Lectionary commentary: twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary time
A reading from the prophet Isaiah, 25:6-10
Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 23.R/. v. 6
A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, 4:12-14.19-20
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew, 22:1-14
The readings for the last couple of weeks are troubling. Last Sunday, words from the prophet Isaiah were proclaimed from the lectern. We learned that the people of Israel were, in Isaiah’s imagination, God’s vineyard. It was on a fertile hill, planted with choice vines, guarded by a watchtower and equipped with a reliable wine vat. Unfortunately, God’s vineyard yielded only wild grapes. So God obliterated it, trampling down its strong walls, planting briers and thorns on that once fertile hill, and even forbidding the clouds to rain upon that once cherished vineyard.
Today Isaiah proclaims the good news that the Lord will prepare on this mountain a feast for all peoples, a feast of rich food and seriously matured wines.
What are we to make of the destruction that the Lord of hosts inflicted last week in destroying the people of Israel on account of their failure in faith? This week, in order to make a feast for all peoples, the Lord of hosts will first go on a rampage of destruction. The cities of ruthless nations, the invading colonisers, says Isaiah, will be reduced to trembling in fear of this Lord God of hosts. The noise of foreigner armies will be silenced and their songs of victory will be sung no more.
A reading from the prophet Isaiah, 25:6-10
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord;
we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
The word of the Lord.
Today’s first reading is a poem of great joy. It is a joy that is a blessing for all peoples. A feast is set before the whole of humanity, tears are wiped from every eye, and there is universal rejoicing that the saving voice of God is heard throughout the whole of creation. Except, of course, for those wretched Moabite people.
The problem with today’s reading from Isaiah is what comes before and what comes after the glorious announcement of the banquet of rich food and well-aged wine.
Chapter 25 of Isaiah opens with a song of thanks. Long ago the victory of God was promised, a promise couched in the past but really pointing to a future of great joy:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken …
Promised blessings end with an assurance that enemies will be destroyed. The rod of the oppressor will be broken. The destruction of some enemy (the Assyrians?) is celebrated in lines before today’s reading. The city of enemies is reduced to nothingness, a ruin that will never be rebuilt. Indeed, in this new time, the ruined cities of defeated enemies will stand as eternal forlorn monuments of God’s power.
What God has done is to establish a new thing on the face of the earth:
For you [the Lord] have been a stronghold to the poor,
a stronghold to the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm and a shade form the heat …
It is the poor and the needy, not the strong, who will be sheltered from the storm. The song of all peoples will be heard as they come to the mountain of the Lord of hosts and are planted there and nurtured there with the best of food and the choicest of wines. Every shadow of fear will be removed; even death will be swallowed up forever. God’s people will no longer be scorned throughout the earth. Rather God will wipe away tears from every eye. Then when that day comes, everyone will recognise that faith and hope have not been in vain, the waiting for our God to act has not been disappointed. God has saved us:
Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
Our reading ends in triumph for the hand of the Lord will be rest on this mountain. But that ending is not what is in our Bibles. Only half of the sentence is offered to us. The full sentence is this:
For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain,
and Moab shall be trampled down in his place,
as straw is trampled down in a dunghill.
Our Sunday readings beg us to go home and read a little. We need to put each reading into its context in order to determine precisely what is being said. We cannot expect the preacher to unfold the fullness of all that is read.
We must read all of chapter 25 and all of chapter 26 to grasp what is told to us in our short reading from Isaiah. Two points in the context of today’s reading are of great significance. The first is that the transformation of the whole world is accomplished by attending to the poorand the needy. The Lord shows us the way:
For you have been a stronghold to the poor,
a stronghold to the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.
Why is attending to the needs of the poor the transforming factor that creates peace, such that tears are washed away from every eye? Delivering the needy from their distress brings about a transformation of those who give and those who receive. Of course redeeming people from poverty of every kind is a relief of suffering of every kind. But that transformation creates another transformation: the giver is transformed into the ways of God. To do as the Lord does in Isaiah’s song is to become what God intends us to be. Humanity is fashioned after God’s own heart. Or, as Jesus, God’s Son, told us in the parable of the final judgement,
Amen I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.
The song of the ruthless is silenced. Enemies must be transformed into brothers and sisters. To hear God we must listen to the cries of the poor. To hear God’s song of justice and peace, everyone must become justice and peace for the poor and the weak. To be deaf to pain is to close one’s ears to the pain of God. To go out to the marginalised is to go the where God has gone before, waiting for the rich world to create an equality on earth as it is in heaven. Isaiah preached Measure for Measure before the Bard.
