28th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 25:6–10a; Philippians 4:12–14, 19–20; Matthew 22:1–14
The homeless boy Accepting God’s banquet invitation is more than a onetime decision. It’s an ongoing commitment.
In ancient times, kings announced the approximate time for a wedding banquet weeks in advance. The exact day of the banquet was given at a later date. To say yes to the advance invitation and no at the later date was an insult.
A modern example will illustrate. Suppose your son is returning home after being out of the country for five years. He’s scheduled to arrive sometime next week, but he’s not sure whether it will be on Thursday or on Friday.
You call two of his closest friends and invite them to a welcome-home dinner. You explain the situation and ask them to bold both dates open. They agree enthusiastically.
When news comes that your son will arrive on Friday, you call his friends back and say, The dinner will be Friday night. They shock you by saying, Sorry! We’ve made other plans for that night.
It was this kind of situation that Jesus had in mind in today’s parable.
The audience for whom Jesus intended his parable was the Jews of his time. Ages before, they had accepted God’s invitation to be his chosen people—his special guests at the banquet of the kingdom of God. But when Jesus came to announce the banquet, they rejected his invitation.
It is clear how Jesus’ parable applied to the Jews of his day. But how does it apply to us today?
What message does it contain for you and me in the 20th century? What is Jesus saying to us through it?
The Jews had accepted God’s first invitation. But then some of them had a change of heart. The parable says one man decided to work on his farm instead. Another decided to attend to other business. These men didn’t go off to get drunk. They didn’t decide to commit a crime. They simply decided to do something else.
I think here is where the lesson is for us. We, too, have accepted God’s invitation. We accepted baptism and confirmation. We said yes to God’s invitation to be his guests at the eternal banquet.
But saying yes to God’s invitation is not a one-time commitment. It’s an ongoing process. Saying yes to God’s invitation requires constant recommitment and updating. It’s so easy to get distracted by daily life and to forget about eternal life. It’s so easy to fill ourselves with the junk food of this life and forget about the banquet of eternal life.
Accepting God’s invitation is not a matter of saying yes once and then forgetting all about it. It’s like the “I do” of marriage. The “I do” is not the end of a process, but the beginning of one. Saying yes to God is like graduating from college. Graduation is not the end of one’s learning, but the launching pad for further learning. Our commitment to God must grow too. If it doesn’t, it can atrophy and die, like an unused muscle.
Take the Eucharist we are attending right now. Does it mean more to us today than it did a year ago? If not, why not?
Or take the word of God. Do we try to listen to it carefully and apply it to our daily life?
Or do we listen to it, file it away in our mind, and forget all about it when we leave Mass?
Some time ago a minister told this story on himself. One night he went over to the church to lock it up for the night. He found a boy asleep in the last pew. He woke the boy apologetically, and told him he was going to lockup.
The boy explained that he had no place to stay that night and was hoping to remain in the church. The minister said that he hoped the boy would understand, but he didn’t think that was a good idea.
The minister then invited the boy into the church office while he called two refuge centers in town, trying to find a place for the boy to stay. Unfortunately, neither center had a vacancy that night.
The minister apologized to the boy. The boy said he understood, shook hands with the minister, and disappeared into the night.
When the minister returned home, he told his wife about the incident. She looked at him and said, Why didn’t you bring the boy home? He could have stayed in the guest bedroom.
The minister thought momentarily. Then he shook his head sorrowfully and said, Well, it’s too late now.
With that, he sat down in an easy chair. He picked up his Bible, opened it, removed the marker, and began to read the assigned section for the day. It was the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Suddenly the minister realized that the boy he turned away was like the injured man in that parable. He, too, was badly in need of somebody’s help. The minister saw, also, that he was like the priest in the parable. He had passed up the boy without helping him.
The minister closed the Bible. He thought about a story he had heard, years ago, when he was a student in the seminary. An old Jew came up to a rabbi and said, Rabbi, I’ve just read through the entire Bible for the fifth time in my life.
The rabbi looked at the old Jew and said, The important thing, Abraham, is not how many times you’ve been through the Bible, but how many times the Bible has been through you.
Today’s gospel reading is an invitation to take a long, hard look at ourselves and to ask ourselves if perhaps we are like the minister. Do we listen attentively to God’s word at Mass, but fail to apply it to our daily life?
Or are we perhaps like the two men in today’s gospel reading? Are we becoming so involved in the banquets of this life that we are forgetting about the banquet of eternal life?
