By Father Donald Dilger
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 25:6-10a; Psalm 23:1-3a. 3b-4, 5, 6; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14
The context of this Sunday’s first reading is in a part of the Book of Isaiah, chapters 24-27, known as “The Apocalypse of Isaiah.” As the Apocalypse begins, everything has literally “gone to hell.” The whole earth lies waste, its inhabitants scattered with few left. The earth is in mourning and is withering under a curse. Jerusalem is in ruins. Joy and gladness have ceased. The moon will hide its face. The sun will blush for shame. After these depressing expressions, the prophet suddenly changes the tune. “The Lord will be king on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, and his glory will shine . . . .” Next Isaiah reverts to Jerusalem, the ruined city, ruined because that was the Lord God’s plan. Although the city is ruined, the prophet thanks God for being a refuge for the poor and needy, a shelter from storms, shade from the heat. Evildoers are clobbered at the end of this hymn. The Lord will repress the noise of the proud. Like heat is subdued by a cloud passing over the sun, so will the partying of the wicked be suppressed. Because Isaiah sings of the Lord being king in Jerusalem, this mixture of metaphors of depression and elation is called “The Enthronement of the Lord.”
What should happen after a king is enthroned? A party, of course, with a grand banquet. Isaiah hands out the menu. “On this mountain, (Mt. Zion in Jerusalem), the Lord of hosts (armies) will provide for all peoples a feast of fatty (rich) foods, strained wine (sediment removed), fat meat full of marrow (the soft substance that fills the cavity of bones).” Obviously neither the prophet nor the Lord worry about cholesterol! Now that the Lord is king, he will destroy death forever, wipe away tears from every face, remove the shame of his own people.” People will finally understand that such is our God, “to whom we looked to save us. Therefore, rejoice and be glad that he has saved us.” Isaiah recalls the Lord’s favoritism toward Jerusalem, “For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.” The reference to destruction of death forever provides St. Paul with material for his chapter on the resurrection of the dead. See 1 Cor15:26, 54-55. The Book of Revelation 7:17 picks up from Isaiah’s banquet, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Rev. 21:4 expands, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death shall be no more, neither mourning nor crying nor pain, for the former things have passed away.” The selection of this reading was influenced by today’ gospel’s parable of a wedding banquet.
The Responsorial Psalm 23 is a natural companion to Isaiah’ banquet. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. In green pastures (lush grass) he gives me repose . . . . You spread the table before me . . . , my cup overflows. The food menu of Isaiah is much to be preferred to the green grass of the Psalmist! Both Isaiah and the Psalmist lean heavily on metaphors, as is expected in poetry, for that is the type of literature that forms the first reading and the Psalm.
The second reading is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Recalling that he is writing from prison helps us understand his thoughts when he says, “I have learned to live in humble circumstances. He recalls his former life as a scholar and enthusiast for Judaism, “I know also how to live in abundance.” He continues comparing the two circumstances, “In every situation and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, living in abundance and being in need. I have the strength through him who strengthens me for everything that comes my way.” The Philippians must have sent CARE packages, or even a servant to care for him in prison, as was sometimes done. For this he says, “It was kind of you to share in my distress.”
The confrontation between Jesus and the hierarchy of Jerusalem and the temple continues in today’s gospel reading. It is better to understand this series of confrontational parables as Matthew’s attack on the leadership of Judaism in his time, the eighties of the first Christian century. Like the other parables in this series, this one also begins, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . . .” A king gives a wedding banquet for his son. Invitations by messenger only, two teams of them. All those invited had other things to do. Worst of all, the second team was mistreated and killed by the invitees. The enraged king sent his troops, destroyed the murderers and burned their city. By now the food was getting cold. The king sent more messengers — this time to invite anyone they could find. The banquet hall was full. The king entered. He noticed a man not dressed “in a wedding garment.” The king confronts him about it. No answer. This allows Matthew to tack onto the story a favorite phrase, “Tie him up, hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (six times in Matthew). A final warning: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
Mindful that Matthew directs this parable at the leaders of Judaism decades after Jesus’ time on earth, one expects the same hostility as in last Sunday’s parable. The king is God. He sends the prophets of old and the missionaries of the New Testament — the two teams — and they are mistreated and some murdered. The invitees are Jesus’ opponents who refuse the invitation of the Father to celebrate his Son’s (Jesus’) wedding. Their refusal and treatment of God’s messengers bring God’s destruction upon their city. (The Roman army destroyed the temple and much of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.) God’s invitation now goes out to all the peoples of the earth. These are the Gentiles streaming into the Church in Matthew’s time. The invitation is universal, but not everyone is prepared — the man without the wedding garment. What is the wedding garment? The author answers the question in a wedding setting, in the parable of the talents, and the parable of the last judgment (Matthew 25). It is the use of time, talent, and service to the needy in the corporal works of mercy, “Because you did such and such, enter into the kingdom prepared for you . . . .” “Many (all) are called (invited), but few (not all) are chosen (accept the invitation).