28th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)

Readings:
Isaiah 25:6-10
Psalm 23:1-6
Philippians 4:12-14
Matthew 22:1-14

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for mankind, and that is the reason we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Divine Banquet
In the symbolic images of the prophets, drinking wine and marriage are two of the reoccurring images used to describe the covenant people's relationship with God.  Drinking the best wine at a banquet or a wedding feast is the image of covenant union with the Lord.  The First Reading and the Gospel Reading use a banquet/wedding feast to describe the bliss of eternal communion at the Divine Banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the First Reading, the prophet Isaiah describes the eschatological banquet of the just in the heavenly Jerusalem.  Isaiah offers a song of thanksgiving and praise to the Lord God who has prepared a special feast for all the nations of the earth in His divine Presence.  It is the destiny of every person to join with the Lord God in an eternal communion, but it is a destiny we must choose to accept or reject.  Our acceptance of the invitation to attend this heavenly feast is our belief in the saving power of Jesus Christ who is the Way to the Father.

Two metaphors frame the Psalm Reading: The Lord as the Divine Shepherd and the Lord as the Divine Host of the sacred meal. Even in the midst of trials and sufferings, the psalmist feels a sense of security.  He has confidence that, despite his earthly struggles, God the Divine Host has prepared a table for him where he will drink from the cup of salvation when the time comes for him to enter into God's eternal rest. 

The message in the Second Reading is to be confident in times of distress, like St. Paul's confidence in God in the midst of his sufferings for his faith in Christ.  Paul tells us, if we are faithful, God will meet our needs.  Paul reminds us that God also wants us to be concerned about the distress of others.  We need to be ready to give what we can for the support of those in emotional, physical, or material suffering.  Even if the giving is limited and comes from our meager supplies, God will reward us for our generosity, and His reward will be far greater than any material earthly benefit.

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus tells a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven that ends in a teaching on divine judgment.  Using the symbolic image of a feast, the parable concerns the wedding feast.  God is the King who invites guests to the wedding feast, and Jesus, the King's son, is the Bridegroom.  In Jesus' parable, there are three sets of invitations.  From the beginning of God's relationship with humanity, He has extended the invitation to have a covenant relationship with Him.  Some of the "invited" are too obsessed with temporal concerns to take the time to enter into a relationship with God and refuse to "come to the feast."  Others are hostile and reject the invitation to salvation.  And there are others who will try to "come" to the feast on their terms, but will refuse to wear the wedding garment of divine grace that assures their entrance to the feast.

The invitation to the "wedding feast" is the invitation to be in covenant/communion with God the great King through His Son, Jesus the Bridegroom.  For Christians today, the divine banquet in Jesus' parable has a present and future reality.  It is the Eucharistic banquet through which Christ nourishes us with His very life on our journey to salvation, and it is the eschatological wedding banquet of the Lamb and His Bride, the Church, waiting for us at the end of time.  God invites everyone "to come," but He also asks us to make a radical choice.  We must be willing to give up everything for the sake of the kingdom (Mt 16:24-28; Mk 8:34-38; Lk 9:23-27).  It is our responsibility to come clothed in a garment of grace in the repentance of our sins to be admitted to the heavenly Wedding Supper of the Lamb and His Bride (Rev 19:9).  The choice to come is ours: This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:3 NJB).  Are you prepared to be welcomed at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb?  Are you clothed in your garment of grace?

The First Reading Isaiah 25:6-10 ~ The Eschatological Banquet of the Just
6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.  7 On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; 8 he will destroy death forever.  The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.  9 On that day it will be said: "Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!  This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!"  10 For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

 Drinking wine is one of the symbolic images of the prophets depicting Israel's relationship or lack of a relationship with God.  In the Old Testament, drinking wine in the banquet of the just is the symbol of Israel's covenant union with God (see the chart on the symbolic images of the prophets:.

The First Reading is a song of thanksgiving and praise to the Lord God who has prepared a special feast for all the nations of the earth on Mount Zion.  Mount Zion is a physical site on the southeastern slope of the city of Jerusalem occupied by King David.  Later "Zion" came to be associated with the covenant people in communion with God to whom sacrifice and worship were offered at the holy Temple on Mount Moriah.  However, in this passage, Mount Zion is a symbol of the Church in the heavenly Jerusalem: But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church of first-born sons, enrolled as citizens of heaven. You have come to God Himself, the supreme Judge, and to the spirits of the upright who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the mediator of a New Covenant, and to purifying blood which pleads more insistently than Abel's (Heb 12:22-24). 

