Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A

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David A. Cregan, O.S.A.
Our Mother of Good Counsel Novitiate
Radnor, Pennsylvania

Readings
Is 25:6-10a
Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Phil 4:12-14, 19-20
Mt 22:1-14

See what you believe…become what you see.

– St. Augustine

In the past three weeks the church has provided us for our reflection on Sunday morning three successive parables from the Gospel of Matthew. In each of these parables respectively, God is portrayed as a landowner and father, a vineyard owner, and in today’s gospel a King and a father preparing a wedding banquet for his son. All three Gospels ask us to consider God’s invitation to humanity, and humanity’s response to God. It is also useful for our reflection to consider that today’s gospel, as was last week’s, is directed to the authority in place in ancient Israel at the time of the life of Christ: Jesus is directing this parable towards the chief priest and the elders of the people.

As a literary device, a parable is a story that teaches a larger moral or ethical principal. It does so, in the case of the scripture, using the ordinary experience of everyday life, placing great spiritual questions within the context of familiar social or cultural situations. The anthropology of the historical moment in which the scripture emerges can be useful for study and reflection on the meaning that Jesus is trying to convey, but let us focus here on the living nature of the scripture.

In many of our parishes the deacon or one of the lectors processes into the church behind the Processional Cross carrying the book of the Gospels. Accordingly, when they arrive at the altar they place the book of the Gospels on the center of the altar. In this act of liturgical symbolism the scripture is connected with the Eucharist in that it is placed on the altar in anticipation of the consecration of the bread and the wine into the real presence of Christ further on in the liturgy. The meaning of this is quite significant. While we are largely conscious that the bread and the wine are the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, a living and present reality to us his faithful followers, thus the Word is also contextualized as living. But what does that mean for us? While we lean heavily into the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist in our daily lives to sustain us, to encourage us, to reconcile us, and to move us towards Christ-like service in the world, the Word of God is similarly alive and present, offering spiritual instruction and guidance to us through our reading, reflection, and listening to the scripture proclaimed as a faith Community. Essentially, the symbolism of our Roman Catholic liturgical traditions points us to the deeper reality that God is with us in the Eucharist and in the Word to guide us, encourage us, and provoke reflection both personally and collectively on our faithfulness to the will of God.

There are many techniques that people use in scripture reflection. By in large, all of those techniques are oriented towards helping us to understand how the particular parable that we encounter in our reflection impacts our understanding and our very lives, inviting us to consider the question, “who am I in this story?” and “how am I doing in my faithfulness to God?”

It is clear that the king in the story is, in fact, God, and the groom and the son are Jesus. Additionally, let us agree that those who are invited to the wedding are those who are invited to the banquet of the Lord; those who have been baptized and claimed for Christ in faith and love. If those who are invited might be considered the people of God, Jesus gives us three different categories: those who ignore the invitation, those who laid hold of his servants and mistreated them, and the good and the bad who were gathered up from the streets to fill the hall as guests.

Those who ignore the invitation did so because they were busy with the business of the world. Here we might see a reflection of our own lives. If we think about the amount of time and attention we give to the busyness of life in comparison to how much time we carve out for personal prayer and contemplation, we might find in this parable an invitation to balance our lives more fully, so that we might be focusing more on what truly matters. In this sense, the parable invites us to discern what is truly important for a fulfilling and meaningful life. During the pandemic many have found slowing down as one of the graces in an otherwise challenging situation. Being compelled to stay home has allowed for more family dinners, richer conversations, and the deepening of our interpersonal relationships. This perspective will hopefully have a lasting impact on the way we choose to live our lives as we move forward.

The second category offered in the parable for those who received an invitation to the feast is those who mistreated his servants and killed them. Historically this is a clear connection with the ancient prophets who were continually calling Israel back to faithfulness and away from idolatry. Here we might consider the ways that our values impact our response to God’s call to holiness in our life and in our world. When the scripture continually invites us towards compassionate understanding, healing, and a greater sense of unity with all people, we might ask ourselves how well we are doing in relationship to that invitation. For it is in the very practicality of our day-to-day actions and attitudes that we live out continually our baptismal call: our invitation to the wedding banquet. If we allow our minds and our hearts to become overly affected by the values of the world, we may unintentionally begin to depart from the values of heaven. Anything and everything within our lives must be oriented towards loving God deeply through a holy piety, a concern for and stewardship of creation as God’s gift and responsibility to humanity, and an ever growing concern for all people everywhere. In today’s world we can be easily led to a kind of sectarianism that separates us from others, that encourages us to be self-interested or exclusive, and an attitude that numbs the central value of universal compassion in our own imitation of Christ. In this sense we may, inadvertently, become those who impose violence on the world in our attitudes and responses. This is not who we are called to be as invited guests to the wedding feast of the Lamb. Jesus clearly models for us an openness and generosity, a kindness and a lifestyle of healing, as a model for living our lives.

