09Oct 09 Oct, Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Theme

By baptism we have been called to salvation, and to take our place in the future kingdom of God. Somehow, we must acquire the wedding garment, so as to take our place at the wedding feast. Our eucharist today recalls that invitation and prompts us to reflect on how we are responding. But it is not all our own work, as Paul reminds us. It is the grace of God that prompts us to a worthy life, and despite human weakness, we can do all things through him who strengthens us.

Readings

Is 25:6-10. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food.” The image of a banquet symbolises the blessings of salvation which God has in store for His People.

Phil 4:12-14. Paul “can do all things through him who strengthens me” The true Christian aims not to depend too much on material things, but to trust in the Lord for all he needs.

Mt 22:1-14. God is like a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. Many refuse their invitation to enter the kingdom of God; when the Jews refused, their invitation was given to the Gentiles.

Homilies

Parables (Peter Briscoe)

“Did you hear about John and Mary..?” The homilist today might take a leaf out of the gospel and tell a story of any couple arranging a dinner, a party or indeed a wedding. The point of the story would be to tell of the embarrassment and embitterment of being let down at the last minute by all their guests.

Parable arises out of ordinary life and is shaped by the detail and colour of what we see around us, but parable is not ordinary. It tells an unusual tale, paints a disturbing picture. Stories about people whose parties or weddings are ruined are stories of embarrassment or pain. They disturb. In our experience it may be rare that all our invited guests are able to come to our parties, but for all the invited to be unable to come is indeed extraordinary, a rare embarrassment. Such a story is to be whispered like gossip; it hints of scandal, suggests tragedy. Yet the parable Jesus tells is not whispered or hidden gossip; it is openly told and the party-giver is not the embarrassed nor embittered victim of social rejection. The party-giver is open-hearted and magnanimous and shared hospitality with all who’ll take it.

Today we see primarily this image of a God whose purpose is to share his life and blessing with all who’ll have it God’s fidelity to his purpose is neither deflated nor deflected by lack of response or outright rejection. The loving, open-hearted persistence of God in invitation to humanity is a basic proclamation of the gospel. It is a point that the homilist might use in pointing to the mission of the Church (which will be the focus of next Sunday’s liturgy.) We are the beneficiaries of the invitation of God brought by Christ and by countless of his messengers over the last two thousand years (often at the cost of their lives.) The Church is called to imitate that generosity and persistence in continuing that mission. It means going into the highways and byways of the world to invite all people to share in the life of God. We all share in that vocation (either as missionaries or as those who support them by our prayer as well as our finances. We are also missionary by the quality of ur living faith.)

Another point to develope might be the Matthean addition of the “wedding-garment” story. This was a warning to those in the Church that entry into the kingdom of God does not follow automatically on an initial acceptance of Christ’s invitation. This invitation is unexpected and undeserved, a gift of God’s generosity. If really appreciated it must bring a change in us, making us more like the One who has invited us. A failure to change and grow in his image may be a sign that we have not really appreciated and accepted the invitation.

For us, sharing in the Eucharist is a Sign and anticipation of our sharing in the messianic banquet of heaven. But this taking part in the Mass means that our daily lives are to be different. The image of the wedding garment obviously means that we should be identifiable as people who belong at the Lord’s Supper – people whose lives reflect what we celebrate – an open-hearted, generous love; people who do not allow disappointments to embitter us, insults to so hurt us that we become hardened either into false defensiveness or aggressive retaliation. We are called to be people of persevering goodness, never deflected either by our own weakness or failure or by the indifference of others to the good we try to achieve. We are called to be people who encourage others when they feel let down or hurt.

In all this is a reflection of what we have discovered in Christ – the parable of a world turned upside-down from rejection and embarrassment to acceptance and appreciation of unexpected giftedness.

Tomorrow’s World (Patrick Rogers)

What does tomorrow hold for us? What is there to hope for? Inescapably, our imagination projects into the future. As children, we wondered “What will it be when like when we grow up?” Parents promised new freedoms and new possibilities “When you are older.” Human nature lives in vital tension between the Already and the Not Yet.

As adults we may indeed have to trim down and focus our hopes and fantasies into more precise channels, with the passing years. But we are still gripped with interest in what lies ahead – not just for oneself and family, but for the wider society and world. What steps in science and technology lie just around the corner? How will society develop, between now and the year 2050? The changing balance between richer and poorer countries; the unstable marital climate of our own nation; proposed educational changes and law reforms; new employment initiatives; the provision of better medical and recreational facilities – all are subject to our keen analysis and hopeful projections.

Elderly people may tend to ponder more on the past than the future and to dwell on bygone events and treasured relationships. Their looking forward is more often marked with resignation or anxiety than with hope. In the dignity of their mature years, they accept that “Che sera, sera; whatever will be, will be’. And, if they have learned the habit of prayer, they peace-fully leave their future in God’s hands.

