Sunday, October 9, 2011

Homily for 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
28th Sunday
in Ordinary Time

Oct. 9, 2011
Matt 22: 1-14
Willow Towers, N.R.

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Matt 22: 1).

After 3 consecutive Sundays on which we heard parables involving vineyards, this week Jesus tells us a parable about a wedding feast. The image of a feast is a common one in the Bible to symbolize peace, security, and joy, and sometimes eternal life in God’s kingdom. We can think not only of our 1st reading today: “On this mountain [i.e., Mt. Zion, Jerusalem] the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines,” and “On this mountain he will destroy…death forever” (Is 25:6-8). We can think of that most beloved psalm, Psalm 23: “You spread the table before me…; my cup overflows. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come” (vv. 5-6).


The wedding image speaks of God’s union with his people. In the OT the Song of Songs is an extended parable of a kind celebrating God’s love for Israel, comparing it to the love of bride and groom. St. Paul tells us that the Church is the spotless bride of Christ. The final chapters of the book of Revelation continue that image: “The wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready. She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment” (19:7-8)—to which an explanation is immediately added: “The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones” (v. 8), and then “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (v. 9), a blessing that we repeat at every Mass, omitting however the word wedding, when we acclaim: “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.”

The Lamb of Revelation (National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception)
So when Jesus speaks of a wedding banquet, he is indeed speaking of the kingdom of heaven. This parable tells us of a great banquet for the wedding of the king’s son, which suggests to us the marriage of God’s Son with his people. In ancient times such a great feast in the king’s house would also be an occasion for the king’s subjects to reaffirm their loyalty to the king and to his heir.
So the king has issued many invitations to his subjects to come and celebrate a great occasion for the royal family, and to confirm their loyalty to the royal house. Their attendance would be what today we’d call a command performance, and the king’s guest-subjects would need only to show up at the appointed day and hour.Shocking it is, then, that they refuse to come—some just finding it more convenient to go about their business, and others engaging in open rebellion against the king and his heir. Like our parable last week, of the wicked and rebellious tenant farmers in the vineyard, St. Matthew uses this parable to remind late 1st-century Christians of what happened to the Jews, God’s chosen people, when they rebelled against God by rejecting his Son and rising up in revolt against Rome: “The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city” (Matt 22:7).
The Marriage Feast, by Pieter Aertson
If the primary invitees of the king’s feast “were not worthy to come” (22:8), having used various excuses to refuse the invitation into the kingdom, the king will still have his feast, will still have his banquet “hall filled with guests” (22:10). The king’s servants go out into all the main roads to find people of every sort to invite to the feast. The apostles of Jesus go all over the Roman Empire and even beyond it—to Persia, to Ethiopia, to India, and of course eventually everywhere—to invite every nation on the earth to come to the wedding banquet of the Lamb, to come to the feast of salvation as guests of the King of Heaven. The prophet Isaiah foretold that “the Lord of hosts [would] provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines,” and the Catholic (a word meaning, literally, "universal") Church carries out the mission of Jesus the Son of God to make that possible, preaching the Good News to the ends of the earth (cf. Mark 16:15), making disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19): not only the Jews but also the Irish, Italians, Germans, Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, Mexicans, Ibo, Masai, the hundreds of peoples of every continent.

The parable ends with a powerful caution, however. Like last week’s parable, it’s a parable of judgment. “When the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment” (22:11). It seems that at a royal wedding the royal household would provide suitable attire for all the guests. To refuse to put on that attire when it was offered—what excuse could you have? And the man in the parable has nothing to say.

What would a member of the Church of Christ have to say when he came before the King of Heaven without a wedding garment? When we’re baptized, we’re given a white garment and told to bring our Christian dignity “unstained into the everlasting life of heaven” (Rite of Baptism). In other words, we have to live as Christians, not just show up in church from time to time. It’s not even enuf to receive Communion every week—showing up for the banquet, as it were; but we must practice the virtues proper to a disciple of Jesus Christ. As the book of Revelation says, the bride of the Lamb “was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment,” which “represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.” The one wedding guest has arrived at Judgment Day empty-handed, with nothing to show that he really belonged to Jesus.

The fate of those we might call “fake Christians” isn’t much different from the fate of open rebels whose city was "burned" and who were themselves "destroyed": they’re “cast into the darkness outside” to wail and shriek. The parable of Jesus, then, is one of God’s vast mercy, extending the invitation into the kingdom to anyone and everyone; it’s also a warning, after we’ve accepted the invitation, to practice faithfully what Jesus teaches us.

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