God's Word on Sunday: Many are called, yet few are chosen

  • October 12, 2023

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Oct. 15 (Isaiah 25:6-10a; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14)

Life with God is often likened to an elaborate feast. Only the finest foods and the most exquisite wines will do — God is definitely not stingy. In fact, in the New Testament Jesus often uses the occasion of a feast — including the Last Supper — to express the reality of God’s kingdom.

But this is more than an occasion for overindulgence. It is intended to reveal the generosity, abundance and mercy of God. But God will gift us with far more than food and drink. The darkness that hangs like a pall over humankind will be lifted. The fear and sadness that grips human hearts will be wiped away. And the oppressive fear of death — the human condition — will be no more. This is truly the God for whom we have all waited!

This sounds wonderful, but when will it happen? Centuries have passed since this prophecy was given, and it seems that not much has changed. Same old scary world with all of the same chaos and struggle. But this is a glimpse into the future — the long, deep, future — God’s future. It represents the hopes, dreams and yearnings of people from the beginning of time until now. It reveals God’s ultimate plan for humanity — God’s hope and wish for us. It hasn’t arrived because it is in process. We are evolving spiritually towards a state of ever greater closeness and union with God.

There is much darkness and evil in the world, but this is counterbalanced by the incredible amount of goodness and kindness. These latter two qualities seldom make headlines. In the meantime, we can live as if the prophecy has already been fulfilled. In a sense, it has — in the minds and hearts of those who were prepared to receive it. Let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.

Paul has a formula for being at peace at all times. He was always satisfied with what the Lord provided. Sometimes it was rather meagre, while at other times it was far more lavish. But Paul did not seek one or flinch from the other — he was always content, knowing that God would give him what he needed. If only we were as balanced and content. Much human misery results from fear of not having enough — even when we do — and constantly striving for more.

Matthew’s parable of the great feast has a more sinister tone. A king had a huge banquet in honour of his son, and he sent out many invitations, but the guests would not come. Not only that, but they also killed the king’s servants and slaves. The enraged king sent troops to kill them all and to burn down their city.

This is definitely not an edifying or consoling rendering of the parable. Only by being aware of the context in which it was written will the harsh edges of this story make “sense.” It was composed after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Romans in AD 70.

Matthew, as well as the other evangelists, interpreted the event through a theological lens. They saw the destruction as God’s punishment of the Jewish people for the crucifixion of Jesus and their refusal to accept Him as the Messiah. The mob gathered by the king’s servants included everyone, good or bad. It is likely that this signified the inclusion of the Gentiles.

Needless to say, these  interpretations are not acceptable today. The destruction had everything to do with Roman imperialism and the power politics of the first century. We should be very careful about assigning the hand of God to secular events.

But the core of the story still stands: God generously invites all to the banquet and humans consistently refuse the invitation. They are too concerned with their own affairs and desires to respond to God.

But there is a twist at the end of the story. The banquet hall was filled with every sort of guest, and all were feasting and drinking. The king noticed that one guest was not dressed appropriately and had him summarily ejected. It ends with the statement that many are called but few are chosen.

It is wonderful to be unexpectedly invited, but we must be willing to respond and to change. Rather than giving us free passes, the Lord urges us to begin the exacting journey of spiritual transformation and compassionate service.