Oct 15, 2023
First Reading:Isaiah 25.6 – 10a. Psalm: 23. Second Reading: Philippians 4. 12 – 14, 19 – 20.
Gospel: Matthews 22. 1-14.
What’s the difference between an invitation and a call? We might be invited to the game on
Sunday, to a party, or even to be godparent to the child of a friend. When does an invitation (“Will
you marry me?”) become a call? How do we know our “calling in life”?
These are some of the questions that spring from Jesus’ story of the king who got stood up when he
threw a wedding party for his son.
First of all, the setting. Matthew makes the king the protagonist in this story. Think about this:
While you might wiggle out of a neighbor’s invitation to a baby shower or potluck, in Jesus’ day,
an invitation from the king required acceptance — to do otherwise implied insurrection.
So, here we have this king all ready to show off his wealth and generosity by throwing an
impressive feast for his son, probably the crown prince.
This is no small affair. When the menu includes calves and fattened cattle, we’re talking about 750-
pound calves and cattle that weigh about twice that much — not counting vegetables and wine! It’s
hard to calculate the insult resulting from making such preparations only to have the people you
want to impress decide that they’ve got something better to do.
You can bet that they weren’t thinking that the king was going to rule for long nor that his heir
would become a person of great power. Dissing him showed that they were counting on a change
The king was not to be deterred. If the “right people” weren’t going to be with him, he would find
others and make them right.
That’s a description of salvation and a retake on Isaiah 25’s mountaintop banquet for “all peoples.”
These stories portray God’s future as a blowout feast for everyone humble enough to accept the
fact that they can never deserve the invitation and who, at the same time, know that the invitation
itself makes them worthy.
What if we thought about the images of these feasts as call stories? Most of the vocation stories we
hear stress the leaving everything to follow. The fishers left their nets and boats, the women who
followed Jesus left their reputations and gave from their own wealth to follow. Jesus himself
warned that each would need to take up their own cross.
Nevertheless, the Gospels never present the reign of God as an experience of fast and abstinence.
Jesus himself admitted that others called him a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:19). Jesus was
never accused of being too strict or ascetic!
What if we thought of our calling, our vocation, as an invitation to “the good life” in the sense of a
life of fulfillment, joy, celebration, commitment, laughter and love? Isn’t that what the folks who
filled the king’s banquet hall found?
We might think of this party as a mirror of the sacraments of initiation. Baptism, confirmation and
Eucharist, symbolized by the acceptance of the invitation, the wedding gown and participating in
the feast. Here, “the bad and good alike” can enjoy everything the king has prepared for them. You
can imagine them dancing and singing, going back for seconds (or thirds) and popping petit fours
into their mouths each time they glide past the dessert table.
This is our invitation, our vocation. All it costs, as in Isaiah 55, is the willingness to participate
fully: to accept the invitation, put on the attitudes symbolized by the wedding dress, and then fully
enjoy what is offered.
Today’s Scriptures invite us all to raise our sights, and our hearts, when thinking of the future.
Beyond this present life, God has planned a great future for all of us. Isaiah’s prophecy of the
heavenly banquet is an invitation to think of our eternal destiny. There is more to live for than what
we see in this present world, interesting and challenging though it is. What really counts, indeed, is
whether we succeed in reaching our eternal happiness with God.
Perhaps our predecessors in the faith had a stronger sense of the afterlife than we have today. Like
Saint Paul, they believed that history is in God’s hands and that divine justice will have the last
say. Difficulties in one’s present life could then be seen as growth-pains, or as a means of purifying
the spirit from selfishness and sin. Under it all, the world was “in travail,” in process of bringing a
new era into existence. So it was that Paul–and many other men and women of faith–could be
inwardly at peace, no matter how hard the circumstances in which they found them-selves. We can
“do all things in Him who strengthens us,” if we hold on to the hope of everlasting life.
The eternal banquet must not be abandoned as so much “pie in the sky’! Christians don’t literally
expect to sit down to an everlasting meal, an eternal eating and drinking festival somewhere in the
stratosphere. While heaven is described in vivid anthropomorphic images, we realize that “eye has
not seen.. nor can the human heart imagine, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1
Cor 2:9.) Still, the banqueting atmosphere of friendly conviviality is a good image for that perfect
loving communion with God and with others towards which our lives are destined.
Daniel Berrigan noted the sharp ironies in this parable: “The story is charged with ironies. We have
the Christ of “love your enemies” telling about a king who takes revenge on his enemies (Matthew
22, 1-14) . This king, in fact, recalls the most savage of Hebrew and Gentile rulers. The invitation
to his banquet declares that everyone is welcome, “both evil and good.” But after the ragtag guests
assemble, someone is by no means made welcome. Quite the opposite. He is “bound hand and
foot, and cast into outer darkness.” His offence? Lacking that well-known wedding garment. This
anonymous guest, someone from “the main highways,” perhaps homeless, almost certainly
destitute, where was such a one to come on a festive robe?
Jesus emphasises that this wedding-banquet is open to all people indeed, that God sends his
messengers out to scour the highways and byways in order to fill his house with guests. It is a
comforting thought that God wants us to be saved, even more than we do ourselves.
On the other hand, there is a special regalia or wedding-garment that must be worn. This is the
level of personal commitment required, in order to accept our place at the wedding feast. I like to
think that this refers primarily to community spirit, an ability to share our well-being with other
people, in the presence of God. Though founded on faith in God’s creative love, Christian hope
retains a strong ethical dimension. Our wedding-garment is therefore being woven daily, by the
quality of our interaction with others. In this sense, we hold tomorrow in our own hands, as with
the help of God’s grace we build our own eternal future. Let’s go for it!