that of a great banquet on the Lord’s mountain, Mt. Zion: a feast for all people, doing away with death, wiping away tears from every face, and removing their reproach from the earth. Isaiah announces "good news and bad news." The banquet is certainly going to take place, but Yahweh is planning to invite not only His “Chosen People" but “all peoples," who “on that Day” will sing together, “Let us rejoice and be glad that He has saved us.” It took a courageous prophet to speak of a God Whose loving care extended to all. In some ways, Isaiah's ideal state parallels Jesus' parable about the King's wedding banquet (Mt 22:1-14). Let us remember that Heaven with its great banquet is ours for the receiving. God the Father intends it for us, God the Son has earned it for us, and God the Holy Spirit is ready at every moment of our lives to assist us to obtain it.
The second reading (Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20) explained: On several occasions, Paul has received generous financial support from the Christians at Philippi, so his words are a “thank you" note to them from prison. In today’s lesson, Paul emphatically proclaims, "In Him who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everything.” When the Apostle thanks his friends for their kindness toward him, he does so in these words: "My God in turn will supply your needs fully, in a way worthy of His magnificent riches in Christ Jesus." Paul claims that his strength comes from Jesus and his future hope revolves around Jesus. Referring to the vast spiritual benefits he enjoys as a man of Faith, Paul tells his friends in Philippi about the contrasts in his life: he knows the experience "of living in abundance and of being in need." Because of his Faith, it makes no difference to Paul whether he lives "in humble circumstances or in abundance." His whole existence has been transformed by his being joined to Jesus in His death and Resurrection. "I have learned," he writes, "the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry." Paul reminds us of our need for a complete and unquestioning trust in God and for the firm conviction that He is regulating the affairs of our lives.
Gospel Exegesis: The context: The parable of the royal banquet is a parable about the Kingdom of God and about the people who will eventually belong to it. It is also the first of three parables that challenge the legitimacy of the leadership. The parables all contrast the true Israel with the attitudes and lives of the Pharisees, demonstrating the claims of the Pharisees as false. In addition, the Parable of the Royal Banquet and the Wedding Garment is Jesus’ interpretation of the History of Salvation. It is also one of the three parables of judgment or “rejection parables” that Jesus told in the Temple of Jerusalem during the last week of his public life, addressing the "chief priests and elders of the people", i.e., their religious and civic leaders. Jesus told this parable on his last visit to the Temple on what we know as the Tuesday of Holy Week. The encounter was part of the Master’s last confrontation with those who saw Jesus as their enemy, before they had him arrested. The actual parable is the disturbing story of a King Who celebrated the wedding feast of His Son. When the VIP guests who had been invited refused to come, He brought street people in to take their places. Here, Jesus combines the parable of the marriage feast with another rabbinic parable, the parable of the wedding garment.
The objective: Along with the parable of the landlord and the wicked tenants, this, too, is an allegory unfolding the whole of salvation history. The parable was intended to be a fitting reply to the accusation that Jesus was unfit to teach because He was mingling with the publicans and sinners. It also answers the question of Jesus’ authority to teach in the Temple of Jerusalem. Jesus hints in the parable that he is befriending the sinners and preaching the Good News of God’s salvation to them because the scribes and Pharisees have rejected him and his message, while the sinners have accepted him wholeheartedly. That is why he compares God to a King who gives orders to invite the ordinary folk from the waysides as guests for his son’s royal banquet. Jesus also declares that the source of his authority is God his Father Who has sent His Son to preach the Good News of Salvation. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells this parable in reply to the statement made by one of his listeners: “Blessed are those who are invited to take part in the Messianic Banquet in Heaven.” This parable is based on the marriage customs of Jesus’ day and contains both a local and a universal lesson.
The wedding customs of Jesus times and political overtones: Since accurate timepieces were unavailable and preparation for a banquet was time-consuming, invitations to such events were sent and accepted well in advance. Once the banquet was ready, the host would send notice -- rather like our custom of making medical appointments in advance and receiving a reminder call a day ahead. Attendance at the royal prince’s wedding by prominent citizens was a necessary expression of the honor they owed the king and an expression of their loyalty to the legitimate successor to his throne. Even at ordinary weddings, it was insulting to the host if someone refused to participate in the wedding feast after agreeing to do so at the first invitation. Hence, “refusal of a king's invitation by the VIPs, without any valid reason suggested rebellion and insurrection” (The Interpreter’s Bible). That is why the king sent soldiers to suppress the rebellion. Thus, the parable of the wedding feast has major political overtones. Another approach to the parable is that it is a prophetic allusion to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., which is interpreted to be a sign of God's judgment against the unbelieving. In royal banquets, special wedding dress would be provided by the host and given, outside the banquet hall, to those who could not afford proper dress.
The code words and their direct meaning in the parable: The King in the parable is God and the King's Son is Jesus. The marriage is symbolic of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the union of Christ's Divine and human natures in one Person (St. Gregory). During the nearly 2000 years between Abraham and Christ, God sent Moses and the Prophets to call His Covenant people to the great wedding feast of the Gospel. At first, Jesus, the Christ (the Messiah) invites the people of the Old Covenant, to join this great marriage feast which is now ready -- but they fail to respond. The messengers the King had sent to invite the people were the Hebrew prophets. The second and third sets of messengers are the Christ Himself and then Christian missionaries. The burned city (v. 7) is Jerusalem. A few VIP invitees offer flimsy and insulting excuses, implying that tending to their business is much more important than the wedding of the crown prince. The other invited guests challenge the king's honor directly by seizing his slaves who bring the invitation, beating, and killing them. Clearly this action demands reprisal, and the King obliges. Matthew 22:7 tells how the King sent His armies against those who refused the invitation, and burned their city. Later, Christians tended to see the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as a similar judgment of God upon the people who had rejected the invitation by Christ to the eschatological banquet.