Transforming the poor imposes a new vocation on the poor. To be relieved is to be called to be a reliever. What is at stake is not merely equality. It is the creation of human solidarity: we are one, sisters and brothers standing before God, embraced by God’s love, and empowered by God’s mercy. God so loved the world …
Isaiah who gave the world a song he heard angels sing:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!
But what does Lord of hosts mean? What does that tell us about the God? The phrase has a military ring to it. God’s people were warned not to turn the sun, the moon or the stars of heaven into gods to be worshipped. The heavenly bodies were created for humanity’s benefit:
And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.
Yet God’s people did turn to worship the heavenly bodies:
The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah— all the houses on whose roofs offerings have been offered to all the host of heaven, and drink offerings have been poured out to other gods—shall be defiled …
The rue hosts of heaven, God’s army, are the angels of God who serve around God’s throne and who worship God. These angels are metaphors of what human beings must realise on earth “as it is in heaven”). When the hosts of heaven sing their song, the expectation is that it is heard on earth and becomes an anthem of peace:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace …
The point is that the Lord of Hosts is the Lord of Peace. What we must ponder is why is the last sentence of today’s reading cut in half and so omits,
… and Moab shall be trampled down in its place, as straw is trampled down as straw is trampled down in a dung pit?
Isaiah 25:10 (RSV translation)
There is an answer of sorts in Isaiah chapter 26. Read on.
Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 23.R/. v.6
R/.I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. R/.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me. R/.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows. R/.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. R/.
Psalm 23 is probably the best known and most sung of all songs that adorn our Bible. Even the villagers of Dibley have adopted it as their song. Why is it that the image of God as a shepherd is so appealing, not only to Dibley folk, but to the people of every house and hamlet, every village, town, and city? Surely it is the detail of care that the shepherd gives to the sheep of his flock? Look to the words. Notice that the shepherd leads the sheep to still waters, to quiet waters. The shepherd does not lead them to riverbanks of angry waters, to rushing floods, to where the sheep cannot drink. The waters must be gentle and the sheep not frightened. Beside such waters the sheep can lie down in safety.
The Lord leads me to still waters and to paths of righteousness, to ways of justice, to where holy living is done and God’s ways can become my ways.
To be sure, life on earth is a walk in the shadow of death. But the Shepherd walks in front. Rod and staff guide and protect me from wayward ways, from ditch and dyke, so that in the simplest of lines,
I fear no evil.
I am seated at a table of plenty, and my head is perfumed with luxurious oil, and my glass is filled with the best wine in God’s house. All the days of my life will be filled with goodness and kindness, of a kind only the Good Shepherd can give me. Though I live in a difficult and troubled world, all my days will be stewarded by the Shepherd’s goodness and kindness. The long days will not seem so long and the dark nights will be shortened into summer days.
All of which is my prayer. My faith is that it may be prayed to a great Amen: So Be It.
A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, 4:12-14.19-20
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
The word of the Lord.
Paul has received much and given much to the little churches in Philippi. He was given welcome from Lydia and the women who sat by the river and prayed. Paul brought the gospel of God to her house (see Acts 16:11-15). Her welcome and Paul’s words that “opened her heart” created a mutual bond of friendship and esteem between the apostle and the little house-churches of Philippi.
While Paul gave much, he received much. Yet both he and the Philippian Christians knew well that ultimately it is God’s giving that gives growth (I Corinthians 3:6). Paul had experienced many a rough time during his travels wherever the Spirit led. Good days and bad days were met with the sure and certain faith that it was the Spirit who gave him strength.
That support is given in equal measure to his beloved Philippians. God will ever attend to their needs for the riches of their friendship are God’s riches. In receiving Christ Jesus, both Paul and his beloved friends have received what God has offered. Everything that has come to them comes as gift from Gog in the person of the Lord Jesus. Glory is a response of thanks and praise and recognition of the wonder of our God who gives such gifts to humanity. So there is a song forever on our lips:
To our God our Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew, 22:1-14
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find. ’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Yet another parable that has grown in the telling. This parable of the dinner party and the last minute refusal of those invited to attend occurs elsewhere. It is to be found in Luke 14:15-24. It is in the document known as Q. That is in an ancient text known as it contains the Gospel of Thomas.