Only we can answer those questions. But answer them we must. For how we answer them could make an eternity of difference later.
Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord, help us learn from the two men in today’s parable. Like them, we, too, have accepted your invitation to the banquet of eternal life. Help us avoid making the same mistake they did.
Keep us from becoming so caught up with the affairs of this life that we forget about eternal life. M.L.
Series II 28th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 25:6–10a; Philippians 4:12–14, 19–20; Matthew 22:1–14
The wedding garment We must come to the wedding feast on God’s terms, not on our own terms.
An inner-city mother had a four-year-old son. She used to leave him at a day-care center in the morning and pick him up again at night when she returned home from work. A week before her son’s fifth birthday, she decided to have a party for him. So she invited five of his playmates from the day-care center to be his guests.
When the time came for the party, not one of the five children showed up. The mother was crushed, because she knew how much the party meant to her little son. He had never had a birthday party before.
The mother hurried across the hallway to the apartment of an elderly couple and asked them to come. Then she called a friend she worked with and asked her to come, too. And so she had the party for her son.
At first, the little boy cried when he learned his friends couldn’t come. But after a while he began to jump around and have fun. That near-tragic story resembles the parable that Jesus tells in today’s gospel. It, too, concerns guests who failed to show up for a party and had to be replaced at the last minute.
Let’s take a closer look at Jesus’ parable.
Like all of Jesus’ parables, this parable has three levels of meaning.
First, there’s the literal meaning. It’s simply the story Jesus tells: A king holds a wedding feast for his son.
When the invited guests don’t show up, the king replaces them with substitute guests.
The second level of meaning is the intended level. It’s what Jesus intended to teach the people through his story.
For example, what did Jesus intend the wedding feast to stand for? Who did he intend the king to stand for? Who are the invited guests who didn’t show up? Who are the substitute guests who replaced them?
After we study the parable closely, we see that the king stands for God. The wedding feast stands for the kingdom of God. The invited guests stand for the Chosen People, who made a covenant with God.
Finally, the substitute guests stand for the sinners and the Gentiles of Jesus’ time. They are the people who accepted Jesus after God’s Chosen People rejected him. And so the second level of meaning is what Jesus intended to teach the people through the parable.
And one of his teachings is this: The kingdom of God is now open to all people, not just the Chosen People. No one is excluded, not even Gentiles. This was a revolutionary idea to the Jews of Jesus’ time.
This brings us to the third level of meaning. It’s the personal or practical meaning that the parable holds for us 2,000 years later.
In other words, how does the parable apply to our lives today in a practical, personal way?
For the answer to that question, we turn to the surprise ending of the parable. It describes a substitute guest who is expelled from the feast by the king because he came without a wedding garment.
It describes a man who if we may exaggerate slightly showed up at the banquet in the same filthy clothes that he wore to clean out his stables, where he kept his donkeys.
Why did Jesus add this detail to his story? Who does this crude individual stand for?
He stands for a substitute guest who responded to the king’s invitation, but on his own terms not the king’s terms. He stands for someone who refused to conform to the etiquette that was normal in ancient times when people entered the king’s presence.
It’s right here that we find the parable’s personal meaning for our lives today.
We are among the substitute guests who have been invited by God to the wedding feast of the kingdom of heaven. We have been invited by God to sit down at the banquet of eternal life with his Son, Jesus.
But God makes it clear that if we accept his invitation, we must do so on God’s terms not our own. What does this mean?
In the imagery of Jesus’ parable, it means we must wear a wedding garment.
And what is this wedding garment? What did Jesus intend the wedding garment to stand for?
We find the answer to that question spelled out in detail in another parable: the parable of the Last Judgment, which follows closely on the heels of today’s parable.
We are all familiar with it. It describes the climax of human history.
All the people who ever lived stand in two groups before the great king of heaven and earth.
One group stands on his right; the other on his left. To those on his right, the king says:
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; . . . naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.” Matthew 25:34–36
And to those on his left, the king says just the opposite: “Away from me. [For you never did one of these things for me.]”
And so the wedding garment that Jesus refers to in today’s parable stands for our loving concern for others, especially the needy in our midst. The wedding garment stands for our service to our brothers and sisters.
In brief, then, today’s parable tells us that we have all been invited to the wedding feast of heaven. But it also tells us that we must come dressed in a wedding garment of good deeds. We must come dressed in a wedding garment of service to others, especially the needy. We must come dressed in the wedding garment of love. Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord, open our eyes that we may see your face in the face of the needy. Open our hearts that we may reach out our hands to feed you when we find you hungry, to clothe you when we find you naked, to house you when we find you homeless.
