Today’s readings: Isaiah 25,6-10; Philippians 4,12-14.19-20; Matthew 22,1-14.
The Scriptures today reflect the epochal change under way in our times. We, the Christian West, always thought we are the centre of God’s universe, while other peoples and other cultures have to struggle their way to emulate us in order to inherit with us God’s kingdom. Today’s gospel parable displaces completely the axis and seems to point fingers towards us as the ones who have been taking God’s invitation too much for granted. In the gospel, we are the ones refusing the invitation for a myriad of reasons.
The gospel is in strict continuity with the vision of the prophet Isaiah in the first reading. According to Isaiah, God’s kingdom by nature has no boundaries. “The Lord of hosts will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food.” The emphasis by the prophet “for all peoples” contrasts heavily with the perception and belief dominant in Judaism so keen to highlight the exclusivism of the chosen people.
Our holy presumption that, as Christians, baptised, believers in the God we westernised, we know it all and that others have much to learn from us is shattered in the light of what Isaiah is saying and if seen in the context of St Matthew’s parable. The accusation is that history made us too sure of ourselves, that like the Jews of old we killed the prophets, presuming that we have no need of them.
All this challenges us to revise our faith, to let God be God, to rethink our ways. In allegorical form, St Matthew’s parable narrates of God’s open invitation and of those from within the religious perspective who refuse to accept God’s innovation. It is a parable that has as a backdrop the narrative of Jerusalem’s siege in the year 70 and the reaching out to the gentiles. Then, the ending, with one of the guests who was not dressed for the feast being bound and thrown out, makes the whole story difficult to digest.
It is Isaiah himself in the first reading who gives us an inkling of what all this implies and means. Isaiah, addressing the people of Israel still stuck in their past, speaks in visionary language to show how engaging with the Lord is always a clean sweep, a new chapter.
“On this mountain,” writes Isaiah, “the Lord will remove the mourning veil.”
The ‘mourning veil’ sets the contrast with the ‘wedding dress’. The one not dressed for the wedding stands for those of us who are churchy and claim to believe in God, yet stand firm, haunted by their past. The Lord reveals Himself as the one who can cancel all that keeps us bound to our own selves and captive to our own past. We cannot stand in the Lord’s presence diffident that He can really be God for us.
The Lord “will wipe away the tears from every cheek” and “he will destroy death for ever”. This is not just a promise in the realm of what is easier said than done. It is what the Lord promises, what He envisages for all of us, and what He will do for us as long as we let Him free to do it.