[A note: In 1945 a poor farmer in Egypt digging for fertiliser outside Nag Hammadi, a small village, unearthed a jar containing 13 leather-bound manuscripts. They contained 52 texts reflecting the beliefs of Gnostic Christians (an association of people who believed they possessed secret and exclusive revelations from God). The most exciting document was this Gospel that claimed to have been written by Didymos Judas Thomas, who, according to some odd legends, was the twin brother of Jesus. Here is its edition of the parable:
A man received visitors. And when he had prepared the dinner, he sent out his servant to invite the guests. He went to the first one and said to him, “My Master invites you”. He said, “I have claims against some merchants. They are coming to me this evening. I must go and give them my orders. I ask to be excused from the dinner.” He went to another and said to him, “My Master has invited you.” He said to him, “I have just bought a house and am required for the day. I shall not have any spare time.” He went to another and said to him, My Master invites you.” He said to him, “My friend I am going to get married and I am to prepare the banquet. I shall not be able to come. I ask to be excused from the dinner.” He went to another and said, “My Master invites you.” He said to him, “I have just bought a farm, and I am on my way to collect the rent. I shall not be able to come. I ask to be excused.” The servant returned to his master: “Those whom you invited to the dinner have asked to be excused.” The Master said to the servant, “Go outside to the streets and bring back those whom you happen to meet so that they may dine.”Businessmen and merchants will not enter the places of my father.”
Gospel of Thomas: paragraph 64
Each telling of the parable is so told that it reflects the concerns and theology of the authors concerned. That means that it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify the exact where, when, why, and to whom Jesus spoke the parable of the spurned wedding feast. ]
The Jesus parable
Matthew tells his readers and hearers that, after Jesus had cursed the fig three (Matthew 21:18-22), he entered the Temple and was accosted by “the chief priests and the elders of the people as he was teaching” (Matthew 21:23). Jesus defended his right to teach without revealing the source of his authority. But he engaged with his hostile accusers in three parables, the Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32), the Parable of the Murderous Tenants (Matthew 21:33-41) and the parable told us in today’s Gospel reading. Each of these parables is followed by a condemnation of those to whom each parable has been told. Each is a bitter criticism of those who exercise pastoral responsibility for God’s holy people. The third parable, the Parable of the Wedding Feast, is told to these people as a bitter criticism of their stewardship. The three parables are concluded with a chilling warning:
Many are called, but few are chosen.
These parables are very strategically placed by Matthew in the last week of the life of Jesus, a week that will end with these authority figures demanding the Roman authority (Pilate) to put Jesus to death. These same people stand at the foot of the cross baying at the man dying in the agony of crucifixion.
But these parables may have been told elsewhere in the ministry of Jesus. They may not have been directed exclusively at the authoritative figures in Jerusalem. Indeed, as we have it in today’s Gospel, we have two parables: the parable of the great feast and parable about an unfortunate guest who turned up improperly dressed for the great occasion. When Luke tells this parable (Luke 14:16-24) there is no mention of the ill-dressed guest (the same is true of the Gospel of Thomas). Its inclusion in Matthew is confusing: how could a pile of people picked up in the streets all turn up in a wedding outfit? And why should one poor guy be cast into external darkness because he didn’t manage (or bother?) to acquire a wedding outfit? It looks very like Matthew stitched two originally separate parables together to make a point. Where the original context of the story was in the ministry of Jesus, we shall never know. What is certain is that Matthew has stitched a parable of his own on to the Jesus parable to suit his own purposes and placed them in a context of his own choosing.
First, the parable of the reluctant guests. The King, let us suppose, is God who has invited people to what we might call a heavenly banquet (however that might be understood). But some of those invited are too concerned with the affairs of this world and turn down God’s invitation, an invitation that is then given to everyone who walks the streets of the world.
Some of those refuseniks turn on the King’s servants and kill them. This seems like an addition to the parable by Matthew and I shall attend to this matter below. In telling the parable Jesus may have simply wanted to insist that if his own people, the Jewish leaders listening to his words, refuse to open their ears to the invitation he gave them to follow him as God’s Son, then God would turn to others who have ears to hear.
That interpretation of the parable would fit into a number of contexts as Jesus made his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. The Parable of the Sower who went out to scatter the seed was troubled by well-trodden paths, hungry birds, poor soil, and scorching sun, not to mention choking thorns. Luke’s Gospel places the parable after another parable (Parable of the Top Seats - Luke 14:7-11) when he is dining “in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees” (who were, we are told, “watching him carefully”). That context is very different from the Holy Week context we find in Matthew. The context forces Luke’s and Matthew’s readers and hearers to interpret the parable very differently.
