Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-10a; Response: Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; Second Reading: Philippians 4:13-14, 19-20; Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14

The first reading is taken from a section of Isaiah known as “The Apocalypse of Isaiah,” chapters 24-27. It gets this name because of its similarity to our New Testament Book of Revelation, which is also known as “The Apocalypse.” In an apocalypse, one expects catastrophic judgment by God, but also intervening symbols of consolation. As the Apocalypse of Isaiah opens, everything has, so to speak, “gone to hell.” The earth lies waste under a withering curse, its inhabitants in mourning. Jerusalem is in ruins. Joy and gladness are no more. The moon will hide its face, the sun blushing with shame. After all this negative chanting (rapping), the prophet suddenly changes his tune. He proclaims the Lord God King on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. After initial praise, the prophet reminds the Lord what ruin he has done to the city. Symbols of ruin and restoration are mingled in this poetic chant which is called “The Enthronement of the Lord.” The enthronement climaxes in a great celebratory description of a banquet on the same Mt. Zion in Jerusalem on which the Lord had wrought such devastation. The banquet is a symbol and promise of restoration.

Our reading begins, “On this mountain the Lord will provide for all peoples a feast of fatty (rich) foods, wine with all sediment strained out, fat meat full of marrow, (the soft substance filling the cavity of bones, and considered a delicacy).” Clearly, neither the Lord, nor the prophet, are concerned about cholesterol and weight gain. Now that the Lord is king, what is his mission statement? He will destroy death forever, wipe away tears from every face, and remove the disgrace into which his own people have fallen. Now they can point with pride to the Lord and say, “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us. Let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us.” The final sentence defends Jerusalem (Mt. Zion) as God’s residence: “The hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.” The description of this symbolic banquet is similar in tone and purpose to the song of the oppressed in the 1960s and beyond, “We shall overcome!” This reading was selected to accompany the parable of the wedding banquet in today’s gospel.

Psalm 23 is an appropriate companion and response to the banquet of Isaiah. The menu, however, is quite different. The sheep of the Lord’s flock are speaking, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (lack). In green (lush) pastures he gives me repose.” The metaphor changes quickly — from the green grass feeding the sheep in a pasture to food (maybe a green salad) on a table. “You spread a table before me . . . .” Next, we hear of “dwelling in the house of the Lord.” That’s a long way from eating grass in a pasture. A beautiful mix of metaphors in poetry expressing total confidence in God’s care for us.

In the Letter to the Philippians, we should recall that St. Paul is in prison. With that in mind, we can understand what he means as he writes, “I know how to live in humble circumstances ….” Those and other humble circumstances are given in detail in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. The point he makes in this reading is to thank the Philippian Christians for sending him support in prison. He may be referring to Care packages or even a slave to take care of him in the prison. In return for their aid, he assures them that God will supply whatever needs they have. Even in his difficult circumstances Paul does not blame God, but praises God: “To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.”

The parable of The Wedding Banquet is the third parable Matthew assembled to depict the ever-increasing tension between Jesus and the temple hierarchy, a tension that would end in Jesus’ death. The parable begins with a frequently used introduction, “The kingdom of heaven is like ….”

A king gives a wedding banquet for his son. Invitations go out by messengers only — three teams of them. Response to the first messengers: “They refused to honor the invitation.” The second team of messengers carried a more detailed invitation, even mentioning an entrée of fattened beef. Some ignored the invitation and went about their business. Others did worse. They mistreated the messengers and killed them. The king was furious. He sent his troops. They executed the murderers and burned their city. He sends out a third team. No privileged invitees, just anyone they can find in the streets and along the highways. The banquet hall was filled with guests. Keen observers might wonder how long the prepared food was still edible. Parables are teaching stories not concerned about details. What may have been the original meaning of this parable? Jesus addresses the temple hierarchy. He appeals to them to see themselves in the invitees who refused the invitation.

Matthew, writing in the 80s of the first century, does not address the temple hierarchy of Jesus’ time. The temple and its leadership were destroyed by the Roman army in 70 A.D. He has made an allegory out of the parable. In an allegory, individual elements of the story symbolize persons, events, etc. Now, the rejecting invitees represent the scribes and politicians who became the leaders of post-temple Judaism. God is the King who gives a banquet for his Son. The teams of messengers were the apostles and other Christian missionaries. The invitees who reject the invitation are the learned scribes and politicians who not only refused the claims of Christianity, but sometimes turned homicidal in their persecution of Christian missionaries. Saul of Tarsus, the future St. Paul, was one of those persecutors until his conversion. The king who sent his troops to kill the murderers and burn their city symbolizes God using the Roman army to destroy Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. The responders to the third team are the Gentiles who, in Matthew’s time, were swarming into Christianity. Matthew is also speaking to his Christian audience. He adds a brief parable about a guest who was not properly clothed for a wedding banquet. What should have been his banquet attire? Good works as all of Matthew 25 requires. The man is tied up and thrown out. Lesson to Christians: admittance to Christianity, to the Church, is not guaranteed without effort. Even that effort is a grace of God that can be accepted or not.