First reading: Isaiah 25:6-10.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 22(23).
Second reading: Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20.
Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14.
Link to readings.
Uniting the First Reading and the Gospel as a common theme today is the sense of invitation to a banquet. The First Reading, from Isaiah 25:6-10, speaks of God's designs for humanity under the image of a splendid banquet to which they are invited. The banquet is to take place "on this mountain", that is, Mount Zion in Jerusalem and so, in the first place, Israel is in view. But the banquet is not for Israel alone: the "mourning veil" and "shroud" covering all peoples will be wiped away and the Lord will "destroy Death forever". Read in the light of the Christian Gospel, what is being promised here is nothing less than human freedom from mortality in an ultimate sense and a pledge that all would share the eternal life of God. Every human life, then, is a life lived in the hope of this invitation to the "banquet" of eternal life.
The parable of the Wedding Banquet that makes up the Gospel, Matt 22:1-14 is the Matthean version of a parable that appears in rather different forms in the early tradition (cf. Luke 14:15-24). Matthew has made the parable a kind of allegory of salvation history. The wedding feast represents the fullness of salvation, the bridegroom the Son of God (Jesus). The servants sent one after the other to issue invitations represent, first, the prophets sent to Israel in the Old Testament era, then Christian missionaries. These go out first to Israel once more. When again Israel fails to respond, they are told to invite those "on the crossroads"-the Gentiles. The final scene where the king notices a guest not wearing a wedding garment and orders him to be cast out, brings the allegory to a close. It evokes the last judgement, when the mixture of good and bad in the Christian community will be sorted out.
Matthew presents the parable in this form to help his community understand and come to terms with unexpected and troubling things that had occurred: the "No" of the bulk of Israel to the message of the Gospel, the existence of bad, as well as good, in the community of the Church. Having Jesus tell the parable in this way shows that all had been foreseen and foretold by him and therefore should not cause too great dismay or loss of faith.
That said, it must be admitted that the parable in its Matthean form has several troubling features. In preaching, we should be wary of allowing our hearers to identify the king in the parable with God or to see his violent and vengeful behaviour as the way God acts. As in all his parables, Jesus simply takes illustrations from life as it is, neither commending or deploring the behaviour involved but simply using the way people (including kings) behave to illustrate what he wants to convey.
Hearers of the Gospel will also wonder why a poor unfortunate brought in without warning "from the crossroads" is treated so harshly for not wearing a wedding garment. How could he have had time to get one - even if it was something he could afford! Once again, allegory has rather spoilt the realism of the story. As noted already, this final episode has to do with the problem of good and bad in the Christian community. You don't have to be good to get into the community of the Kingdom: God's invitation is a great net of grace that envelops all. But, once within, people have to allow themselves to be transformed by the grace they have received; their subsequent good works will constitute the "wedding garment" required for the banquet. The man without a wedding garment represents people inside the community who have not so responded to grace. The parable makes the point that, though the community may have to put up with bad behaviour for a while, there will come a time of judgement when such recalcitrants will be called to reckoning and expulsion from the "banquet".
In this way, a parable that originally reflected upon Israel's failure to respond to Jesus has been given a meaning for members of the Church. All God's intent for us is to share with us the riches of the "banquet" of life. But God's graciousness and generosity should not be an excuse for complacency. Our lack of cooperation can exclude us from the banquet.
Finally, we should note the Semitic idiom in the concluding comment: "Many" (= "all") are called, "few "(= "not all") are "chosen" (= persevere to the end); it is possible to exclude oneself from the banquet of life.
The Second Reading, Phil 4:12-14, 19-20, coheres with the main "banquet" theme at least in its expression of Paul's confidence in the "lavishness" with which God will reward the generosity of the Philippians.
Brendan Byrne, SJ, FAHA, taught New Testament at Jesuit Theological College, Parkville, Vic., for almost forty years. He is now Emeritus Professor at the University of Divinity (Melbourne). His commentaries on the Gospels can be found at Pauline Books and Media