The universal call: The "good and bad" (v. 10), in the parable constitute the mixed memberships of the Church: the sinners and the righteous. The people in the highways and the byways stand for the sinners and the Gentiles, who never expected an invitation into the Kingdom. God’s invitation includes an offer of the correct dress for the feast, namely, the robe of Christ's righteousness of which Paul speaks in Philippians 3:7-11. Since this parable was directed to the chief priests and elders, Jesus contrasts their rigid observance of the Law with the open-hearted generosity expressed by the King: "Invite everyone you find." This is obviously more than a story about a king and a banquet. It is the story of Salvation History in which God sent prophets and Christian evangelists with Good News. The first-invited are now rejected, but strangers are accepted.
The extended meaning or universal lesson of the parable: Christians are invited to the endless joy of the Heavenly banquet. If, in our preoccupation with temporary pleasures and duties, we refuse this invitation, our greatest pain after our death will be the realization of the precious things we have forfeited. The invitation to the ordinary people from the byways tells us that God’s invitation to each one of us is purely an act of grace and not something that we deserve by our good works. The parable also warns us that God will judge those who refuse His invitation.
The Parable of the Wedding Garment: This parable is a modification of two rabbinic stories well-known to Jesus’ audience. In those days, participants in a banquet were expected to dress in clothes that were superior to those worn on ordinary days. Guests who could afford it would wear white, but it was sufficient for ordinary people to wear garments as close to white as possible. It was customary for the rich hosts to provide their guests with suitable apparel. For royal weddings, special outfits were given to any guests who could not afford to buy their own. Hence, to appear in ordinary, soiled working clothes would show contempt for the occasion, a refusal to join in the King's rejoicing.
The parable means that when one freely accepts Christ as the Lord and Savior, one must dedicate one’s life to Jesus. In other words, the Christian must be clothed in the spirit and teaching of Jesus. Grace is a gift and a grave responsibility. Hence, a Christian must be clothed in a new purity and a new holiness. In other words, while God, through the Church, opens wide His arms to the sinner, the sinner can only accept His invitation to this relationship of mutual love
by loving Him back, and so by making some effort to repent and change his life. It is not enough for one simply to continue unabated in one’s sinful ways. Although Jesus accepted the tax collectors and prostitutes, he demanded that they abandon their evil ways. The permanent and universal lesson taught by the parable has nothing to do with the clothes in which we go to Church. But it has everything to do with the spirit in which we enter God’s House. It is true that Church-going must neither be a fashion parade nor an occasion of scandal for others, but the garments of the mind and of the heart we wear when we go to worship God are more important. They are the garments of penitence, Faith, reverence and love. The parable ends on a slightly pessimistic note: "For many are called, but few are chosen." It is a sad fact that, although everyone is called to experience the love of God, relatively few will really try to follow His teachings.
Fathers of the Church on the parable: St. Gregory the Dialogist, a bishop of Rome, writes that the King is God Himself, and the marriage is symbolic of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the union of Christ's Divine and human natures in one Person. The feast is symbolic of Christ's Church, which exists, we remember, in Heaven, in Purgatory, and on earth. St. John Chrysostomos' commentary is similar to this interpretation. He adds that, at first, Christ invites the people of the Old Covenant, to join this great marriage feast, which is the Church. But they fail to respond. He invites them a second time, and they are too busy with earthly concerns, to which St. John Chrysostomos replies that "when spiritual things call us, there is no press of business that has the power of necessity." St. John comments that Christ sought to win them over before His crucifixion, and even after it, "He still urges them, striving to win them over." However, they refused Him, and so it is then that the ordinary people of the "highways," the Gentiles, are invited, since the wedding feast, the Church, must be filled. St John writes that when those invited "were not willing to be present at the marriage, then He called others," He called you and me.
Life messages: 1) We need to keep wearing the wedding garment of holiness and righteousness, the state of grace, all the time and appreciate and make use of the provision for God’s graces in the Church: a) We received the “wedding garment” of sanctifying grace in Baptism, and we receive additional graces to retain it through the other Sacraments. b) Our participation in the Eucharistic celebration and in personal and family prayers helps us to recharge our spiritual batteries and enables us to lead Spirit-filled lives. c) Jesus nourishes us in the Church through the proclamation of word of God and through his own body and blood in the Holy Communion.
2) We need to participate in the Eucharistic banquet with proper preparation by repenting of our sins and by actively participating in the prayers and singing during the Holy Mass. Participating in Holy Mass is the best preparation and source of power for our future participation in the Heavenly banquet.
3) We need to make our “banquet halls” full and vibrant? What do we do to make sure that the "banquet halls" of our churches are filled with people on Sunday mornings? Are we concerned enough to do something about it if they are not full or lively? The first part of the parable has some strong connections with our worship services. Does not God invite us there? Aren't we also called to be the Lord's messengers who are instructed to go and tell the invitees (the whole world) that everything is ready? Or do we absent ourselves because we have other "pressing" business that we think is more important? Do we remain mired in oppressive attitudes and discriminatory relationships even if our bodies are in Church? Do we ever prefer revenge to forgiveness? Do we see victimization of others and blame the victim? We must all work with God to rid ourselves of such attitudes. (Fr. Antony Kadavil)