28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
The banquet theme stands out in this week’s readings and in ancient Israel the banquet was synonymous with good times and rejoicing. The two major characteristics of banquets were good food and wine, and congenial company.
Splashing out to feast on choice food and drink in the company of family and good friends is one of those life occasions where it doesn’t get any better.
The extract from Isaiah is a psalm of thanksgiving and praise celebrating God’s victory over Israel’s enemy. The verses before today’s reading tell of two major issues that warrant praise and thanksgiving, namely, God’s rescue of the Judeans from hostile threat and God’s generosity in providing refuge for the poor and needy.
Forces of the empire of uniformity cannot deal maturely with difference
The poet writes of the reversal of circumstances where the veil of sadness and shame is lifted and replaced by the bright clothing of safety and celebration. The metaphor of God destroying death forever is symbolic of the world or community of God where goodness reigns supreme. This is the longed-for reality that Jesus describes as the kingdom of God. His reference, of course, is to a situation where the world is governed by God’s values of justice, uprightness, integrity and respect for all creatures. This would be a world where there would be no more tears and no more shame. This is what the Hebrew Scriptures mean by salvation. It is very much a here-and-now concept, just as Jesus made the point that the reign of God is present with us. All we have to do is sign on to it and make our lives conform to the values of justice and honour. The inability to accept differences of race, class and convictions is arguably the biggest obstacle to universal respect. Forces of the empire of uniformity cannot deal maturely with difference.
That the world could be a community of God is quite likely a pipe dream but so many good human beings of the past and present believe it is worth striving for.
The whole spiritual program of Jesus was based on the conviction that goodness and respect among peoples are goals that deserve the best effort of all humanity.
Today’s well-known psalm incorporates a beautiful lyrical movement as the poet takes us from the metaphor of the sheep being led to lush pasture by flowing water to the image of the person being the guest of honour at the Lord’s banquet. We miss some of the subtlety of the Hebrew in our English translation. The original says, ‘He makes me lie down in lush grass and leads me to waters of peace and calm.’ In the context of a land that knows more desert than greenery this is describing a genuine paradise. He goes on to say that God brings his life back to health and leads him in the paths of goodness and right, ‘for his name’s sake,’ in other words, God cannot do otherwise. It is in the very nature of God to lead us in the way of goodness, the way that leads to peace and calm.
The second metaphor is of the banquet the Lord has prepared for the faithful ones. Our translation reads, ‘You have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes,’ whereas the Hebrew has, ‘You set a skin before me in the sight of my enemies.’ The skin is often translated as a table and this can easily give us the impression of a table laid with food and wine. In fact, the psalm was written long before tables and chairs were used in the Middle East and the reference here is to a pastoral setting, like the first shepherd metaphor. In a tribal desert setting the banquet would be laid out on one or more animal skins or rugs over the ground or sand inside a tent, and the guests would sit cross-legged enjoying the hospitality and generosity of the host. The enemies of the guest would look on consumed with envy.
The singer of the psalm is clearly a most favoured guest being honoured for all to see, friend and foe alike, and the anointing of the guest’s head with perfumed oil is the perfect mark of welcome and hospitality. The note of supreme satisfaction and fulfilment is expressed in the words, ‘Goodness and loving faithfulness will follow me all the days of my life.’ In other words, it doesn’t get any better than to be on the receiving end of the Lord’s love and generosity. Finally, the singer says there is no place I would rather be than in the house of the Lord, that is, living in an atmosphere of goodness where the values of goodness and justice are the true guide for living. This is where I am meant to be thoroughly at home; this is the goal of my life and all my aspirations.
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
In the verses preceding today’s extract Paul acknowledges the generosity of the Philippian community who have supported him more than any other Christian community with gifts and money. He writes that he knows what it is like to have both plenty and virtually nothing. He can endure all things with divine help. There is an echo here of the attitude of the psalmist who is more than ready to rely on God for all that he needs. He is confident that he will have what it takes to be content. In fact, his cup of gladness and satisfaction will be overflowing due to his trust in the goodness of God.
The shadow of an outraged king hovers over the parable of Jesus that makes up the gospel reading. The king gives a feast for his son’s wedding, he has invited guests in advance and sends out his servants to tell the guests that the day has arrived. Huge preparations have been made and all is now ready. To the king’s horror the invitees have shamed him by not only declining the invitation, but they even attacked the king’s servants and killed them. Here is another of those elements of extremism that Jesus often puts into his parables to add impact to the narrative and provoke emotional reactions in the listeners. We can imagine the chief priests and elders applauding the action of the king in destroying the murderers and burning their town – unless they saw themselves in the role of those who rudely spurned the king’s invitation.
Our wedding garment is the quality of life we lead as committed Christians
The servants are now despatched to the crossroads to bring in everyone they could find so that the wedding hall might be filled. This is not an act of generosity on the king’s part but is an action motivated by frustration and shame. The code of honour and shame was a pivotal value in Middle Eastern society in the time of Jesus so that a person’s whole wellbeing would depend on the degree of honour they enjoyed in their own eyes and in the eyes of their neighbours and associates. A person would avoid any activity or condition that would bring shame on them and the king in this parable is not going to permit himself to suffer the shame and ridicule of having prepared a wedding feast with no one to be there. Jesus adds extra weight to the king’s shame by mentioning that this was the wedding of his son and heir; the offensive insult of those who declined their invitations now becomes all the more intolerable.
The astute listeners among the chief priests and elders may have recognised the ‘dig’ that Jesus was having. The Jewish people are God’s invited guests but some of them, including their religious leaders, who should know better, are indifferent and have other priorities, putting themselves and their own interests first. They passed judgement on Jesus who was prepared to take meals with sinners and outcasts in Jewish society.
But it was precisely those at the bottom end of society that were admitted to the king’s banquet. However, an open invitation does not mean there are no entrance requirements for admission to the divine banquet. The man in the parable who stood out because he did not have on a wedding garment was offering an insult by not following due protocol. Our wedding garment is the quality of life we lead as committed Christians. We will exclude ourselves by not conforming our lives to the attitudes and teachings of the Master.
There's no beauty without difference and diversity. Love unconditionally. Rasheed Ongularu (London-based motivational speaker)
You know you are truly alive when you care for every living thing. One day soon, it will be the norm to view others not as competition, but gifts to share this gorgeous planet with, and we will not be able to imagine the loss of a single one. Tom Althouse (award-winning writer and actor)
My friend was trying to write a drinking song but he couldn’t get past the first few bars.
What do you do when you see a space man? You park in it, man.