October 15, 2017
This is the third consecutive Sunday gospel where Jesus is addressing the Jewish religious leaders. Two weeks ago, the gospel contained the parable of the two sons who were told by their father to go to work in the vineyard. Jesus concluded the parable by telling the leaders that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering God’s realm before them. (Matthew 21:28-32) The gospel for last week was the parable of the tenants who refused to share the harvest with the landowner. (Matthew 21:23-43) Today’s gospel focuses on the consequences of refusing the invitation to the reign of God. The common theme running through all three is that those who appear to enjoy the favor of God reject their responsibilities/relationship, and others assume the responsibility/relationship in their stead.
Scripture scholars believe that the parable, as told here by Matthew, went through stages of development. The parable that Jesus told was the simple story about being invited to a great banquet and the need to be ready to respond to the invitation whenever it came. The second stage was when the Christian community added elements to the story. The celebration became a wedding feast prepared for his son by a great king. God is the king and the son is Jesus. Some who refused to accept the invitation are those who reject Jesus and his teaching. The last development of the parable happened when the part about the person without a proper garment for the wedding was added. At this stage it reflects a Christian community that now includes Jews and Gentiles, and members who are struggling to remain faithful and others who have become apathetic.
The parable itself reflects a common scenario of the day. Typically, banquets were for the elite of society. People associated at banquets with others of a similar status in the community. When a banquet was being planned, a preliminary invitation was sent to those on the guest list. They checked among their peers to see who was going to attend, and more importantly, who was going to decline the invitation. When the banquet was ready, a second announcement was made for guests to assemble. In the parable, those who are refusing offer flimsy excuses, and others’ refusals are confrontational in the way they treat the agents of the host. The host’s retaliation would be expected. But going to the crossroads or city squares to invite others would not have been unexpected. These squares were the gathering place of the community; people from the elite as well as the lowest parts of society would be there. In today’s parable, they are all invited, and everyone knows that they are all invited. The social distinctions that regulate honor and acceptable relationships are being torn down by this King. A new social order is being established—but it is not without expectations. One must still have a wedding garment.
In the first reading (Is 25:6-10) for this Sunday, the prophet Isaiah uses the image of a great banquet as the culmination of God’s saving activity. It is an image designed to bring hope to those whose lives were filled with great suffering. That reading offers a focus for reflection on the gospel. One suggestion would be to see the kingdom of God as an attitude we are invited to participate in and live in our lives. God’s invitation is for us to live God’s radical generosity, compassion, and forgiveness each day of our lives, with those in our families, in our neighborhoods, and elsewhere in the world. There are those who clearly refuse that invitation, and those who would like to accept it but struggle on all kind of levels. As a church, we are also blessed with those who seem to engage the kingdom in a full and remarkable way. The saints in history and in our communities mentor the rest of us in living the kingdom of God today.
- Have you received invitations that surprised you?
- Have you received invitations that you wanted to decline?
- Have you ever been involved in arranging the guest seating so that everyone would be seated with people they would enjoy being with?
- What is it about a wedding banquet that makes it a good comparison to the reign of God?
- Do you know people who seem to be gifted at inviting and including those who might be considered “odd” or “outsiders”?
- Where in your community are the places that people are welcome no matter their social standing, background, or political opinions?
- In the parable, with whom do you find it easiest to identify: the king, the king’s son, the invited guests, the king’s servants, the king’s soldiers, those invited later, or the guest without a proper garment?
- What elements of a wedding banquet speak to you of the Kingdom of God?
- How does this parable speak to you of God’s invitation to you?
- Can you take some time to talk with God about God’s invitation to you, how you have been responding to that invitation, or perhaps your desire to carry God’s invitation to others?
The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.