We're all invited to God's Kingdom

  • October 3, 2008
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Oct. 12 (Isaiah 25:6-10; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:10-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14)

Visions of redemption and hope are born out of suffering, pain and despair. Conquest, disgrace and exile had been the lot of the people of Israel and they asked the question asked by so many human hearts: when will it all end? Is this all there is? Is there any meaning at all in either our suffering or our lives?
Isaiah’s vision is one of hope and redemption, for it envisages a time when the people will have a superabundance of the necessities of life. Gone will be tears and suffering, even death itself. It is clear that no human efforts could ever deliver the goods. It must be and will be God’s doing.

And here is where we must exercise caution with all such utopian visions. There are two temptations. The first is inactivity and resignation — relax, let God take care of things. Why even bother trying to improve our world — all such efforts are futile so it is just better to trust that God will take care of everything. The other temptation is one that was the source of much human suffering in the 20th century. Believing that God needs much more than just a helping hand, many movements, both religious and secular, have attempted to force a particular vision on society and woe to anyone who stands in the way. Too often “justice” has been purchased with innocent human blood. Fanaticism and ego can be destructive of even the noblest and most spiritual of aspirations. The prophetic vision is intended to fire the human religious imagination with hope for a future and a model for just and compassionate living.

Two things must always be kept in tension and balance. First of all, God is in control and it is God’s show, according to God’s plan. But at the same time, humans are invited to be swept up in this vision and to pattern their lives on it. But zeal and enthusiasm must be tempered with tolerance, humility, patience and a sense of human limitations.

Paul has some great advice for living in an unfulfilled and imperfect world in the meantime. He has learned to be content with whatever he has — poverty or riches — and to be grateful and openhanded through it all. It is something that our own society, driven by constant dissatisfaction and craving, needs to hear. It is not that it is wrong to earn more or advance oneself, but it should not be done under the illusion that it will solve our problems or make us happy. Happiness and contentment — as well as the experience of God — come from within and can be found in any circumstance.

The beauty of Isaiah’s heavenly banquet vision takes on a rather dark hue in the parable in Matthew’s Gospel. One wonders how the kingdom of God can be associated with troops, massacres and the burning of cities. Clearly this is further example of the polemics from the period after the destruction of the temple in 70 and should not engage us. The language and symbolism clearly does not speak well to our own culture. But the rest is so very true — God constantly spreads a banquet before us, inviting us to partake of God’s gifts. Unfortunately people continually turn away to follow other pursuits.

In the parable, the king finally has his slaves gather people without distinction — the good and the bad, the worthy and unworthy, and invite them to the wedding feast. In a puzzling finale, one of the guests is unceremoniously tossed out of the banquet for not being properly attired. Garments are a biblical symbol signifying one’s spiritual and moral state.

The parable presents a challenge: all are invited to enter God’s Kingdom, but only a few respond to God in an appropriate manner. God’s invitation is not to be taken for granted or considered a free ride. There are so many people who claim a religious faith but far fewer who have allowed it to significantly change their lives or the deeper levels of their spiritual awareness. We have to become aware of and open to God’s constant invitation to dine in the Kingdom. And having received God’s gracious invitation, the only fitting and grateful response is a willingness to change and to grow spiritually.