In the feast that God will prepare for all nations (verse 6), He will provide succulent food and fine wine from the choicest grapes.  It is a symbolic reference to the eschatological (end times) sacred meal that God will provide and which will surpass anything on earth that mankind can imagine.  The promised sacred meal in verse 6 prefigures the Eucharistic banquet instituted by Jesus in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion at the Last Supper, where He provided the divine nourishment of His own Body and Blood.  At the Last Supper, the institution of the Eucharist became a present reality for the New Covenant Church, and it continues as a present reality in the sacrifice of the Mass.  However, it is also the pledge of a future glory in the anticipation of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb in the eschatological feast at the end of time (Rev 19:9).

7 On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; 8 he will destroy death forever.
"The veil" refers to sin that separates man from God; it is sin that brings death.  That barrier will be removed.  It is a promise Jesus fulfilled when He offered up His life on the altar of the Cross.  The veil that separated the dwelling place of God among His people in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple was torn apart, symbolizing unlimited access to God the Father through the unblemished sacrifice of God the Son (Mt 27:51; Mk 15:37; Lk 23:45). 

8 he will destroy death forever.  The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.  9 On that day it will be said: "Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!  This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!"  10 For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.
The "holy mountain" is the heavenly Jerusalem.  A voice from the throne of God after the creation of the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21:4 repeats the promised in verse 8: Then I heard a loud voice call from the throne, "Look, here God lives among human beings.  He will make his home among them; they will be his people, and he will be their God, God-with-them.  4 He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness or pain.  The world of the past has gone" (Rev 21:3-4 NJB). 

The Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment (Rev 20:13-14) will destroy death (Rev 20:14-15).  However, with the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ and His glorious resurrection, death no longer reigns over mankind but has become only a temporary condition and entrance into eternity (Rom 5:14-21).  St. Paul refers to Isaiah 25:8 from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament when he writes: After this perishable nature has put on imperishability and this mortal nature has put on immortality, then will the words of scripture come true: "Death is swallowed up in victory.  Death, where is your victory? Death where is your sting?"  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin comes from the Law.  Thank God, then, for giving us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor 14:54-57 NJB).

The Church also speaks in a similar way in the prayer for the dead when we beseech God to receive the dearly departed into His Kingdom: "There we hope to share in your glory when every tear will be wiped away.  On that day we shall see you, our God, as you are.  We shall become like you and praise you forever through Christ our Lord, from whom all good things come" (Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer III).

Responsorial Psalm 23:1-6 ~ Dwelling with the Lord
The response is: "I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life."

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.  2 In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful [still] waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. Response 3 He guides me in right paths for his name's sake.  4 Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage. 5 You spread a table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Response 6 Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come. Response

The 23rd Psalm is probably the best-loved of all the 150 psalms.  Attributed to David, God's anointed king of Israel and the ancestor of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus Christ (Mt 1:1-16, 19-20; Lk 1:30-33), this psalm expresses a personal reflection of the relationship between the psalmist and the nearness of his God.  Two metaphors frame the psalm: The Lord as the Divine Shepherd (verses 1-4), and Divine Host of the sacred meal (verses 5-6).  In the Bible, and in the secular literature of the ancient Near East, the role of a shepherd was often a metaphor for the king (2 Sam 5:2; Is 44:28; etc.).  It is the same metaphor used to express the role of God the Divine King who is the protector and judge of His covenant people (Ps 28:9; Is 40:11; Ez 34:11-16). 

Describing the aspects of shepherding, perhaps from David's perspective as a shepherd in his youth, the inspired writer provides a picture of his relationship with God as he seeks to live a life of holiness (verses 2-3).  The Divine Shepherd constantly guides the psalmist and the people, who are the sheep of God's flock, with tenderness and compassion.  The Divine Shepherd takes into consideration the fears and weakness of His people.  He will not lead them near the fearful, raging rivers but by the quiet waters (sheep have a fear of drowning and will only drink from still waters).  His tender care gives the psalmist confidence that with God's shepherding he will reach the green pastures of God's heavenly kingdom (1 Pt 5:4; Rev 7:17). 

Even in the midst of trials and sufferings, the psalmist feels a sense of security as he trusts in God to lead and protect him.  He knows, despite the plans of his enemies that God the Divine Host has prepared a table for him when the time comes for him to enter into God's eternal rest.  The psalmist feels overwhelmed by the abundance of God's mercy and covenant love.

