“Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
- Once upon a time a family had lived on a street for a long time and had no neighbors because the other lots were vacant. Then many of the lots were sold and new homes were constructed. The original family was delighted. At last they had neighbors, young people with children like themselves. They went to each of the new people and invited them to come to a special welcome party organized in their honor. The local priest would be there, some old timers on other streets in the neighborhood, some doctors and dentists and lawyers, the precinct captain, a famous actor who lived on the next street, and samples of food from all the stores in the area. It was a wonderful chance for everyone in the new block to get to know the rest of the community. The newcomers thought it was a wonderful idea. They could hardly wait for the party. But it so happened that on the day of the party no one came. The wife who had brought round the invitations made some calls – “An interior decorator is coming, can’t be at the party; my in-laws are visiting, can’t attend the party; soccer game in our old neighborhood, can’t come; and …” So, the old timers ate all the food and drank all the beer and had a wonderful time.
This story is very similar to today’s gospel parable that Jesus tells about the wedding feast hosted by God. The invited guests do not show up, so other guests are gathered from the streets and invited to share the table and the joy. What about us? Do we accept God’s invitation and share in His joy, or do we also ignore His invitation and disappoint Him with our excuses?
Today is the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The common theme of today’s Scripture Readings is the abundant providence of God and His universal salvation, exemplified in a ‘luscious feast.’ God loves all and wants all to be saved and to attain eternal happiness. In the First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah speaks of the abundant providence of the Lord of hosts for all peoples. Here, we have a very clear graphic description of the ‘great banquet’ that the Lord will prepare on the mountain for all peoples. There will be rich food and fine wines. There will be neither mourning nor death. There will be exultation and rejoicing, because the Lord ‘has saved us.’ Isaiah’s image of salvation is the fulfillment of our deepest longings, viz. the absence of hunger, mourning, death and shame. The Gospel Reading from St. Matthew contains a parable which likens the Kingdom of Heaven to a ‘wedding feast’ to which all are graciously invited. Some have rejected the invitation; others have accepted. But admission to the feast is not enough. It is necessary to don the wedding garment. Participation in the feast requires living lives worthy of the Kingdom. In the Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, the following words of St. Paul can be linked to the imagery of banquet and feasting, “In every circumstance and in all things, I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.” Indeed, his deep participation at the Lord’s Table has prepared him to relish abundance and feasting as well as to endure hunger and various difficulties in times of scarcity. Again, in the familiar Responsorial Psalm of today, we sing, “The Lord prepares a banquet for us in the sight of our foes.” This song of thanksgiving to the Lord is a prelude to the Eucharist we celebrate this Sunday.
THE LORD WILL PREPARE A BANQUET ON THIS MOUNTAIN FOR ALL PEOPLES:
Today’s First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is a poetic description of the ‘heavenly feast’ that God offers to all people. It is has served for countless generations as a classic expression of the eschatological banquet motif, a set of images used time and again to evoke the sum of all blessings that God’s people will experience on the last day, the day of vindication from the Lord. It is just such a hope-filled passage that speaks of the abundant providence of God and universal salvation for all peoples. The setting for the banquet is the mountain, a place that always carries in Jewish literature symbolic connotations of encounter with the Divine. The feast is lavish, and the blessings of the table are incredibly wonderful. There will be rich food and fine wines. There will be neither mourning nor death. There will be exultation and rejoicing, for the Lord ‘has saved us.’ This is all placed in the future. Isaiah’s image of salvation is the fulfillment of our deepest longings, viz. the absence of hunger, mourning, death and shame. This passage is among the earliest of Old Testament texts which hints at or even asserts that there is a consoling after-life, after earthly death. This text is a frequently chosen Old Testament text at Catholic funeral liturgies. With all human failings removed, there will be no more tears caused by the suffering and death.
THE PARABLE OF THE WEDDING FEAST:
In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Matthew, we have yet another Kingdom parable, ‘the Parable of the Wedding Feast.’ It is third and last in the series of three consecutive parables, called ‘the Parables of Rejection.’ It is, as the others were, also addressed to the ‘chief priests and elders of the people.’ This parable of the wedding banquet like the parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants has an allegorical emphasis. This parable stresses on the story of the salvation history from the initial sending of the prophets to Israel through the renewed invitation of the followers of Jesus. It concludes with the Last Judgment when the good and bad from among the community are sorted out.
a) “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, … come to the feast.”
In the parable, Jesus tells that the Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a king who threw a party in honor of his son’s wedding. When all the preparations for the royal wedding banquet have been made, the king sends his servants to inform those specially invited to come. Obviously, the king expects a full house. But those invited refuse to come. So, he again sends his servants this time to plead that they come since everything is ready. But they had other priorities and disregarded the king’s invitation. Worse still, they maltreated and killed the servants who brought the invitation. The king of course punished them for this insult by killing them and burning their cities.
