Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, October 15, 2023
A banquet of food so good it's indescribable, an end to death, and a welcome, on the Jews' most exclusive site, for all the earth's people. These are the surprises God is preparing, in this prophet's vision.
From Paul's farewell to a much-loved congregation, we'll hear a summary of what Christ has let him accomplish, and of what he wishes for his friends.
Saint Matthew continues to explore the rejection of Jesus by most Jews, on behalf of Jews who had accepted him.
Our Liturgical Setting: This year, we've been reading from Saint Matthew's gospel. Its original audience were mostly Jewish Christians dealing with three hard issues:
Now all that just explains why the editors of the Lectionary want us to hear today's passage from Isaiah. It, too, is about a banquet.
The Theological Background: But Isaiah wasn't just saying this to set us up to hear a particular gospel paragraph. He expresses a grand prophetic vision here. Notice the universal scope of what he predicts: a feast for all people, doing away with death for all people, wiping away tears from every face, removing the reproach from the whole earth. It took a courageous prophet to speak of a God whose care extended beyond a single people, when that single people prided itself on its elect status. That, more than its reference to a banquet, makes this an important passage.
Proclaiming It: Of course, emphasize the words that tell the scope of God's care: all, every, whole.
The Historical Situation: Paul had received generous financial support from the Christians at Philippi, on several occasions; these sentences come from his "thank you" note to them. Paul is also very fond of the Philippians, and has high expectations of them as followers of Christ. This passage has a valedictory character, too, because Paul may have written while facing death in prison.
Proclaiming It: In proclaiming this aloud, be sure you accentuate the contrasts between the various levels of comfort and need that Paul recalls.
Unless the preachers in your congregation have been concentrating on the recent series of readings from Philippians, the typical listener might let this go in one ear and out the other. But there's a one-liner within these verses that, if you accent it enough, might be just what someone needs to hear this Sunday. It's this:
OCTOBER 11TH, 2020: TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Meals obviously play a big role in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. They appear in all three of today's readings. But our sacred authors look at them from three different perspectives.
Though our first reading is often proclaimed at funerals, Isaiah isn't talking about heaven. The concept of an eternal reward awaiting us after our physical death wouldn't enter mainstream Jewish thought until about 600 years after his prophetic ministry. He's simply looking forward to an ideal age when there would be no death, when that “veil” which entraps all people will finally be destroyed. When that day arrives, everyone will gather on Mt. Zion — the mount on which Jerusalem's temple is built — for the most terrific banquet anyone could ever imagine. Yet I presume Isaiah knew such a day would never arrive during his lifetime. It was just his “when-my-ship-comes-in” dream, an expression of his faith in Yahweh's eventual care, no matter when and how it would appear.
Still, meals — and especially banquet type meals — were significant events in the biblical world. That seems to be why the gospel Jesus uses the metaphor of a big feast when he's trying to explain his insight into the “kingdom of heaven.”
Before this story appeared in Matthew and Luke's gospels, scholars believe it was originally included in a now-lost collection of Jesus' sayings which they refer to as the “Q.” Both evangelists changed it around a little to fit their unique theologies. Luke, for instance, who seems to have had problems with “Mrs. Luke,” leaves out the meal's wedding aspect, and also adds another excuse for not attending: “I've just married a wife, and therefore . . . .” But in either case, gospel readers are reminded that lots of people miss the boat when it comes to recognizing God working effectively in their lives.
By the way, don't worry about the poor guy who was just walking down the main street, suddenly pulled into a wedding banquet, and then thrown out into the “darkness outside” because he's not wearing the proper clothes. Matthew has obviously meshed two separate stories into one, simply because they had something to do with wedding celebrations. The second story has nothing to do with the first.
Ignoring the second story, Jesus' message is clear: “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” Matthew's readers can prove the point by just looking around. Few people are willing to die enough to themselves to actually experience God in their everyday lives. Though they're probably longing for such a heavenly encounter, they easily can find excuses for not following through on such a demanding invitation.
On the other hand, Paul of Tarsus is one of the few who has actually accepted the invitation. He's stepped into a life he could only have dreamt about before he came face to face with the risen Jesus on the Damascus road. By forming the giving relationship with others which that invitation requires, he discovers his value system has drastically been transformed — even about such basics as food. As he tells the Philippians, “I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.” He has a new focus in life, a focus which actually brings life, no matter the circumstances he experiences.
Obviously Paul's disciples in Philippi have the same focus, else they wouldn't be sharing what they have with him.
It's more than interesting what people are able to do when they start to experience the risen Jesus among them, especially in the needy people among them. “I can do all things in him who strengthens me,” Paul proclaims. But he would have accomplished nothing had he found an excuse to ignore God's invitation.
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Russian Orthodox Icon of the Wedding Feast and the Underdressed Guest, or so it is called, more or less, on several websites that give no other attribution.
This page updated October 10, 2023