Today we are celebrating God’s infinite goodness to us in Jesus Christ His Son, Our Lord, and also His yearly generosity to us in the harvest. There is a close connection between these two aspects of God's love for us, because, in the course of Mass the celebrant says:
Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the bread we offer You, fruit of the earth and work of human hands: it will become for us the bread of life.
Similarly, when offering the wine he says:
Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the wine we offer You, fruit of the vine and work of human hands: it will become our spiritual drink.
In that way we are led to recognize that not only is the whole of God’s creation good, but also that, because of its natural goodness, the whole of God’s creation can become a channel for our supernatural sanctification and ultimately -- most mysteriously -- share with us in a glorious restoration.
Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:21)
Understanding this relationship between natural good and supernatural blessing, we are in a position to appreciate Isaiah's words:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
We recognize that such an earthly, natural, picture can well imply an infinitely more splendid, joyous and fulfilling, occasion: a banquet of heavenly consequence at which divine life and eternal beatitude is celebrated. This Isaiah foresaw indeed, because after those words describing an earthly feast, he immediately went on to speak of the spiritual blessings of heavenly life, where suffering and death have no part:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples… On this mountain He will destroy the veil that veils all peoples … He will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face; the reproach of His people He will remove from the whole earth…. For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.
On this mountain, recalls those high places which ancient peoples used to climb in order to approach the Most High God as closely as they physically could, and where -- being able to see and admire the wonder of His creation all the more -- they might all the better worship Him.
On this mountain relates most closely to Mount Sinai, where God revealed something of His glory and majesty, and gave Moses and the People of Israel the Law of election, blessing, and guidance.
Again, on this mountain embraces Mount Zion where Solomon built a Temple to Israel’s God -- using materials sedulously prepared for that purpose by his father David, a man ‘after God’s heart’ (Acts 13:22) -- and where, on the occasion of its dedication, he prayed:
May Your eyes watch night and day over this temple, the place where You have decreed You shall be honoured; may You heed the prayer which I, Your servant, offer in this place. Listen to the petitions of Your servant and of Your people Israel which they offer in this place. Listen from Your heavenly dwelling and grant pardon. (1 Kings 8:29s.)
Ultimately, on this mountain signified for the Jews of Jesus’ time the Temple in Jerusalem, rebuilt by Herod from the former, very modest, ‘second temple’ with such munificence and splendour as to make it renowned throughout the Roman world and be the pride and glory of the Jewish people, despite their hatred of Herod himself; indeed, it should have become the very centre of the nations (Ezekiel 5:5), from where the God-given treasure of the Law, committed to the custody of Israel, would have been proclaimed and transmitted to all mankind.
Today we do not ascend mountains nor even climb hills in order to approach God's heavenly dwelling, neither do we turn our eyes to any material Temple; no, we come to Jesus in Mother Church, which is the Body of Christ, vivified, guided, and protected to the end of time by the Holy Spirit of Father and Son; and there we lift up our eyes to heaven, just as Jesus did in prayer to His Father, joining our prayer to that which He now, in heaven, continually offers to His Father on our behalf.
In Mother Church then, the ‘Body of Christ’:
(God) will destroy death for ever and wipe away the tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will remove from the whole earth,
for all those, that is, who seek to find in her just how great is His goodness and how sweet His saving grace.
Today, very many people have little or no trust in God: indeed, in our Western world, many find themselves either so cossetted in their well-being or so full of cares and concerns about their well-being, that they have no conception of ‘salvation’; the world gives them all they can get and apparently holds all that they could want, with the result that they cannot see any need to pray to some imagined God. Others, however, can’t quite shrug-off God altogether, and so they cautiously excuse themselves from giving Him any time or attention by saying they are so busy they just don’t have time for prayer; they would like to have, but in fact can’t find, time for God.
And that is, indeed, the situation painted by Our Lord in the parable we heard about the wedding feast and those invited to it. The Father had prepared this banquet for His Son and the guests ignored the invitation given them. The Father sent a further, yet more urgent, request for their presence at the banquet: some of those invited, however, contented themselves with mocking the messengers as they went about more important matters purportedly needing their immediate attention, while others -- not a few -- went so far as to beat and even to kill those who brought the invitation.
There we can possibly recognize ancient Israel in the Promised Land, flirting with the gods of surrounding peoples and failing to understand the exclusive majesty of the Lord their God Who had brought them out of Egypt, through the desert, and into their Promised Land; then came the prophets -- brave and faithful all of them, and some even glorious – who were, for the most part, mocked and progressively ill-treated until some were killed for the Saviour-to-come Who would fulfil in His own Body their testimony and crown with His own Blood God’s goodness and patience.
