ISAIAH 25: 6-10A; PSALM 23: 1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6; PHILIPPIANS 4: 12-14, 19-20; MATTHEW 22: 1-14 OR 22: 1-10
The Hope That Belongs To Our CallI have to confess that I rarely pay much attention to the Alleluia verse at Mass. I’ve got lots of excuses about why not, but none is any good, really, so I’ll spare you! This Sunday, however, I’m going to hang onto that verse like a lifeline as I listen to the tough parable or possibly the two tough parables assigned for this week. Here it is, just in case you miss it:
May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
enlighten the eyes of our hearts,
so that we may know what is the hope
that belongs to our call. Ephesians 1: 17-18
Speaking to the “chief priests and elders of the people,” Jesus lays out a vision of the Kingdom of God that must have sounded familiar to anyone who knew the Prophet Isaiah, whose famous text on the Heavenly Banquet is our first reading. It’s a wonderful scene, with lots of food and wine – probably dancing, too – as good fellowship permeates the whole party, held on the Lord’s own “holy mountain,” that is, Mount Zion, Jerusalem. That’s what it will be like, says Isaiah, when the LORD of hosts destroys death forever. Isaiah could have been reflecting on Psalm 23, in which the psalmist remembers that not only is the Lord his shepherd but also his host, treating him to a sumptuous feast “in the sight of [his] foes.”
So Jesus has a double-layered context for his stories. But unlike Isaiah or the Psalmist, Jesus doesn’t rest with the image of the lovely eschatological banquet in which everyone is bathed in joy and redemption. That’s why I find myself hanging on to the Alleluia verse, praying that I will “know what is the hope that belongs to our call.”
In the first story, we see a king happily going about getting his son’s wedding reception ready: his list is long and each item is checked off:
It’s touching, isn’t it, how this father is so invested in his son’s wedding feast, how much he wants everything to go well and how eagerly he awaits his guests? With this king’s attention to detail, there’s no doubt that they had received the “SAVE THE DATE” card long ago. That was on his check list, too.
But what happens? Some make lame excuses and turn away, while others maltreat his servants and then kill them. Since this king does nothing by half measures, his revenge is swift and terrible. Once he’s destroyed his erstwhile friends and burned their city, he returns to his major preoccupation: filling his banquet hall. Thus his staff are sent out to the highways and byways to bring everyone in, good and bad. And so the hall is filled and the feasting can begin, even as the smoking ruins of the other people’s city linger on the horizon. It’s a strange and terrible story.
But it gets worse. There’s another story, which may have been part of the original parable or which may have been tacked on later: it’s about the guest without a proper garment, who, when the king, addressing him as “My friend,” asks him why he’s there without his tuxedo, says nothing. The result?
Maybe you can see now why I need the Alleluia verse. As you sit there in silence with the last words still echoing in your mind -- “. . . there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen." – you might need it, too.
The fact of the matter is: I’ve been invited, as have you. And as I said above, I’m good at excuses, even if the excuses themselves are not very good. Excuses or not, there’s no question that over and over in the course of my life, I’ve disappointed this King who wants so badly for me to join him in joy at that banquet that he sends his Son to invite me, personally, every day – really, just about every waking hour of my life. And there I am, mostly wearing a pair of old jeans and a faded tee shirt. Not exactly wedding garments, even in these casual days!
But that little verse insists that it’s not hopeless, and neither am I, despite all my failure and carelessness. And the verse says that that goes for you, too, emphasizing, as it does, that this “hope” is the one to which WE are all called through our Baptism in Christ. You and I share an experience, an action of grace that brought us into a community and changed us in ways that keep unfolding in and to us throughout our lives.
So, now, here’s my prayer – for myself and for you:
May the eyes of my heart be enlightened enough,
may the ears of my heart by sharpened enough,
may my heart itself be softened enough
so as to see and hear and long for that invitation once again,
in order to respond this time in love. Amen.
Nuala Cotter, R.A.
Lansdale, PA USA