Who doesn’t love a party—especially when someone else is footing the bill?
Well, in today’s Gospel we hear about several people who turned down an invitation to a banquet. And not just any old banquet, but a feast put on by the king! These people even went so far as to kill the servants who invited them. Finally, the king gave up on his chosen guests and opened the banquet to anyone who wanted to come.
While we might think this is an interesting story, it would have been more than that to Jesus’ audience. He was speaking to his enemies, the priests and elders. As he told this story, they couldn’t have helped but relate the king to God…and perhaps their own actions to those guests who refused to enter the banquet. This story must have struck them where it hurt, so to speak, if they realized that they, as the leaders of the Jews, might not be responding fully to their King, God. Little wonder that they began to call for Jesus’ death—to get him off their backs.
But we aren’t completely off the hook. We, too, have been called to the new banquet of the King—the one in which everyone is invited through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This new banquet is the family gathering of all the people of God, and it finds its fullest expression in the Mass. God wants us all to join him at this banquet table, but sometimes, like the guests in the parable, we make excuses and find other things to do. If we truly believe that God is the King who invites us, then we should come quickly and joyfully to attend the feast that is the Mass each Sunday.
First Reading: Isaiah 25:6–10a
This blessing of the nations harkens back to the period after the flood of Noah, when God made the “everlasting covenant” with him and promised not to destroy the world by water again. The covenant with Noah, unlike the later Hebrew covenant, was a universal covenant with all nations and peoples. In chapter 24, it’s the violation of this early covenant which brings destruction on the whole earth, this time by fire rather than water, so the scene for this reading is just like that, following a second renewal of that ancient universal covenant.
In contrast to the previous chapter where we see the wine and the vine from which it comes mourning the destruction of the earth by fire, in this chapter “a feast of rich food and choice wines” is provided on the “mountain of the Lord of hosts.” The only destruction in that place will be the destruction of death itself. We see in this reading a foreshadowing of the promised wedding banquet of the Lamb, at which death is definitively banished. We believe that our participation in the Holy Eucharist isn’t merely a foreshadowing but a real participation in that marriage banquet in which our God takes all nations to himself in the eternal covenant of love in Christ.
Second Reading: Philippians 4:12–14, 19–20
St. Paul gives a beautiful witness to Christian equanimity in this epistle. There’s a level of energy and optimism that one wouldn’t expect from a man facing extended imprisonment or even death. We’re not left in the dark either as to the source of Paul’s ebullience. “In him who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything,” he says. The Philippians had apparently sought to ameliorate Paul’s suffering in prison, perhaps with a gift or simply by the expression of their concern through a messenger. Paul isn’t an ingrate and responds with thanks but he does so almost apologetically, after declaring that he has grown accustomed to absolute detachment from circumstances, good or bad.
One can almost read between the lines something to the effect: “You could have saved yourself the trouble of your concern for me; I’m filled with joy at being able to suffer for Christ.” Paul is too polite, too fine a Christian, to risk offending with such frankness. Instead, he elegantly builds them up in faith by his courage and assures them of his peace in the midst of persecution, without rejecting their gift of consolation. What a sterling example Paul gives to the Philippians and to us.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 22:1–14
The “reign of God” is thought to have been a current phrase to represent covenant faithfulness. So when Jesus begins a parable, “The reign of God may be likened to…” and then goes on to describe a gross affront to “a king” by invited guests to a wedding banquet, we can guess that the message got through. The Pharisees, who regarded themselves as impeccably faithful to the covenant, seem to have taken some offense to this parable. It’s vital that we get an accurate assessment of the attitudes of the Jewish people in response to Jesus because we’ve been incorporated into Israel by grace. If we see Jews in the Gospel as merely a caricature of stubbornness to the overtures of God in Jesus, we’re unlikely to recognize ourselves and our own covenant shortcomings in them.
The city that Jesus says the king will send his army to destroy is the one we inhabit. It’s the city we live in, not merely the Jerusalem of old. We Catholics are now the invited guests to the banquet. We’re invited each Sunday in anticipation of the wedding feast in heaven. Jesus has won and offered redemption for all, but we can only enter into that redemption by our choice to be redeemed.
Please watch the short Opening the Word video available at FORMED.org and download the free guide.
According to the presenter in the video, what is the relationship between the mountain in the first reading where God provides a banquet and Calvary?
How is the parable in this week’s Gospel a “mini-history” of the story of salvation?
Digging Deeper: Banquet Foods
What would have been served at a sumptuous banquet during the time of Christ? While Jewish dietary laws would have made some differences, especially among the observant Jews, it’s likely the feast would have been influenced by Roman banquets of the time. A proper Roman dinner included three courses: the hors d’oeuvres, the main course, and the dessert. Exotic foods from wild animals, birds, and fish were popular, as were dairy products, bread, fruits and vegetables, and wine. The main offering would have been meat, something that wasn’t regularly served; lamb was frequently on the banquet menu.