Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
October 11, 2020 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Isaiah 25:6-10a | Psalm 23:1-6
Philippians 4:12-14;19-20 | Matthew 22:1-14

       +In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.

Before the current pandemic, Deacon Sharon and I enjoyed inviting people to our home for dinner. On occasion, I’ve been disappointed when guests whom we’ve invited don’t show up and we end up stuck with a substantial amount of leftovers. So we know how the king in this story felt about people not showing up for the banquet to celebrate his son’s wedding. Unless someone truly had a good excuse for not coming, we didn’t feel good about it.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is once more addressing the religious leaders of his days, that is, the temple priests, the lawyers, and religious scholars.

Here’s the situation. Jesus had just triumphantly entered Jerusalem to cheering crowds who did homage to him by spreading palm branches and clothing on the road ahead of him, shouting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.”

The first place Jesus went was the temple, where he drove out the money changers and cured blind and handicapped people. That made the people in charge very mad. They questioned who gave him the authority to do what he was doing.  But he would not answer their question directly.

So he told them the Parable of the Two Sons, which we heard two weeks ago, and the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, which we heard last week.  Along with today’s Gospel, those two parables have a common theme: who will partake in the Kingdom of Heaven. Is it everyone, or just a chosen few?

In the parable in today’s Gospel, the king is God the Father, the son is Jesus, and the banquet is the kingdom of heaven. The first people invited were the Jews of Old Testament times, and the servants who invited them were the Old Testament prophets.

The second group invited were the Jews living at the time of Jesus, and the second set of servants represent John the Baptist, who encountered not only indifference but outright hostility, to the point where those servants were executed. As you may recall, John the Baptist was beheaded.

Knowing that Matthew was composed around sixty-five to seventy A-D, its author may have included the part about the king’s army executing those who attacked the second group of servants as representing the ransacking of Jerusalem by the Roman army around that time frame.

The third group who came to the banquet represented the Gentiles, that is, non-Jews, whom the third group of servants sought out in the streets.  Those servants represented the hundreds of early Christian missionaries who fanned out across what is now Syria, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, and North Africa.

In this parable, the first two groups of people who turned down the king’s invitation were the so-called important people. Some of them felt themselves to be awfully important, so much so that they did not go to the banquet because they thought they had more important things to do. They thought that their own personal business was more important than honoring the king with their presence.

Churches see this same kind of behavior in our contemporary world by way of declining attendance at worship. Before the pandemic, people who used to go to Sunday Mass instead chose to watch sporting events, participate in recreational activities, and socialize with friends and relatives, just like the people who were invited to the wedding feast in today’s Gospel.  Clergy in churches with declining attendance who’ve spent hours planning worship and preparing homilies can certainly empathize with the king’s anger at those who shunned his banquet invitation.

Here’s why we feel the way we do. The fact is, time is a precious commodity. Once spent, time can never be recovered, reset, or revisited. Thus, people make choices about how, where, and with whom they spend their time. Those choices reflect their values as expressed by what, where, or with whom they spend their time. God gives us the freedom to make those choices, but we have to deal with the consequences of our choices. The people who’ve decided at the last minute not to come to dinner at our home have made a choice to not enjoy our outstanding culinary skills. It’s not surprising we don’t like their choice. Rejection is not a fun feeling.

In the time of Jesus, royalty dined with royalty, never with street people.  We see that today, where people of different socio-economic backgrounds are usually not social friends with one another.

But in this parable, the people who ultimately enjoyed the royal banquet were, in fact, the street people who don’t conceal their hunger. While they may have had nowhere else to go, they could have stayed in the streets. Instead, they came and came gladly. Unlike the people who turned down the king’s invitation because they had better things to do, they recognized the value of good food and fellowship at the banquet which they ultimately attended.

Today’s first reading sheds some light on what the king’s banquet represented.  The scene depicted is one of permanent victory abundant feasting and life without end. The setting is on a high mountain, presumably in heaven, where the power and abundant life in God reside, and where sumptuous feasts are prepared and enjoyed everlastingly.

On that mountain, God will be doing something surprising and mighty.

On that mountain, all people will be invited to the banquet.

On that mountain, the veil of death will be removed everyone will see the goodness of our redeeming God.

On that mountain, we will see up close the God to whom all look for comfort.

The banquet and the mountain are images of the person, the messiah, who will welcome, feed, and guard all peoples.

At that banquet, suffering and death are no more to be found. Conventional biblical scholars say it is an “estachological banquet,” meaning a banquet representing the end of time. The phrase “on that day” refers to a time when all of God’s promises will be a reality in the ultimate fulfillment of existence, the nirvana to end all nirvana and the utopia to end all utopias.