In the Gospel parable there were some, the poor and the needy, the good and the bad, who were almost forced by circumstances to come to the banquet; it did not matter who or what they were or from where they came, for God -- as St. Paul and then St. Augustine would most emphatically declare – had not been searching for, or requiring, any foregoing merit on their part, all that mattered was their bearing and behaviour in the banqueting hall.
There, we are told that the King Himself came round to see His guests:
When the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the King said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited but few are chosen.
What is that so absolutely necessary “wedding garment”? St. Paul tells us when, in his letter to the Romans, he says:
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts. (Romans 13:14)
How could anyone, however, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, commit themselves to Him, without first recognizing and acknowledging Him as the Son sent by God His Father? In the parable, it would seem that the ‘friend without a wedding garment’ had managed to come to, get into, the wedding feast without even bothering about -- let alone recognizing and reverencing -- Him for Whom the feast was being held, and such dishonour to the Son redounded to even greater offense being given to the manifest presence of the great King himself. Here we can recognize the chief priest and elders of the people, who had secured prominence for themselves as chosen ones in the Chosen People, and were now unable and/or unwilling to recognize Jesus as Son of the very God they claimed to worship, serve, and proclaim so faithfully:
It is My Father Who honours Me, of Whom you say that He is your God. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father Who sent Him. (John 8:54; 5:23)
Today, in our society, a like drama is being unwittingly prepared: our worldly well-being will end; for what -- but a short while ago -- seemed to be mere flies-in-the-ointment have begun to fester in many parts of the globe, and the bubbles may soon be bursting in our own neighbourhoods, indeed in our very faces. Why? Because neither godless rationalism nor military might can resist, let alone master, the forces of destruction -- let loose by disbelief in God -- rampant in the world today:
Whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)
There is nothing in this world, neither power nor money, neither science nor technology, and most certainly not man’s moral pretensions, that can preserve us from the evil inclinations of the human heart and the weakness inherent to the human spirit. God alone, in and through Jesus Christ, saves – by His Holy Spirit -- those who have faith in Jesus.
The rich and the prosperous refused the wedding invitation in the Gospel passage, and likewise, you will not find those in Church who, in whatever way, promote pride by seeking fame and renown, and cultivating power and influence. Because, such people want to remain and proclaim their own selves, and ever further their own prospects, whereas we in Mother Church are called, on the contrary, to learn this one supreme lesson -- as you heard and know well -- to put on Christ.
Our parable speaks of only one hypocrite being found in the wedding hall because it is the King, the Father Himself, Who instantly recognizes and discloses the one basic sin of all those called and rejected: failure to recognize and believe in His beloved Son. That one supreme sin is the total cause and supreme expression of our vulnerability to Satan and alienation from God; and our Gospel message today is for all those members of Mother Church who, being truly humble and contrite, want indeed to put on Christ and sincerely endeavour -- by His Spirit -- to leave behind their own weak and sinful selves for His sake.
People of God, as our tables are once again covered with the fruits of this year’s harvest we cannot fail to recognize that God’s creation is both bountiful and beautiful, and that is a source of great joy for us. However, we must not allow ourselves to get so wrapped up in the beauty and desirability of this earthly banquet as to ignore the invitation that comes along with it to that other eternal banquet celebrating an eternal harvest. The God Who makes us so pleased with this world’s good things, can He not prepare even greater joys for us in His heavenly kingdom? Of course He can. Let us, therefore, take up His invitation.
God's call is, as we have said, non-judgmental, embracing all alike, be they previously bad or previously good according to the world’s estimation; He is both supremely generous in His help -- giving us His own Son and Holy Spirit -- and patient, as He awaits our faltering response to His repeated and glorious promises. However, decisions must finally be made because judgment will eventually come, and for that we must prepare ourselves, since we do not believe in an impotent or indecisive God.
Therefore, as disciples of Jesus, let our lives echo the words of St. Paul in today’s second reading:
To our God and Father be glory forever and ever.
Let us lift up our eyes to our blessed Lord Jesus Who has gone up on high to that mountain whither He calls us to Himself, that He might lead us His captives (Ps. 68:18) suitably clothed in wedding garments, into that feast of juicy rich food and pure choice wines, being celebrated before the face of His Father, where:
Many are invited, but few are chosen.