|28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Matthew 22:1-14 or 22:1-10
So as to be more receptive to the Word and Sacrament for this Sunday, picture Jesus seated in a large banquet hall, with tables set, but empty, except for some chief priests and Scribes. They are more than somewhat displeased at his recent parables concerning their inattentiveness to the “vineyard” of God’s people. They push him a bit about just what the “Kingdom of Heaven” is all about. So he looks around the vacant hall and uses the surroundings to strengthen his description.
We pray with the grace which God offers constantly. We are called, invited and preparing to sit once more at the Table of Abundance. We are attired in the inner garment of Baptism and the outer wear of the good things which are a reflection of who we know ourselves to be. We are not invited and seated because we have done these good things, but because of the goodness of the Invitor. Those good deeds are not tickets, but little sacraments or out-doings of our identities.
We can pray with our sense of being in a community of those whom God has called to be seated with us and whose wonderful works might not be celebrated on the evening news, but are constructive to God’s “vineyard” here on earth. We do not know all the little and large good things others do at home, in airports, around the neighborhood and out there, but we can pray with gratitude and joy that the Body of Christ is still gracing all its goings.
We pray also with the grace of belief. We are called and we trust that, but we also can have doubts about our worthiness and our doing enough, and are we just fooling ourselves because we so deeply want to belong. We pray with the grace of confidence in the Caller and Comforter. We are encouraged in our belief by the presence of those who are also seated at the Table waiting to be fed and sent once more.
In the First Reading from the prophet Isaiah, we hear a foretelling of the times of the coming Messiah. This section has to do with a kind of banquet with fine wine. In the chapter before this reading the prophet speaks of the destructive age and a devestated “city”. The prophet writes that even the wine and the vines are in mourning.
So what we hear is a placing together of a prophetic downer and a messianic upper. Jerusalem will be the great and blest place. There is a spirit of coming joy, clarity of vision as well as a recognition that the hand of God is a blessing and renewing hand. All peoples, all nations have suffered from a dim view of God’s presence and actions, but on “that” day and on “that” mountain, a new “way”, a new revelation will enlighten and inspire.
The Gospel continues the theme of last few weeks’ parables. There were invitations extended to a people who were to be God’s choicest. Their leaders did not tend them well. Instead of “vineyard” parables, Matthew has Jesus place before his listeners one more traditional and well-known image, that of a “banquet”.
There is the theme of invitation again and a refusal to respond. As with the previous parables, the “tax collectors and prostitutes” are now the responders and entering the kingdom or banquet as well. The parable is again an allegory in which symbolic figures represent exact persons or groups. There is the king and his son. There are the invited who refuse and the servants who go out beyond where the usual invitees stand. There are the newly included who seem to respond quickly. There is also the strange encounter between the king and the one person who is not properly dressed who gets tossed out into a confusing place of alienation and regret.
His listeners know well the prophecy of Isaiah and the other references to a festival of God’s inclusive abundance. They hear again that “others” are being invited and perhaps, though they have been called and responded, they are not dressed in the proper festive garments.
Next Sunday our small Jesuit community in north Omaha will host a dinner for our neighbors. We would like to get to know them and for them to know us: these characters are who live together with two little dogs and no wives. We have had a struggle deciding how far down our street do we count as neighbors; how many can we invite? We assume that not all will attend for various reasons, but at least they will know that they were thought of and included.
So, many will be called, but doesn’t that mean the same as “chosen”? Perhaps there will be quite a crowd and maybe there might be this one person who has been invited, attends, but does not really want anything to do with our spirit of gathering.
We do have a little hidden agenda which we will share with the gathering and that is to form a loose “neighborhood watch” group. We intend to invite all those attending to be watchful for any disruptive or dangerous behavior around us and to pay special attention to the elderly. Now if this one person begins upbraiding us for this and does not want anything like that around our neighborhood, we would say that he is called, but not chosen. No, we would not throw him out into the street, but by his or her actions, he or she would have chosen not to be a part of the group.
Jesus has come as the center of the feast and the one doing the inviting for his father. All are called, but called to be dressed in the outwardness, the mission-side, and the doing-of-good deeds into which we are chosen through Baptism. Love is manifested in deeds and not merely desires or words. The new city, the ever-present “mountain” is Jesus and his embrace of us all. Please be extremely careful these days not to interpret this parable and others in such a way that excludes our Jewish brothers and sisters from inhabiting the “mountain” and as being excluded from the embrace and feast. Our Jesuit community can only invite so many because our house is small. The “mountain”, the “vineyard” of Jesus is still infinite.
"The Lord is good to those who hope in him, to those who are searching for his love.” Lamentations 3: 25
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