Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Finally, in our Gospel parables, we have gotten out of the vineyard. We have moved on to another popular place used in parables. It is the banquet, not all that far from the vineyard. After all, the vineyard produces grapes, which produce wine, which was an important part of a great feast or banquet. Wine is especially associated with joy the of a great feast or banquet.
The first reading speaks of a great banquet as well. The prophet tells of how the Lord would provide a great banquet symbolizing a future time when the Messiah would come to bring salvation to God’s people. But the prophet noted that the Messiah would provide for all peoples, all nations, not just the Hebrew people. We know that the prophet is talking about more than a banquet when he talks about destroying a veil that veils all people and a web that is woven over all peoples. He talks about death being destroyed, tears being wiped away and sins being forgiven. The prophet is ultimately talking about the perfection of union with God to be accomplished in heaven and eternity. But he is also talking about the new life on this earth that would be available for all people when the Messiah would come.
That is why Jesus came into the world. He came to establish His kingdom, the kingdom of God, the place, the relationship that removes veils that dim one’s sight of what is good and true and beautiful. Jesus came to establish the kingdom that frees people from the webs of sin and selfishness so that we can freely move about and choose to act in the way that shows we love God and one another. Jesus established the kingdom where tears of sorrow could be replaced by sounds of joy.
It is the Messiah’s banquet that is described in the Gospel parable. And it is a wedding feast, a popular biblical image. We recall that St. John identifies Jesus’ first great miracle at a wedding feast, at Cana, where He changed water into wine. The image of the wedding banquet (or feast) is once again highlighted in the book of Revelation. Revelation describes heaven as a gathering for a great wedding feast, the wedding feast of the Lamb. That is the wedding feast of the Lamb of God. It is the feast that celebrates the wedding of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, with His people, the Church.
As with last week’s parable there is an immediate reference to the situation of Jesus’ time, the refusal of His own people to respond to the invitation to believe in Him and His message and then enter God’s kingdom. But these parables are not merely history lessons. They are not to be a cause for judgment of past generations. Theses parables do remind us how great it is that we have been invited and admitted to the banquet, the kingdom. At the same time they warn us about our human vulnerability to being complacent or unappreciative about the gift and the need to continue to respond to Jesus invitation to grow in the life of grace. We do have to be on watch for the ways that busy-ness in our life may interfere with our daily walk with the Lord.
The reference to the man without the wedding garment underscores the need for a constant state of acceptance of Jesus invitation. The wedding garment refers to the life of grace which goes beyond a simple one time yes and includes the day to day living in our joyful union with Jesus. Everyday provides us with new opportunities to reflect the presence of Jesus and His Holy Spirit, our wedding garment.
When we gather here for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass symbol and reality come together in a powerful way. We come here to celebrate our being in the kingdom of God. Here we gather, clothed in the baptismal garment of an alive and active relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Here we celebrate again the great event that swung the banquet doors open, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, our celebration is a true banquet. It is the sacrificial meal that replaces and fulfills all the sacrificial meals of the old testament, especially the Passover. We do literally take and eat and drink that food which is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Catholic teaching describes the Mass as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. In heaven, however, we will no longer eat to enjoy Holy Communion. In heaven the Holy Communion will be something much more profound and pervasive when we see God face to face, and more importantly experience His loving presence in our hearts and souls in a way that surpasses even our most profound religious experiences on earth.
I don’t know what image you hold in your mind as we gather at this threshold, this porch, this lobby of heaven. I can tell you that when I stand at the altar and speak to the Father on your behalf, and by the power of the Spirit help make present the offering of Jesus, I have this real but undetailed image of the great heavenly gathering, described in the book of revelation. But it is as if I am looking through frosted glass. And while I look upon the God of heaven I am reminded that He is also here, in our midst, within each one of us, in my own soul and that He will become sacramentally present on this altar. What a gift, what a treasure.
We do need to maximize our encounter with God in the Eucharist, in the Mass here. Because when leave here, we go out into the imperfect world that is not heaven. There is work to be done. There are veils to be lifted, webs to be broken, tears to be dried, life and forgiveness to share. And it is here that we get the strength to go out and share the fruit of the vineyard, the fruit of the banquet, a joy and peace that only Jesus can bring.
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time