Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Highways and Byways

         28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                          

      
In the tenth month of the year as the days and nights get colder, and they leaves turn color and start to fall, we can sense that another year is coming to an end. The liturgical year of the Church follows the same pattern and as we go along the readings will increasingly point to the last days.

This Sunday’s first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah can be read as a prophecy of what will occur at the end of time. Isaiah uses the metaphor of a mountain where people will gather for a great feast. Of course, this feast is a symbol of heavenly bliss. Death and suffering will be finally overcome.

         The Lord God will wipe away
The tears from every face;
The reproach of his people he will remove
From the whole earth…

These words are not so much a prophecy as a perennial wish of all people in all times. Today it remains a wish as tears continue to flow throughout our world. Headlines every day tell of unimaginable brutality and violence in many parts of the world. Will it ever end?

Jesus knew the words of Isaiah like the back of his hand. In today’s gospel, He tells a parable using the same imagery of a feast or banquet. It is the story of a King who gave a wedding feast for his Son. However, the invited guests behave very badly. Some just ignored the invitation and went about their business. Others even had the audacity to mistreat and even kill the messengers of the King.

In this Gospel, Matthew tells us that Jesus is speaking directly to the leaders of the Jewish people, the priests and elders. It shouldn’t have been hard for them to understand the message. The Jewish nation had entered into a covenant or contract with the Lord The covenant was designed to bring them happiness and make them a great nation. But time and time again they ignored their responsibility, even to the point of attacking the prophets who had been sent to warn them.

As a result, Jesus warns that the invitation will go out to others and that there will be a new covenant. The King sends his servants into the highways and byways to invite everyone, the bad as well as the good. Before we start blaming the Jews or feeling smug and self-satisfied, we should consider the rest of the parable. The banquet in honor of the King’s Son is now full of people, but there is one person there without a wedding garment.

I must confess that as a child I was upset at the treatment of this man. It’s not as if he crashed the party. He had been asked to come and just because he wore the wrong clothing, he was going to be unceremoniously kicked out. What did he do to deserve such treatment? I realize now that the wedding garment was a symbol for the man himself. He had accepted the invitation but did not live up to the responsibilities involved. After all, a covenant is a two way street.

We all understand that when a baseball player can no longer play on a major league level, he will either be let go or retired. The team will have to find another to take his place. They might bring someone up from their farm system. However, just being called up to the big leagues is not enough. The rookie will have to perform up to expectations or he will be ultimately be traded or sent back to the minors.

So, there is no reason for us to think that just because we are on the Christian team, we do not have to perform. We have to play our position. No one says that we have to be perfect or make the All Star team but we have to make the most of the tools we have been given.

The wedding garment is not something that we wear on the outside but it represents that which is within us. In the Psalms we hear that the Lord will not spurn a humble and contrite heart. Our wedding garment has little to do with our material condition in life. If we are rich, it is not necessarily a sign that we have been favored by God. If we are poor, it is not necessarily a sign that we have incurred the wrath of an angry God.

In today’s second reading St. Paul tells us that our material status is not an issue when it comes to the Heavenly banquet. He says to the people of Philippi that:

I know how to live in humble circumstances;
I know also how to live with abundance.
In every circumstance and in all things
I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry…


Ever since his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, his faith has strengthened him and enabled him to deal with all the ups and downs of life. We should all be familiar with the trials and sufferings that Paul experienced on his missionary journeys. We should regard the trials and suffering that we endure, small as they may seem compared to those endured by persecuted Christians in other parts of the world, as our own wedding garment. ###

Reading 1. Isaiah 25: 6-10a
Reading II. Philippians 4: 12-14, 19-20
Gospel. Matthew 22: 1-14 (Many are invited)

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