This is a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven and about the people who will eventually belong to it. It is seen here under the aspect of a marriage feast for a king’s son. The king is the figure of God. The wedding feast is the Jewish image of the life to come. The son is Jesus Christ. The bride is the invisible Kingdom of Heaven on earth, i.e. the Church. Those invited in the first and second time are the people of Israel. The king sends out his servants, referring to the long line of prophets sent to the people of Israel calling them to love and service. The king’s second invitation underlies God’s patience with His chosen people – He still hopes for a change of heart in them. But for one reason or another, they still refuse to come. All this is tantamount to rebellion; to disloyalty and we are told that the king dispatches troops to destroy those murderers and their city.
b) “Go out, therefore, … and invite to the feast whomever you find.”
With the repeated refusal of those originally invited, the servants are now sent out to the ‘highways and by-ways’ to invite ‘whomever you find.’ There is an urgency to respond to the king’s call and no exceptions are made this time. All are invited, good and bad alike, until the wedding hall is filled.
This means that God will not be denied His banquet. Since the people of Israel rejected God’s offer, the Kingdom was extended to the Gentiles. This is God’s universal invitation to salvation. No one is excluded, however bad that person may be. We are all invited to God’s gift of salvation.
c) “My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?”
A sequel to this parable is another parable, ‘the Parable of the Wedding Garment,’ about one of the guests who came without the appropriate wedding garment. This too was an affront to the king and he was thrown out of the wedding hall.
Strange! It seems a gross contradiction. It seems so unjust. Having gone out to the highways and byways to bring in all and sundry without exception, how can one justify tossing out someone because he does not have a ‘wedding garment?’ Yet, some reflection will reveal that it is really part of the same teaching. The Jewish leaders rejected Jesus. Other people, Jewish outcasts and pagans, were invited to take their place at the banquet. However, it is not enough just to be present at the banquet. One is expected to behave as a wedding guest. This shows that we need to acquire the appropriate garments for the feasts, the garments of virtue. The symbolism is apt. There is a kind of beauty that virtues render to a person and we must constantly strive for it.
d) “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
The parable ends on a slightly pessimistic note – “For many are called, but few are chosen.” The parable shows us three possible kinds of guests. There are the absentee guests who initially accepted the invitation, but when the time came to honor the invitation they drew back. There are the guests without wedding garments who attend the feast but do not take the trouble to prepare adequately for it, as the occasion deserves. And then there are the guests with wedding garments who make the necessary preparation to present themselves fit for the banquet of the King. It is a sad fact that although everyone is being called to experience the love of God in their lives, relatively few will take the plunge and really try to taste that experience.
GOD’S ABUNDANT PROVIDENCE:
In the Second Reading of today we hear for the final time from the imprisoned St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians, where he speaks of God’s abundant providence. He expresses his deep gratitude to them for the kindnesses they have shown him. He places their kindness in the larger context of his life which included everything from great blessings to great burdens. While St. Paul strongly desired to be self-sufficient as a missionary and support himself through his own work, he humbly accepted gifts as he engaged in his missionary work. He had learned to be content with whatever he had. He had learned the secret of being well fed, referring to spiritual food. He found strength in the Lord Jesus. While St. Paul had to endure sufferings for a while, he was convinced of God’s grace that comes with such suffering. He endured all obstacles for the sake of spreading of the Gospel. The reading concludes with St. Paul’s statement of faith that God will also provide for the people of his dearly beloved community at Philippi in the midst of life’s highs and lows, in good times and bad. He then offers a doxology of praise to God for his generous riches in Christ Jesus – an example to the Philippians and us of how we are to be thankful for all that we receive to strengthen us in faith and life.
“The Lord prepares a banquet for us in the sight of our foes,” and He invites us all out of a free act of kindness. The invitation is to all, the party is free for all, yet anyone who decides to attend has a responsibility to present himself or herself fit for the king’s company. The Kingdom of Heaven is freely offered to us. Those of us on the way to the kingdom must spare no effort in acquiring the moral and spiritual character that is consonant with life in the Kingdom. What is our response going to be then? How can we receive and accept it? Have we ever thought that other things were more important, or that we were too busy to accept God’s invitation to His table? To what extent, even right now, are we closed to calls from God because we are so tied up in all kinds of concerns and anxieties about things which do not really matter or about things which cannot guarantee us any real fulfillment and happiness? The Gospel parable of today is a challenge to accept God’s invitation. Moreover, we need to have a proper wedding garment if we are to enter the wedding banquet of the Lord. It is the characteristic mark of the wedding guest and without it there is no entry. Symbolically, it is the garment of virtue that the faithful must clothe themselves with. But the choice is ours. And this is the Good News of today.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.