Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scripture Readings: Is 25:6-10a; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20; Mt 22:1-14
In Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist, a young orphan boy and his starving companions dream of banquets, saying, “Food, glorious food! We’re anxious to try it. Three banquets a day-Our favorite diet! Oh, food, wonderful food, marvelous food!” Naively, young Oliver holds out his empty plate and says, “Please, Sir, I want some more.” There’s horror on every face as they cry out: “More? Snatch him! Catch him! Hold him! Scold him! Pounce him! Trounce him! Pick him up and bounce him! Never before has a boy requested more! [He] won’t ask for more when he knows what’s in store.” What would Oliver Twist think and feel if he was invited to the wedding feast of a king’s son?
In every culture weddings are the happiest of all celebrations. In Jesus’ time they lasted not just one day, but seven days. Guests came and went during a whole week of feasting and dancing. The less well-to-do might run out of wine after a few days, but that would never happen at the seven day wedding banquet for a king’s son. There would be, “Food, glorious food!” Who could resist it? Who would want to? Who couldn’t find some time during seven days for such a feast? Yet, Jesus says the invited guests refused to come. Some even killed the messengers. It’s unreal! It’s inconceivable that such an invitation could be turned down like that. But Jesus says unlimited happiness in the kingdom of heaven with rich foods and choice wines is being refused by those who were unworthy. Instead, the Oliver Twists of the highways and byways who have nothing to cling to in this life fill the king’s hall with rejoicing.
In this parable Jesus not only encourages a desire heaven but also a fear of hell. Burning the city of those who killed the king’s servants was a prophecy of the total destruction of Jerusalem, burned by the Romans in 70 AD, and a foreshadowing of hell. The man who came without a wedding garment represents everyone who refuses to be prepared, whose choices are self-destructive. He had days to get ready and didn’t do it. So the king says, “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” This fearful warning of wailing and gnashing of teeth is repeated six times in the Gospel of Matthew, (Mt. 8:12; 13:42; 13:50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). We better believe in hell.
St. Bernard describes his own fear of hell in Sermon Sixteen on the Song of Songs. He writes, “I dread the thought of hell … Terror unnerves me at … the immense fires and uncontrollable storm … I am terrified of the fangs of the monster, the pit … where demons roar as they devour. I recoil in horror from the gnawing worm, the rolling fires, the smoke and sulfurous mist, the whirling storms, the encroaching vastness of the dark. Who will turn my head into a fountain, and my eyes into a spring of tears, that I may forestall the weeping and gnashing of teeth, the unyielding shackles on hands and feet, and the heavy bonds that burn and never consume?” In another sermon he writes, “Let us go down into hell alive now, so that after death we may escape it” (Miscellaneous Sermons, On the Five Places of Spiritual Traffic).
At Fatima, three young children, Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia saw hell. After that terrifying vision they lost all fear of suffering on earth, and they began to pray and do penance for others. Little seven year old Jacinta Marto of Fatima said, “Oh, Hell!” Then she said it again, “Oh, Hell! How sorry I am for souls that go there.” Then she prayed as the Virgin Mary taught her, “Oh, my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are in most need.”
In today’s parable of the wedding feast, Jesus teaches that we need both the desire for heaven and the fear of hell to help us through the dangers of this life so that we do not self-destruct.
And what is our place at the wedding feast? It’s that of the bride being married to the King’s Son. It is our own wedding we are being called to attend, and it is our love that the King’s Son most desires!
Our Eucharist this morning with Christ who is our Food, our glorious Food, is a foretaste and promise of our heavenly union with Christ, our bridegroom, at the eternal wedding feast.