Then, when life is over and we stand face-to-face before you, you will reach out your hand to us and say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” M.L.
Series III 28th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 25:6–10a; Philippians 4:12–14, 19–20; Matthew 22:1–14
Christian life A journey, not a destination.
The king sent his servants to tell the invited guests, “My feast is ready . . . Come to the wedding feast.” Matthew 22:3–4
In ancient times, kings announced the approximate date for a wedding feast or a banquet far in advance. The exact date for it, however, was given at a later date.
To accept the advance invitation but turn down the later date was an insult. A modern example might illustrate.
Suppose your son is returning home from a two-year volunteer stint in Americorps or the Peace Corps. He will arrive next week, but he’s not sure whether it will be on Thursday or Friday.
You call his three closest friends and invite them to a “welcome-home” dinner. You explain the situation and ask them to hold open both dates. They agree.
When the news comes that your son will arrive on Tuesday, you call his friends and say, “The dinner will be Thursday.” Then comes a shock. Each has an excuse why he can’t come.
I t is this kind of situation that Jesus describes in today’s parable. His audience was the religious leaders of his time.
Ages before, they had accepted God’s invitation to be his chosen people God’s special guests at the banquet of the Kingdom of God.
But when Jesus announces that the Kingdom and its banquet are at hand, they turn down the invitation, giving various excuses why they can’t attend. Our commitment to follow Jesus is something like that ancient situation in Israel.
By our Baptism and Confirmation, we accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow him and be his special guests at the eternal banquet of God’s Kingdom.
Accepting his invitation, however, was only the first step in the process. It was only the start of our faith journey.
We might compare our acceptance of Jesus’ invitation to the “I do” of marriage. The “I do” is not the end of the process; it is only the beginning.
There’s a true story that may help to illustrate the point we are making.
Saint Francis of Assisi was born into a very wealthy family. As a teenager, he was a playboy and a spendthrift. He used his generous allowance to pay the bills of his rowdy friends.
In the year 1202 hostilities broke out between the towns of Assisi and Perugia.
Young Francis joined the army of Assisi. During the conflict, he was captured and spent the next year of his life confined in a dirty, filthy dungeon.
After his release, it took him a full year to regain his broken health. The experience changed his life forever.
He put aside his expensive clothes and put on the garb of a poor man. On the back of his garb, he drew a big white cross.
Then he left home and took up the life of a hermit. His new home was a tumbledown church on the outskirts of Assisi. There he spent hours alone in prayer.
One day Francis was attending Mass at another church. The Gospel reading was Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to preach the Good News to people in the surrounding villages.
Jesus went on to tell them to take nothing with them, but to trust God completely for all their material needs. Matthew 10:5–15
This instruction gave Francis a whole new direction to his life. He gave up his hermit’s life and journeyed forth in total trust to preach the Gospel.
His charismatic personality inspired other young people to join him. And so the Franciscan order was born. The rest of the story is history.
The life of Francis of Assisi illustrates the kind of commitment that the Christian life involves. He began life as a nominal Christian who loved the good life more than he loved the Christian life.
Then tragedy struck and showed him how fleeting and fragile this life really is. It can be swept away in an instant, just as our life itself will some day be swept away.
As a result, Francis underwent a profound conversion to Jesus.
One would think that was as far as he needed to go. Not so! Jesus had bigger things in mind for him.
After Jesus had been an instrument of salvation to him, Jesus invited him to be a instrument of salvation for others.
And so Francis went off to preach the Gospel in a world that was a lot like our own world. It had grown cool in its faith and caught up with the pleasures of this life.
Francis not only fanned to flame the faith of the thousands of people, but he also inspired an army of youth to imitate him and follow him.
The message of today’s Gospel is clear. The Christian life is an ongoing process: a journey, not a destination.
It is an invitation to put our hand in the hand of Jesus and follow him wherever he leads us.
And if we accept that invitation, Jesus will lead us forth on an adventure that will show us life as we have never seen it before.
He will make us instruments of his peace: to sow love, where there is hatred, hope, where there is despair, light, where there is darkness, and joy, where there is sadness.
Jesus will teach us firsthand that it is in giving that we truly receive. And it is in dying that we are truly born to eternal life. This is the Good News of today’s Gospel.
This is the Good News we celebrate as we return to the altar to prepare to share the banquet of the Eucharist.
It is a preview of the banquet of eternal life, to which we have all been called.