But today’s Scriptures invite us all to raise our sights, and our hearts, when thinking of the future. Beyond this present life, God has planned a great future for all of us. Isaiah’s prophecy of the heavenly banquet is an invitation to think of our eternal destiny. There is more to live for than what we see in this present world, interesting and challenging though it is. What really counts, indeed, is whether we succeed in reaching our eternal happiness with God.

Perhaps our predecessors in the faith had a stronger sense of the afterlife than we have today. Like Saint Paul, they believed that history is in God’s hands and that divine justice will have the last say. Difficulties in one’s present life could then be seen as growth-pains, or as a means of purifying the spirit from selfishness and sin. Under it all, the world was “in travail,” in process of bringing a new era into existence. So it was that Paul – and many other men and women of faith – could be inwardly at peace, no matter how hard the circumstances in which they found them-selves. We can “do all things in Him who strengthens us,” if we hold on to the hope of everlasting life.

The eternal banquet is not to be easily dismissed as so much “pie in the sky’! Christians don’t literally expect to sit down to an everlasting meal, an eternal eating and drinking festival somewhere in the stratosphere. While heaven is described in vivid anthropomorphic images, we realize that “eye has not seen.. nor can the human heart imagine, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9.) Still, the banqueting atmosphere of friendly conviviality is a good image for that perfect loving communion with God and with others towards which our lives are destined.

Jesus emphasises that this wedding-banquet is open to all people indeed, that God sends his messengers out to scour the highways and byways in order to fill his house with guests. It is a comforting thought that God wants us to be saved, even more than we do ourselves.

On the other hand, there is a special regalia or wedding-garment that must be worn. This is the level of personal commitment required, in order to accept our place at the wedding feast. I like to think that this refers primarily to community spirit, an ability to share our well-being with other people, in the presence of God. Though founded on faith in God’s creative love, Christian hope retains a strong ethical dimension. Our wedding-garment is therefore being woven daily, by the quality of our interaction with others. In this sense, we hold tomorrow in our own hands, as with the help of God’s grace we build our own eternal future.

Bread And Circuses (Liam Swords)

I suspect that our notion of heaven derives largely from what we regard as most desirable in this world. Such was always the case. Every age reinvents heaven to mirror its own time. What is depicted tells us more about conditions here than in the hereafter. Whatever else it represents for me now, it is certainly not a marriage feast. Like most priests, I have had more than my share of wedding receptions in this world, with their invariable menus of turkey and ham, to have any desire for more of the same in the next. Yet, there was a time in my life when food came high on the list of desirables. The smell of a fry from the professor’s dining-room -in my boarding-school days was enough to transport me to another world.

Such was the bleakness of the lives of most people in biblical and other times, when food was basic and scarce, it is not surprising that Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a royal wedding feast. There was of course a political agenda behind those royal banquets. They helped to insure that the heir to the throne would be accepted and loved by his poorer subjects. Caesars and senators in ancient Rome were accustomed to sponsor gladiatorial contests and other bloody spectacles for much the same reason. Cynical Romans were well aware that their acquiescence in, if not allegiance to, the ruling junta, was being bought with ‘bread and circuses’. Vestiges of the same still survive today as richer countries vie with each other to host the Olympic Gaines or the World Cup.

There was nothing hidden about the parable Jesus addressed to the religious hierarchy of his time. They were his prime target and they knew it. (Already they had plans in the pipeline to rid themselves of this rabble-rousing rabbi.) They and their likes were too preoccupied with the pursuit of privilege and power to accept the invitation to the wedding-feast. Others had their ‘farms’ and their ‘businesses’, their shady deals and worldly transactions. They did not take kindly to being told to abandon their dubious practices. They rejected and maltreated the prophetic messengers sent to warn them that the feast was – ready. But they have now long since gone and paid the price of their infidelity.

But the story and the story-teller goes on choosing in every age a new audience. Certainly those executives in Roman collars who run their local churches like regional subsidiaries of a giant international company are now being targeted. But they are not alone. It would be comforting to think that we are too low down to be included. Or worse, that we are part of that great unwashed at the crossroads who finally fill the wedding-hall. It would also be naive. Our baptism placed us in the first place on the guest list. Our profession of faith every Sunday confirmed it. Our preoccupation with this world suggests we might not make it to the wedding.

It used to be thought that heaven was the better of the two options on offer when we die. The reality is quite different. The offer is made now. Death only freezes for eternity the choice we – make here. We have already received our invitations. We have been tagged with an RSVP. -We are already making our responses by the priorities we choose here and now.

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-10

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain. The Moabites shall be trodden down in their place as straw is trodden down in a dung-pit.

Second Reading: Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20

I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.

The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”