28th Sunday, Year A, 2014 Is Christian Faith Inclusive?

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28th Sunday, Year A, 2014
Readings: Is 25, 6-10a; Phil 4, 10-14, 19-20; Mt 22, 1-14
Is Christian Faith Inclusive?
Today’s readings are perplexing. On the on hand, they tell us how great a
gift we have received in being called to be followers of Jesus. On the other hand,
they contain some extremely disturbing images of God as vindictive and even
cruel to those who do not respond to him in the right way. What are we to make of
the seeming contradictions in the readings?
God’s great gift to us is portrayed when both Isaiah and Matthew tell us that
God has invited us to a big wedding feast. God wants us to live with the
celebratory spirit of a joyful banquet. Isaiah describes the celebration vividly:
rich foods, juicy meats, choice wines. Wholehearted response to God’s gifts
brings joy and gladness. Jesus tells his followers that what God is giving them is
like a party a rich king throws for his child. Come, the party has begun!
But the story doesn’t end there. And what follows is what makes the
readings so perplexing. When the banquet is ready, the king summons the guests.
Shockingly, some just ignore the invitation; others head out of town. Then,
Matthew’s version of the parable tells us, the remaining invitees assault and kill
the messengers who bring the king’s invitation. The king becomes deeply angry.
He sends his army to wipe out those invited, even destroying their city. Once he
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has taken revenge for the rejection of his invitation, he sends other servants into
the highways and byways to invite everyone they see, the good and the bad alike.
The way the evangelist Matthew recounts Jesus’s original parable is quite
different from the way the gospel of Luke presents it. The differences can help us
understand some of the perplexity the reading might cause in us today. In Luke
the guests invited in place of those who ignored the initial invitation are “the poor,
the crippled, the blind and the lame.” So Luke’s retelling of the story enables him
to stress that Jesus’s message is good news for the poor. The rich and the selfsatisfied turn away. But in the kingdom of God the poor know their neediness.
The poor respond to the invitation, and they are given a true feast.
But because of the context in which Matthew’s gospel was written at the
end of the first century, Matthew’s telling of the parable has a very different point.
Matthew was writing for Jews who had come to believe the Jesus was the messiah
they longed for. But some of their fellow Jews rejected this belief. The parable is
used to say that those other Jews who had not accepted Jesus as the messiah were
rejecting God’s gift. And they will be punished for this rejection. In fact, when
Matthew says the king in the parable will send his army to destroy the city of those
who were invited but refused to come, he has in mind the fact that in the year 70
the city of Jerusalem had actually been destroyed by the Romans.
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Matthew’s interpretation unfortunately provided fuel for anti-Semitism in
later Christian history. Analogously, today some of us might be tempted to hear
the story saying we should reject people who believe differently from us. This
would be a big mistake. We know only too well the harmful effects when
differences of belief in families and communities lead to rejection and
condemnation. And all we have to do is look at Syria and Iraq today to know that
Jesus is not calling us to send armies against those who believe differently.
What then does the parable mean? Biblical scholars have suggested that
Matthew’s addition to the parable of the character without a proper wedding
garment may be a clue. It shifts the meaning of the story away from those who first
refused and challenges those who are already Christians to truly celebrate the gift
God has given them in party clothes, not to stand around judging others. Being
dressed for celebration is the result of knowing that God invites all to the feast.
God’s love is expansive and radically inclusive of the good and bad alike. The life,
death, and resurrection of Jesus show us that God lovingly invites all to come to
the banquet. Being dressed for the party follows from knowing that God’s love is
more powerful than any temptation to judge people who believe differently than
we do. As we come to the banquet table of the Eucharist, we are invited to trust
that God cares for all people—believers or not. Let’s give thanks for that.
David Hollenbach, S.J.
St. Ignatius Church
October 12, 2014
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