October 11, 2020
TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
The Feast on the Mountain
The Lord is my Shepherd
Phil 4:12-14, 19-20
Paul can live humbly or with abundance
Parable of the Wedding Feast
The biblical images of rejoicing are always social and generally involve a banquet. This is a natural expression of common joy, and the Bible recognizes that. When we have an important occasion to celebrate, such as a wedding, we find ourselves making all kinds of preparations. But it always includes catering a meal. The feast is usually at the center of our parties. Apparently eating is not only necessary for survival, it is necessary to express our feelings of celebration, our occasions for rejoicing.
The fact that this is also the case in the Bible indicates that this way of celebrating through feasting has God’s full approval. More basic than that, it tells us that God wants us to be happy.
The passage from Isaiah is a famous depiction of the life to come, the fullness of our being. And of course it is a party. No one goes hungry. Furthermore, every tear is wiped away. Death is overcome. This poetic image is a symbol of the fullness of life that God wants for us. It is joyful, it is shared.
The parable of the Wedding Feast plays on this biblical tradition. But it introduces a division into the mix. Those for whom the party was initially intended are left out, and others, unexpectedly, are brought in. This is a feature of the parables we have bee hearing in Matthew’s gospel. There seems to be an undertone of a changing of the guard, from the Old Testament to the New. This may be an added twist supplied by Matthew himself. A clue is the response of the king to the invitees who declined to come. He mounted an army and destroyed their city. This doesn’t fit well into the parable, since it introduced a extended period of time between the invitation and the final sharing of the meal—a pause long enough to mount a campaign.
Most bible scholars see here a veiled reference to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, which happened before Matthew composed his Gospel. The leveling of the city and its temple was a faith crisis for Judaism, and Matthew’s people were Jewish Christians. They shared the pain.
Perhaps we should not see Matthew’s picture of the city destroyed as a divine punishment as much as we should see the promise of a new day, a divine rescue from what seemed a terminal situation. Not only is a previously ignored population rewarded, but the party is retained as well. It is still booked.
There is something wistful in reading about a social gathering, in this time of guarded interaction. These days, weddings are warned against as super-spreader sites. We are having a difficult time coming to terms with the demands of the coronavirus. And this has affected our main religious emblem of the feast, the Sunday liturgy. The restraints on the Eucharist seem contradictory, if this is a means of our salvation. And yet, the paradox remains. We share the pain. But the pain itself witnesses to the importance of the festal gathering.
Now it is time to say farewell, and God be with you. This column is coming to a close, along with the Witness that sponsored it. It has been a good run, since 2007. Since some of you use it for Bible Study, in its absence I might recommend a booklet I put together, available from Amazon or your local bookstore. It is called “A Bible Study Program Using the Sunday Lectionary: Taking Your Bible Study Group to the Next Level” (Resource Publications, 2014). It may work for some of you.
Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.