(Isaiah 25:6-10; Ps 22:1-4; Phil 4:12-14;19-20; Mt 22:1-14)
This is the last in a series of the parables of Jesus for the past few Sundays in which Matthew’s Gospel portrays God as a generous bestower of goodwill, as against human niggardliness: the seventy-seventh time forgiver (24thth Sunday); giving the eleventh hour worker the same as the first (25th Sunday); the careful vinedresser (27th Sunday). This Sunday gives us the lavish banquet provider. There is an Irish word which sums up beautifully the kind of God Jesus portrays in all of these Gospels: flathúlacht, which could be translated as “lavishness.” The lavish banquet is foreshadowed in the first reading from Isaiah, with its talk of mouth-watering “rich juicy food” and “fine strained wines” and is followed up in the Gospel by the barbequed “oxen and fattened cattle.”
In the ancient world there were two steps to the invitation to a feast: the first was the invitation itself and later, when the feast was ready, came the call to come: “tell those who had been invited.” The response of not turning up was an insult, much as today in the case of someone ringing up at the last minute to say they weren’t coming to a dinner. Those invited were probably the rich and well-off but their concern for their wealth left them unreceptive to the call to rejoice at the Son’s wedding feast, whereas the economically poor, those at the “crossroads,” had all the time in the world. How often in our own lives do our cares and concerns keep us from answering the Lord’s invitation to us to share in a deeper way in the life of his Son.
The contrast between the generosity of the host and the niggardly response of the invitees struck me strongly on reading the parable this time. When one’s own default position tends towards cautiousness and counting costs, it is wonderful in life to see an example of someone sharing in that flathúlacht of God. Recently I had such an example from Rosaleen from the Cameroon, who has an apartment here with us in Ashington Avenue. Rosaleen might not know the Irish word, flathúlacht, but she certainly knows how to practise the lavishness it implies: a young girl, also from the Cameroon, was getting married and Rosaleen pulled out all the stops to help her, staying up until two in the morning to prepare suitable African food for the wedding feast and getting up again at four to make sure everything was ready.
The second part of the Gospel today is very problematic: why would the king demand a wedding garment from someone who had come in from the “crossroads”? It is likely that this part of the Gospel is another parable added to the first. Matthew, by being deliberately provocative, wants to stress the importance of following up on call; accepting the invitation is not enough, it has to be lived out. The symbolism of clothing as an illustration of the living out of the Christian life is often found in the New Testament, for example the white garments of those following the Lamb (Rev 7.9,13), symbolising a completely new beginning. Likewise, putting on the armour of courage enables the living out of the Christian life to the full (Eph 6:13-17). Matthew’s Gospel will go on to show the fruits of that Christian living in his account of the Last Judgement.
In the second reading, Paul shows that he can take all that life throws at him in his Life response to the calling of “the One who gives me strength.” May that be our response too.
Céline Mangan, O.P.