23 August. Thursday of Week Twenty
Ezek 36:23ff. The exiles are brought back to their promised land, purified and renewed in heart and spirit, and so enabled to keep God’s law carefully.
Matthew 22:1ff. The royal wedding, where people from the byroads take the place of the original guests, a story adapted to the final judgment.
God does not give up
Ezekiel is a careful and cautious adviser. Where Jeremiah spoke warmly of our receiving a new heart (Jer 31:31-34), Ezekiel adapts his idea of freedom to the other expectations of Israel, more conscious than Jeremiah of liturgical rules and priestly authority. He speaks of sprinkling with holy water and cleansing from impurities. The priest must vouch that the worshipper will not contaminate the other members of the community. Yet Ezekiel is by no means a legalist. Before the law can be truly observed God must take away the stony heart and give a natural heart (in Hebrew, a heart of flesh, open and adaptable, sensitive to life). Ezekiel also speaks of a new spirit, God’s very own, that is placed within the true Israelite. Only under these conditions shall they be God’s people in truth. He strikes a happy balance between freedom and law, religion and common sense, individual rights and community expectations.
The gospel asks us to act firmly on a good conscience, properly guided not just by tradition but by sincere obedience to God. Jesus, in the punch-line of the parable, shows how gentiles from the byroads will share in the feast that once was reserved for Jews alone. In a later revision of the parable, the Evangelist added the phrase “bad as well as good” to describe the people from the byroads, thus reminding the reader of the final judgment. Eventually God will straighten out everything, in His all-wise, compassionate way. Till then we must wait and believe, conscious of His abundant goodness towards each of us, called in from the byroads.
First Reading: Ezekiel 36:23-28
I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
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.”