For Christians, this psalm takes on its full meaning in Jesus' statement "I am the Good Shepherd" (Jn 10:11, 14; Heb 13:20) and in the Eucharist.  Jesus fulfills the host metaphor of the psalm in the table of the Last Supper where Jesus, the host of the sacred meal, offered His disciples the sacred banquet of the Eucharist for the first time.  It is in the Eucharistic Banquet of the Mass that Jesus continues to offer His faithful the sacred meal on the altar table at every celebration of the Mass.  It is a banquet that looks back in time to the Last Supper and forward in time to the heavenly banquet in God's eternal kingdom (Rev 19:5-9).  It is the banquet of the just and the wedding supper of the Lamb in His Bride that we hope to share in the presence of all the saints, including the faithful David.

The Second Reading Philippians 4:12-14 ~ God's Reward
12 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, of living in abundance and of being in need.  13 I can do all things in him who strengthens me.  14 Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.  My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.  To our God and Father, glory forever and ever.  Amen.

St. Paul, suffering for the sake of Christ in prison, has received a gift of money from the Christian community he founded at Philippi in the Roman province of Macedonia (the first Christian community in Europe).  In his letter to the community, St. Paul expresses his gratitude, telling them "it was kind of you to share in my distress" (verse 14a).  And while he is unable to reward them for their kindness, he promises "My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (verse 14b). 

God's message to us in this passage is to be confident in times of distress, like St. Paul's confidence in God in the midst of his sufferings for his faith in Christ.  We can have confidence, if we are faithful, that God will meet our needs.  God also wants us to be concerned about the distress of others and to be ready to give what we can for the support of those in emotional, physical, or material suffering (lacking the basic needs to survive).  Even if our giving is limited, coming from our merger supplies, God will reward us for our generosity, and His reward will be far greater than any material earthly benefit.

The Gospel of Matthew 22:1-14 ~ The Parable of the Wedding Feast
1 Jesus again in reply spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.  3 He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come.  4 A second time he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those invited: "Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast."'  5 Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.  6 The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.  7 The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.  8 Then he said to his servants, 'The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come.  9 Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.'  10 The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.  11 But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.  12 He said to him, 'My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?'  But he was reduced to silence.  13 Then the king said to his attendants, 'Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'  14 Many are invited, but few are chosen."

In His last week in Jerusalem before His crucifixion, Jesus' tells another parable in a confrontation with the religious authorities.  The subject of the parable is the Kingdom of Heaven, and the parable ends in a teaching on divine judgment.  It is the eighth time in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus has begun a parable with the words "the Kingdom of Heaven is like ..." (see Mt 13:24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47 and 52).

In the parable, the occasion for the feast is the royal wedding of a king's son.  The prophets also used the imagery of marriage and the wedding banquet as a symbol of covenant unity between God the divine Bridegroom and His intimacy with the covenant people as His chaste Bride.  Like Jesus' other parables, this story has symbolic significance.  See the chart of the Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets in the "drinking wine" imagery and the "marriage imagery."

In the parable, God is the king who invites guests to the wedding feast, and Jesus is the Bridegroom who is the king's son.  The prophets of the Old Testament prepared the theme of Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church in their symbolic imagery.  The last Old Testament prophet, John the Baptist, announced Jesus' coming as the "bridegroom" (Jn 3:29), and Jesus also referred to Himself as the "bridegroom" (Mk 2:19). 

The invitation to the "wedding feast" is the invitation to be in covenant/communion with God the great King, a relationship symbolically represented as a marriage.  Notice that there are three sets of invitations and that some of the guests reject the invitation.  From the beginning of God's relationship with man, He has invited mankind, the "wedding guests," to have a covenant relationship with Him.  Some are too obsessed with temporal concerns to take the time to enter into a relationship with God and "come to the feast," while others are hostile and reject the invitation to salvation.  The people of Jesus' time had a mixed reaction to Jesus' invitation to the Kingdom through His Gospel message of salvation.

3 He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. 4 A second time he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those invited: "Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast."'
As in the other parables, the first set of servants in verse 3 represent God's Old Testament prophets who called the people to repentance and salvation.  The second set of servants in verse 4 represents Jesus' disciples and Apostles who preach Jesus' good news (Gospel) of salvation and the coming of His Kingdom (the Church).

5 Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.  6 The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.
Throughout human history, people have found excuses to ignore God's call to salvation, letting the concerns or temptations of life lead them away from God.  Others came into a covenant relationship with God, but abused and killed His servants the prophets when God sent them to chastise the people for falling into sin and disobedience to His commandments.