And God wants to welcome everyone to that banquet, to participation in God’s Kingdom, no matter what their race, gender, orientation, or religion.  Such a banquet will celebrate the victory of god over the forces of sin and death to get us to a place where there will be no more pain, crying, and misery. It will be a place where people truly love God with all their hearts, minds, and souls, and where neighbor does no more evil to neighbor and neighbor cares for neighbor driven by empathy and compassion rather than ulterior motives, like power and greed.

But—one of the guests who came to the banquet was not properly attired for the occasion and was cast into outer darkness. So why did that happen? The king was so anxious to have guests at his banquet, so why did he turn that guy away, just because he lacked the clothing appropriate to the occasion? Doesn’t God love us regardless of our appearance?

The point the king was trying to make was that this individual did not fully appreciate the importance of the occasion. This particular passage reminds me of contemporary priests who don’t wear a chasuble in the church to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy of the Mass.  Those priests who deliberately choose to present an informal appearance for worship communicate by their choice of attire that who they are, and what they’re doing, is not important enough to adopt an appearance specifically intended to glorify the God they are worshipping and serving.

So why do we want to glorify God by looking our best? Is it to satisfy liturgical critics like me? No! God demands more of us than just showing up. We accede to God’s demands because God loves us as a shepherd loves the sheep in her or his care.

As the prophet Ezekiel tells us, God will become our personal shepherd rather than delegate that function to others.

As John’s Gospel tells us, a shepherd will protect the sheep from wolves, feed the sheep, search for and find a sheep who wanders astray, and even give up her or his life for the sheep.

As today’s Psalm tells us, when God is our shepherd, we will not lack anything.

As our shepherd, God restores our souls and provides green pastures.

When God is our shepherd, we will fear no evil, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and even when confronted by our enemies.

When God is our shepherd, goodness, and mercy will always be with us. Our liturgical garments are our recognition that God matters because God loves us.

Like sheep totally dependent on their shepherd for their well-being, we are totally dependent on God. If we don’t go to God’s banquet, we remain hungry. God offers us what we cannot find from most of the people in our lives, that is, unconditional love. God is always there to supply whatever love we need no matter what the circumstance.  We do not have to bargain with God for a seat at the banquet or make reservations. Our seat at God’s table is always there for us. The choice for us is to take it, and if we choose to do so, we must show God we have the proper attitude to receive God in our lives. Mostly that means remembering that God is almighty while humanity is not.

Today’s world has many unfilled seats at God’s table. Those who refuse to come prefer to remain mired in oppressive attitudes, invidious discrimination against others, and a violent approach to solving social problems.

These types of people prefer revenge to forgiveness.

These types of people prefer the superiority of a so-called chosen few instead of universal human equality of all.

These types of people see victimization but blame the victims.

These types of people come to church but don’t arrive clothed with the proper attitude.

God neither needs, nor wants, behavior like that in His kingdom.  That with which one is clothed goes beyond pieces of cloth to cover our bodies. We also clothe ourselves with our attitudes towards spiritual things. God will instantly recognize those who arrived clothed with hostility and intolerance towards others and call them out, just like the king did to the servant who arrived without a wedding garment.

Like all good churches, Saint Cecilia Catholic Community welcomes all to participate in its worship. But we do have our standards. We are a high church. We have high standards. Sloppy liturgy and bad behavior is not who we are.

We expect people to come attired with a good attitude, which to us is just as important as wearing the proper liturgical dress. Several months ago, we experienced people who disrupted the liturgy and used inappropriate language from the pulpit. And we had a problem with gossip. That behavior is not acceptable at our banquet. Those kinds of folks simply aren’t dressed with a suitable attitude for our banquet.

Nonetheless, being Christians, we are always ready to accept an apology, offer forgiveness, and celebrate the reconciliation of those who show repentance by putting on the garment of new attitudes and behaviors. In doing that, they recognize the importance of who and what we are. Simply put, we want people clothed with the love of Jesus, and we are willing to help them select the proper wardrobe, literally or figuratively.

The people God seeks for a seat at his banquet are those whose love for God expresses itself in eagerness to love and serve the entirety of God’s creation.  Such people will “live in the house of the Lord forever.” They are those who prefer love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and live the most important part of our baptismal covenant: to respect the dignity of every living being.

They are truly clothed with the right attitude.

They will welcome the coming of the kingdom with the cry: “let us rejoice and be glad that God has saved us!” AMEN.