The Matthew parable
Matthew’s edition of the two parables stitched so awkwardly together is not addressed to the men and women who walked the way with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. His version of these parables is not intended for the crowds who turned up almost everywhere Jesus went. Matthew places the parables in the very heart of what we call Holy Week. The parables in Matthew are a vital part of his understanding of the death of Jesus and its significance. Not only does he see the parables through the lens of the death of Jesus. He sees them as speaking directly to the churches in Antioch and he intends (as far as I can see) that the parables provide a warning to factions that were in danger of destroying the unity of the church in that great city.
The very first sentences of Matthew’s edition of the Parable of the Wedding Feast give the game away. First, the parable is intended to enlighten hearers and readers as to the vey nature of the kingdom of heaven:
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king …
We have learned that the phrase “the kingdom of heaven)” means God’s rule. It declares that creation is God’s and we are tenants dwelling in God’s space. It insists that God’s rule of righteousness and peace must prevail. The phrase “the kingdom of heaven/the kingdom of God” occurs over 50 times in Matthew’s Gospel. It means in Matthew what it means in the great prophets of God’s People.
Obadiah’s name means “a servant of God”, a true worshipper of the one and only God. He was one of those people who are, as they say, again everyone and everything that does not agree with their narrow conception of the world. Obadiah is against Edom, the tribe of people descended from Isaac’s son Esau. Jacob was favoured by God and given a name change to Isra’el. He was the father of the nation. In the imagination of Israel’s poets and prophets, Esau spawned everyone else in this evil world. Whatever the historical value of the Bible’s history of Jacob and Esau (and that is not much), Edom, the progeny of Esau, stands as a image of all the enemies of God’s people. Ezekiel, among others, reflects the same gloating dismissal of Edom as enemies of God who will always get their comeuppance from God (Ezekiel 35:15). Basically, Edom is the gang of all the bad guys.
The tiny book of Obadiah imagines the fate of a disobedient Edom to be that of the whole world that is hostile to God:
For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.
The final outcome for the world is that God’s sovereignty will prevail. God will exercise dominion over all creation: the kingdom shall be the Lord’s (Obadiah: 21).
We find the same soaring outrage against the evils of the world in Zechariah’s words that point to an end of all that is evil:
… the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.
The Hebrew Bible everywhere declares that the future of creation and its peoples belongs to God and that is what “the kingdom of heaven” or “the kingdom of God” conveys in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament of Christians. The message of Jesus is not love, not salvation, not redemption. It is that for which we pray:
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth.
God’s rule will be love for all. But it will be the God of love who will rule, not perhaps what we deserve but certainly what we need.
Matthew’s account of the parable, unlike Luke’s and unlike the version in the Gospel of Thomas, begins with a direction: this parable is about the kingdom of God. Matthew alone insists that a king provides the feast. He alone insists that the feast is a wedding banquet. Matthew alone insists that the banquet to honour the king’s son wedding. Matthew alone insists that those who refuse the invitation set about killing the servants sent to deliver the invitations. Matthew alone inserts the parable into the account of the last days of Jesus, the Son who will eat with his disciples, and the Son who will die under the sign on his cross:
The King of the Jews.
Matthew’s version of the original parable of Jesus is the climax of three parables we have met in our Lectionary. The first is that of the two sons, emphasising that true obedience is in the doing of the word of Jesus. The second imagines Jesus is the last in a long line of prophets, abused, rejected, and killed. The third points to the day when God’s rule will determine the destiny of the world. There will indeed be a feast. There will be a King. There will be a Son at the top of the table with his Bride, the faithful—those beggars lifted from the streets into the embrace of plenty.
The Matthew parable continued
Matthew adds a concluding paragraph not found in the versions of Luke or Thomas:
But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.
Again, this concluding paragraph is not to be found in Luke or in the Gospel of Thomas. Clearly, Matthew intended this addition to the parable of Jesus to be his conclusion to the story told by Jesus. It does not make much sense. How is it that the good and the bad, the whole crowd rounded up by the king’s servants, all have wedding garments and so pass the king’s scrutiny? Why does the king pick on the one man who is not properly dressed for such an auspicious occasion? And, above all, why should the poor man be bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness?
Matthew has, it seems to me, abandoned good story-telling sense and jumped into the field of theology. He wants to make a point relevant to the little but growing communities of Christians in Antioch. Putting on a new white garment marked baptismal entry into the family of Jesus. To be sure, the good, the bad, and the ugly are readily admitted, having undergone whatever passed as an RCIA programme in Matthew’s day. The white garment symbolised the putting on of dedication to Jesus and to the values of Jesus:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness,
humility, meekness, and patience …
Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able stand against the schemes of the devil …
Matthew is offering his take on the parable of Jesus. The marriage feast for the Son has a very long invitation list, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Those who openly discard the invitation have themselves to blame. But even those on the street have to be dressed in the virtues taught them by the Son. They can join the heavenly throng at the Son’s wedding if they have the proper garments. Jews and Gentiles alike are all invited. But they must be dressed in the garments of love and compassion. To be sure, many are called. Indeed, all are called. But no one who is not dressed in love and mercy, compassion and forgiveness, will be admitted. Only those who have elected to dress in the garments of Jesus will be seated at the king’s table.
