By baptism we are called to the weding feast in the kingdom of God. But somehow, we need get a wedding garment, to take our place at the feast. While the Gospel invites us to reflect on how we are doing, it is not all our own work, says Saint Paul. It is God's grace that prompts the good we do. And we can do all things through him who strengthens us
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 Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
where he gives me repose.
Near restful waters he leads me,
to revive my drooping spirit. (R./)
He guides me along the right path;
he is true to his name,
If I should walk in the valley of darkness
no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
with these you give me comfort. (R./)
You have prepared a banquet for me
in the sight of my foes.
My head you have anointed with oil;
my cup is overflowing. (R./)
Surely goodness and kindness
shall follow me all the days of my life.
In the Lord's own house shall I dwell
for ever and ever. (R./)
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.
Jesus said to the chief priests and elders: "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."
What does tomorrow hold for us? What is there to hope for? Often 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 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.
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 must not be abandoned 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.
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. The idea of its being a marriage feast has little appeal for some of us. 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 fried eggs and bacon from the staff dining-room in my boarding-school days could 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 Games or the World Cup.
In the parable Jesus spoke to the religious hierarchy of his time. They were his prime target and they knew it. Already they had plans to rid themselves of this rabble-rousing rabbi, for they were too preoccupied with clinging to privilege and power to accept God's invitation to the wedding-feast. Others had their 'farms' and their 'businesses', their deals and the social whirl. Unhappy with being reprimanded for their dubious practices, they rejected the prophetic messengers sent to warn them that the feast was ready. This story goes on finding in every age a new target audience. Maybe Curial executive types who run the local churches like regional subsidiaries of a giant international company should take the warning nowadays. But they are not alone. It would be comforting to think of ourselves as too ordinary to be included, or that we are among those at the crossroads who finally fill the wedding-hall. Our baptism placed us squarely on the guest list. Our profession of faith every Sunday confirms it. But our actual priorities might still keep us from making to the wedding feast.
It used to be thought that heaven was the better of the two options on offer when we die. The Christian truth is that the offer of heaven is made here and now; for death only fixes for eternity the choice we actually make in this life. 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.
Daniel Berrigan noted the sharp ironies in this parable: "The story is charged with ironies. We have the Christ of "love your enemies" telling about a king who takes revenge on his enemies (Matthew 22, 1-14). This king, in fact, recalls the most savage of Hebrew and Gentile rulers. The invitation to his banquet declares that everyone is welcome, "both evil and good." But after the ragtag guests assemble, someone is by no means made welcome. Quite the opposite. He is "bound hand and foot, and cast into outer darkness." His offense? Lacking that well-known wedding garment. This anonymous guest, someone from "the main highways," perhaps homeless, almost certainly destitute, where was such a one to come on a festive robe? Imagine a homeless person in New York rounded up to appear at a wedding and then berated for not being clothed in a tuxedo!"