(Ordinary Time – Cycle A)
Is 25, 6-10a
Phil 4, 12-14.19-20
Through the image of a splendid banquet, this Sunday the Word of God is centred on the theme of rejection and acceptance of God’s gift, the gift of the Kingdom and of salvation. The great banquet on the mountain of Zion is an image of the joy of the nations for the salvation of Israel (first reading). The banquet, sign of communion and intimacy in the Bible, finds in the material collaboration of the Philippians with Paul a very concrete particular expression (second reading). The parable in the Gospel reveals the gravity of the rejection of Jesus and the demand for an attitude of conversion necessary to accept the gift of the Kingdom (Gospel).
The first reading (Is 25, 6-10a) describes a banquet on the mountain of Zion. This chapter belongs to the group of oracles of first Isaiah, posterior to the work of the prophet and incorporated by an editor. These are the chapters of the great eschatology of the book of Isaiah that present the ending of human history. The oracles are addressed to the exiled Hebrews who experience a growing sentiment of frustration and disillusion on their return from Babylon: “the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth” (Is 25, 8).
The prophetic words give to the people hope for liberation that includes not only coming out of a situation of oppression but also the annihilation of death, man’s original curse (Gen 3). The author of the oracle has before his eyes the role of Israel in the joy of the nations in the eschatological times: “on this mountain (Zion) the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast…” (v. 6). In the biblical language, the banquet is the symbol of joy and life, communion, dialogue and intimacy. Here it is used to celebrate the definitive triumph of life since God has intervened bringing salvation and destroying death: “let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us” (v. 9).
The oracle of the great feast on the mountain can be divided in two moments: (I) 25, 6-8: description of the banquet on the mountain, and (II) 25, 9-10a: a short thanksgiving song to be sung by Israel in the celebrations that remind of the salvation that God has worked in them. With a provoking prophetic intuition, the author sees God Himself preparing the banquet: “The Lord of hosts will make… a banquet (Is 25, 6) (‘asah: to make, to prepare, is a Hebrew verb that in perfect tense can also indicate the present tense with a sense of permanence: always prepares). The scene of the banquet is the mountain of Zion (vv. 6.10a); the actors are Israel and all the nations of the peoples who participate, the main actor is God Himself who realizes the banquet (vv. 6.7); the banquet is the symbol of transformation from a situation of unhappiness (death, weeping, disgrace) into a situation of happiness (feast because of salvation).
In the narration of the great banquet, described with exquisite food and choice wines that will be consumed, an echo of what happened in the mountain of Sinai can be seen (Ex 24, 9-11). In effect, after the ratification of the Covenant, Moses with the elders ate and drank on the mountain of the Lord. A banquet seals the fulfilment of the covenant between God and His people. The banquet becomes the favourable scene to establish a new situation. In the same way Jesus actuates the New Covenant in the context of a banquet, anticipation of His death on the cross, place of definitive salvation of humanity. The splendid banquet on Mount Zion is a sign of communion with God and of eternal joy with Him (Is 25, 9-10). The participation in that feast celebrates the elimination of death and its effects on the entire humanity, when all peoples will participate in the joy of salvation that comes from God.
The theme of the second reading (Phil 4, 12-14.19-20) is the gratitude of Paul for the help he received from the Philippians. When he was in need, the Christians of Philippi manifested solidarity and communion with him who announced the Gospel to them. Paul, from the economic help received, develops a catechesis of permanent and universal value about the meaning of collaboration and solidarity. The donation that is given to someone in need becomes a “worship of God” (Sir 34,2). Contrary to human logic, he who gives gains, since he will receive from God the recompense in abundance (cfr. Dt 15, 1-11; Sir 29, 11-13).
Whoever announces the word of the Good News should learn to live both in abundance and in want, with the certainty that Christ will sustain him: “In him who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything” (4, 13). “God’s strength” has been manifested sustaining Paul in his needs through the help that he received from the Philippians. Collaboration and solidarity with the needy is the fruit of communion with God.
The Gospel (Mt 22, 1-14) is centred on the theme of the rejection and acceptance of the salvation offered by Christ. The parable speaks of a wedding banquet prepared by a king for his son. In reality, it is composed of two parables connected to each other: (I) 22, 1-10: that of those invited to the great banquet, and (II) 22, 11-14: that of the proper clothes for the feast, typical of Matthew, joined to the first as an epilogue.
The first parable (vv. 1-10) refers to the destiny of the Jewish people and the call of the pagans. The Jews have rejected and despised the salvation made by God. The pagans have accepted the gratuitous call to participate in the Kingdom of salvation. However the participation in the banquet requires an attitude of conversion, symbolized in the second parable (vv. 11-14) that is addressed to the Christian community.
As in the first reading, it is the king himself who has preoccupied himself to prepare the wedding banquet (the Greek verb etoímaka, “to prepare”, is important to Matthew because it is what is used for the preparation of the paschal banquet of Jesus with his disciples). The king is God who disposes of everything gratuitously for the salvation of humanity. Joined to the symbol of the banquet, the sign of joy and life, communion and intimacy, is the image of the wedding, symbol of the Messiah-Spouse (Jn 1-3; 2Cor 11, 2), prefigured in the nuptial symbol between Yahweh and Israel (Hos 2; Is 1, 21-26). The banquet is the symbol to present the final encounter between God and those called to His Kingdom.
The servants sent to call the invited guests are the prophets and the apostles who communicate that the time of salvation is near because the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mt 3, 2). The first invited ones respond with indifference, with hostility, with unjustified violence (vv. 6-7). The time of the invitation is accepted with irritation because it contains a petition that is excessive for those who are not ready to respond radically. The invitation to accept the God’s Kingdom is an urgent, demanding and compromising petition. The rejection of the first invited makes them “unworthy” of the banquet (v. 8). Unworthy not in the moral sense, but insofar as their refusal of the invitation has incapacitated them to participate in the salvation of God.
Here is where the plan of God, before it could be interrupted by the refusal of the first recipients of the offering of salvation, suffers a transformation and is addressed to the outcasts: “you must go out into the byroads and invite to the wedding anyone you come upon” (22, 9). The doors of the banquet are opened to those who will form part of the community of the new covenant: the poor, the suffering, the marginalized. The new call is not based on the merits acquired, as some leaders of the Jewish people might think, but in the free and gratuitous election of him who calls “the good and the bad”.
However if the participation in the banquet of the Kingdom is gratuitous, one must not forget that to be called is not enough. It is necessary to enter in the fullness of the election. And this demands a new conduct, a transformation. The parable of the clothes for the wedding (Mt 22, 11-14) runs the risk of an erroneous interpretation of the invitation of the Lord founded on gratuitousness. God has called gratuitously to participate in His Kingdom, but only those who have responded to the invitation, changing their lifestyle, will be admitted. The wedding suit symbolizes a style of life in accordance with the call.
This Sunday’s readings invite us to open ourselves to the joyful celebration of God who triumphs over oppression and death, giving us salvation and life (first reading). The acceptance of the Kingdom of God who saves gratuitously, calls us to respond to the invitation to the banquet with a coherent life (Gospel). Communion with God, salvation and God’s Kingdom are a gratuitous gift, but at the same time, the most radical and demanding call that a man or woman can receive.