Finally, this parable gives us the opportunity to see ourselves in those who the servants were instructed to go out and gather up from the streets. As the scripture describes them, they are “bad and good alike.” It is this group that fills up the banquet hall, it is this group that symbolizes those gathered into the people of God. What is perhaps most interesting here is that God sends his servants out in pursuit of these people and they respond and come: unlike those in the beginning who received an invitation and ignored it. This, I believe, is where most of us stand. The church is made up of the good and the bad alike. In fact, we ourselves are a balance of those same characteristics. When we honestly reflect on ourselves we can see moments of great charity and devotion, but we also can see moments of futile distraction and sin within ourselves. The beauty of this dualism within ourselves is that God gathers us in as we are. This is the good news of salvation! He accepts and redeems the good and the bad in us and in others. And so we might consider that at this banquet we eat richly at the table of grace and drink deeply from the cup of mercy. The life of a Christian is in fact a way of life in which God transforms and heals us as we feebly struggle to surrender to his love and compassion. In the experience of grace and the mercy we find the motivation to allow God’s transformative love to re-distribute the balance between the good and the bad in our lives. In other words we lean deeply into God for the grace of conversion and we give thanks and praise for God’s continual patience and mercy in our lives. There is no room for arrogance or exclusion in this process. In fact, those very attitudes block out the will of God manifesting itself in our day-to-day lives. Alternatively, when we have experienced the power of God’s love we know that this real when we are becoming more universal and kinder, understanding and less judgmental.

We are all wounded and in need of healing. Our Christian choice is whether we are going to be wounded healers or wounded wounders.

Let us consider for a moment that Jesus addresses this parable to the chief priests and the elders, those learned in the ways of religion and wise in the experience of life. Here we see God’s invitation to remain open to the presence of God and not become too rigid in what we think or want. Today’s parable addresses the invited and the chief priests and the elders are the leaders of the invited. This is a powerful invitation to everyone to remain in a place of awe and wonder at the great mysteries of God, but a specific invitation to leaders to remain flexible so that we might not unintentionally ignore Jesus because we have become too assured of what we know by having lost attention to the mystery of God who Augustine calls “Ever ancient, ever new.” It is always a possibility that we can ignore the invitation of Jesus in favor of following our own wishes. For instance, one can pray and receive the sacraments and hold on to old prejudices and unforgiveness, knowing that Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Finally, what is the meaning of the Father of the groom expelling the person who was not dressed properly?

While God gathers the good and the bad into the banquet of love, he does require that, whoever we are, we must clothe ourselves in a garment of love. Our first and second readings give us some insight into what it means to wear such a heavenly garment. We read in the prophet Isaiah, “On this mountain the Lord of host will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines.” St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, reinforces this reality by reminding us “My God will fully supply you whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” We know that these declarations are true because we see them in the gifts and the graces of our own lives. We even see God’s goodness in the ways that faith and prayer support and strengthen us in times of challenge and loss. The riches that Christ supplies us with daily strengthen us in all things, surrounding us with light and life in the sure and certain hope that God’s providence guides us in all things. We know this as a spiritual fact, and we can share that evidence with others.

Now here’s where it can get tricky. Can we share the compassion, guidance, support and understanding we gain in Christ as generously with others as we have received it? That’s an easy “yes” when it comes to our family or friends, but it becomes harder with people who are not like us, those who we don’t like and those who have different opinions than we do. We see that division and animosity everywhere in our world, but we are called to be different. To act in this divisive worldly way is to come to the banquet without the due respect of wearing the proper garment.

God has provided richly for us and wrapped us in a garment of love and life. Consequently, we are to be and wear that same love and light everywhere we go and have the same loving concern for the joys and hopes of everyone, everywhere; even those who we don’t like or are not like us.

Let us encourage one another as people of hope to be Christ in our lives and to do our best to never contribute even one ounce of division in this fractured world.

St. Augustine would hold up the consecrated bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ, for his congregation and say, “See what you believe…become what you see.” Let us strive together daily to accept the invitation to the wedding feast and live continually in the virtue of this banquet of love that God has called us to.

God bless you. God bless everyone. No exceptions.