7 The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
There are both Biblical and historical events that fit with God's divine judgment in the parable against those who murdered His prophets and rejected obedience to His commandments.  When the people of the Sinai Covenant rejected their covenant obligations, worshipped false gods, and committed crimes against the poor, God withdrew His hand of protection, and Israel suffered the ravages of famine, sickness, war, and exile.  God spared a faithful remnant of the people to return from exile to the land and return to obedience to God's covenant.  However, the generation of Jesus' time and their religious leaders rejected God's divine plan for mankind's salvation by rejecting their divine "bridegroom" the promised Messiah.  Therefore, Jesus gives a warning of impending divine judgment in His parable.

The warning to the religious leaders who have vigorously opposed Jesus is that history will repeat itself in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  The Romans fulfilled the warning of disaster in 70 AD, a repeat of the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple by the Babylonians in 587/6 BC (even on the same date, the 9th of Ab).  Jesus' parable provides the answer to the withdrawal of God's divine protection: the rejection of the invitation to enter God's Kingdom through Jesus' Gospel of salvation.

8 Then he said to his servants, 'The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come.  9 Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.'  10 The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.
Why is it time for the "wedding feast"?  Who are those who were invited but no longer worthy, and who are the outsiders who are now invited to come?  The answer is that the Divine Bridegroom, Jesus the Messiah, is present, and it is time for the "wedding feast" to begin.  Therefore, God the kingly Father extends the invitation to everyone.  The invitation is not limited to the people of the Sinai Covenant but all peoples of all nations as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah (Is 25:6; 66:18).  Israelites/Jews and Gentiles are all invited to be in covenant with the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, as members of His New Covenant Church, the Bride.

 11 But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.  12 He said to him, 'My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?'  But he was reduced to silence.  13 Then the king said to his attendants, 'Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'  14 Many are invited, but few are chosen."
The invited guests who join the wedding feast are those baptized by water and the Spirit.  They are welcomed as members of the New Covenant Church, the Body of Christ joined to the Bridegroom and clothed as His Bride in the garment of grace that is the good deeds of the saints (Rev 19:7-8; also see 1 Cor 6:15-17; 2 Cor 11:2; Jam 2:13-14, 24-26 and CCC 546).  The one who was cast out into the darkness was not dressed in a wedding garment of grace.  He wanted to come to the feast, but he did not care about the Bridegroom enough to take the time to present a soul purified through genuine repentance and righteous works that demonstrated his faith (Jam 2:24). The kingly Father/God called upon the unprepared guest to give an answer and confess his sins, but he was silent; he failed in his false pride to ask for forgiveness.  The warning is that at the hour of judgment it will be too late for those who failed to cleanse their souls in the Sacrament of Reconciliation before facing God in their Particular Judgment.  At judgment, those who are the Bride of Christ must be covered in "a garment" of grace," the texture of which is good deeds (Rev 19:7-8).  Words are not enough nor are actions that lack substance.  Genuine faith demonstrated in deeds of righteousness and justice are the way to salvation (CCC 162, 2016; Jam 2:24).  Those who think they can come to the feast on their own terms and merits without a life of faith and good works will be cast out.

The place of "wailing and grinding of teeth" in verse 13 is the same place of eternal judgment as in the other parables; for example in Matthew 13:49 ~ Thus it will be at the end of the age.  The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wiling and grinding of teeth.  (See CCC 1033-37).

It is not God's desire that any should perish (1 Tim 2:3-4; 2 Pt 3:9).  He has made the invitation for us to come to the sacred meal of the banquet of eternal salvation first extended to us in the Eucharist as a foretaste of what awaits in the eternal beatitude.  He sent His Son as our Bridegroom, and He gave us all we need through the Sacraments to be dressed in the wedding garment of divine grace to enter into an intimate relationship with Christ, the Bridegroom.  God invites everyone, but He also asks us to make a radical choice.  We must be willing to give up everything for the sake of the kingdom (Mt 16:24-28; Mk 8:34-38; Lk 9:23-27).  The choice to come is ours: This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:3 NJB).  Are you prepared to be welcomed at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb?  Are you clothed in your garment of grace?

Catechism References:
Psalm 23:5 (CCC 1293)
Philippians 4:13 (CCC 273, 308, 1460)
Matthew 22:1-14 (CCC 546, 796)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014; revised 2017