Matthew's readers and hearers today
What Matthew has done is again to underline a theme that runs throughout his whole Gospel. He constantly reminds his readers and hearers that the future belongs to God. Or, to look at the other side of the coin, creation is called to a future with God. There is a past; there is a present. But these point to a future. The present is built on the experience of the past in order that it may be ready for the eternal future. The unfortunate man thrown out of the wedding feast had not spent his life acquiring a wedding garment and so a seat at the table of the king is denied him. How God will cope with that is God’s business. It’s his feast.
As we near the end of the Year of Matthew we shall be confronted with God’s understanding of the future. It is a future that beings us to judgement and a close inspection of our wedding garments.
In Matthew’s day the Christian story had only been in Antioch for about 60 years. The Gospel written by Matthew begins with the coming of Immanuel (God with us). That Presence was not ended on the cross. Immanuel is “with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20) and until we are handed into God’s safekeeping.
What is the message of Jesus? Ask any number of Christians and very few will answer “the kingdom of heaven/the kingdom of God”. When the reader begins today’s reading,
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son …
Will everyone listening to the Gospel understand what they are hearing? How can it be that, after two thousand years of preaching, most Christians do not know the message that Jesus preached day-in, day-out? Matthew’s Gospel proclaims “the kingdom of heaven/the kingdom of God” over 50 times. Yet many of his readers and hearers to this very day do not grasp his meaning, even though everyone in church will declare that what has been heard is the Gospel of the Lord.
The phrase “kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God” does not refer to a place. It means “the reign of God”, “the rule of God”. It means the activity of God as the steward of all creation.
God’s stewardship of creation was the central theme of the preaching of Jesus. Jesus insisted that all that God had said and done to and for the People of Israel had reached a climax and would soon be brought to completion. The hopes and prayers of God’s people would be realised in the teaching and person of Jesus. Jesus declared that his voice was the voice of God, his person the very dwelling of God amongst humanity. As our great prayer indicates, in Jesus God’s will was and is done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus in word and deed points to the future, to the completion of God’s design for all creation. Jesus called men and women to voice the good news of creation’s destiny to the world. The Church and all the local churches are the voice of God, the servants that are in service to Jesus to proclaim the will of God and to point to the glory that is to come.
All that is in the first sentence of Matthew’s parable read to us this day. The feast prepared for those reluctant guests is the future to which humanity is invited. Listening to Matthew’s parable in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a joy. In word and sacrament we are joined to the Presence that will be realised in glorious fullness. The wedding garment is a tailoring of love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness fit to sit around God’s heavenly table, as Jesus introduces us as his own to his Father. Thus forever his Father becomes our Father, his God our God.
But if we are dressed in love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness, then our wedding garment must be worn every day in all weathers. The final section of today’s reading is not a separate parable or even a conclusion to the wedding feast story Jesus told to chief priests and elders of the people.
It is a composition of St. Matthew himself as a warning to Christians in Antioch that resonates today as much as it surely did two thousand years ago. Of course in the story it is obvious that those rounded up from the streets have wedding garments. Of course it is utterly unfair to pick on the poor guy who rushed in for a free meal but wasn’t dressed for the occasion.
But suppose Matthew is making a point in his preposterous addition to the Jesus parable. Suppose he is pointing out that to sit at God’s table you have to do more than just turn up? Suppose Matthew is saying that it’s not enough to have an invitation card. To gain a seat at God’s table one must bring with you a history of service. Suppose we are expected to take St. Paul’s warning seriously:
… let anyone who thinks himself to stand should beware lest he fall.
I Corinthians 10:12
Matthew is thinking of our service on earth and pointing to the day when the King will say to those on his right hand:
Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation to the world. For I was hungry and you gave me to eat …
We shall hear the true meaning of Matthew’s crazy addition to the parable of Jesus when he hear what God has to say to us on the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the Year of Matthew. Watch this space.
Dr. Joseph O’Hanlon.
 Jeremiah 49:7-22 gives a wonderful poetically imaginative presentation of the how Edom will get it in the neck.It ends in a simple yet devastating image:
Though you make your nest as high as the eagle’s,
I will bring you down from there.