CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World

Seeking communion with God in the Bible

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  • October 2, 2014

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

Modern people climb great mountains simply because they are there and they want to prove themselves. In the ancient world, mountains were frightening and awesome places where human beings encountered God. Isaiah painted a prophetic picture of the encounter for which so many people had yearned. 

Typically, a rich and lavish banquet symbolized communion with God. This same theme was also used in the New Testament, especially the Gospel of Luke and the descriptions of the Last Supper. The banquet represented a time of contentment, peace, and fulfillment — something that is so often absent in earthly life. But there was more. God was going to get rid of the gloomy shroud that covered all the people of the Earth. The shroud was death and the great fear that death brings to most people. 

Human life passes with the nagging awareness of death in the background. All will come to an end someday and we will pass from the Earth. Some are at peace with this, but this fear drives so many to frantic avoidance behaviour — frenetic activity, pursuit of power and wealth, dulling the pain with alcohol and drugs, or a stubborn shallowness and superficiality. God was clear: the shroud would have to go, and God kept the promise in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

The last couple of chapters in Revelation describe this heavenly state and alludes to the wiping away of human tears. The gift of communion with God was offered to all people, not just a select few. If this were not enough, God let us in on a secret: we do not have to wait until we pass from this life to begin experiencing the “heavenly banquet.” 

The table symbolized sharing, compassion, equality, humility and love. Whenever and wherever humans walk this path, they have a foretaste of the final heavenly banquet — life with God — regardless of who they are. God is generous and compassionate in ways and degrees that we cannot even imagine or comprehend. 

Paul knew this well — he had learned how to be happy and at peace in all circumstances. To Paul, having plenty or little mattered little. He was continually sustained by the richness and mercy of God. By surrendering his will to God, he opened himself to God’s grace and empowerment, enabling him to do all things. He had already begun to enjoy the heavenly banquet. 

Using the same symbol, Matthew compared the kingdom of heaven to a king’s lavish banquet. This time there was a dark side: the many invited guests couldn’t be bothered with the banquet. The invitation was met with a barrage of excuses, and the invited guests made it clear that almost anything else in their lives was more important than feasting with the king. They even mistreated and killed the king’s slave messengers. The enraged king sent his troops to kill them and burn their city down — not exactly the reaction we would expect to a declined invitation! 

As in last week’s reading, this was a reflection of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD, but it is an insightful passage without that dubious interpretation. The king then sent his slaves out to drag everyone they found into the banquet, both good and bad, in order to fill the wedding hall. Obviously this referred to the kingdom being thrown open to the gentiles and those deemed by others to be morally and spiritually unworthy. All are invited to God’s banquet. When God’s gracious invitation is refused, God turns to others who joyfully respond to the opportunity to be included. 

The story took a weird twist — one of those latter guests came to the wedding feast without proper attire. The king had him bound hand and foot and ejected from the banquet into outer darkness. This seems so unreasonable and even cruel, but there is a point to this story. All are invited to the banquet, regardless of the condition of their lives or where they are on their journey. But once the invitation is accepted, an appropriate response is expected. Clothing — in the bible often denoting one’s spiritual and moral state — is expected to mirror both the majesty of the One who invited us and the inestimable value of the gift we have been offered. 

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