Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Food and Clothing at God's Banquet: The 28th Sunday of OT


Food and clothing are necessary for life, and they are both themes in the Readings for this weekend.  Food and clothing go together sometimes: for example, we still dress up for a formal banquet or a fancy date night.  Some people still try to dress well for mass, and that’s a good custom, because how we dress shows the importance that we place on the event.  No one shows up for a job interview in a tank top and cut-offs, for example.  Is Mass as important as a job interview? 

But our external dress is not the point of this Sunday’s Readings.  Instead, they focus on the idea of a spiritual supper, and the spiritual preparation or “dress” that is necessary to participate in God’s ultimate wedding banquet. 

Our readings for this week begin with Isaiah’s famous prophecy of a feast on Mount Zion:

Reading 1 Is 25:6-10a
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.
On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
the web that is woven over all nations;
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 LORD has spoken.
On that day it will be said:
"Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!"
For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

The prophet Isaiah is recalling here the great feasts that the Davidic Kings once sponsored in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion.  He prophecies that one day God will provide a supernatural feast on the same mountain, even better than the ones of old.  This feast will be not only for Israel, but also for the nations, as the web of lies that keep the nations away from the true God will be removed. 

Scripture records four historical feasts that were provided on Mount Zion.  David gave a feast for the people of Israel when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem (2 Sam 6).  Solomon gave a feast when the Temple was completed and dedicated (1 Kings 8).  Hezekiah celebrated the Passover for all Israel at his own expense (2 Chron 30).  Josiah did the same (2 Chron 35).

All these previous free feasts on Zion were liturgical celebrations led by the David or one of his heirs, either celebrating the Sanctuary or the Passover.  These themes come to a head in the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the same mountain, in which the Son of David leads a Passover (cf. Luke 22:1-2; John 19:14) and a renewal of the Sanctuary (John 2:19-21), providing a perpetual feast at his own expense (Luke 22:19).

The Responsorial Psalm reflects these themes as well:

Responsorial Psalm Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
R. (6cd) I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
He guides me in right paths
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
with your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

Among the Church Fathers, Psalm 23 was a favorite Scripture for sacramental catechesis.  The “good pasture” and the “table” prepared for the sheep is the Eucharistic meal.  The “restful waters” that “restore the soul” are the waters of Baptism.  The head “anointed with oil” is confirmation.  The “overflowing cup” is the Eucharistic chalice.  The whole Psalm is a description of the Christian life, lived in the community of God’s people, the flock which is the Church, under the care of the Shepherd who touches us through the Sacraments.

Several of the features of the Psalm are striking when read in a Eucharistic context.  Verse 2 reads literally, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”  Mark and John may well have had this verse in mind when recording the Feeding of the 5,000, a proto-Eucharistic miracle.  Both remark on the plentiful green grass at the site of the feeding, and record Our Lord telling the disciples to “make the people lie down.”  The 5,000 came to experience Jesus as their Good Shepherd; we share their experience in the Eucharistic meal we are about to celebrate.

Psalm 23 also includes themes of resurrection.  Our translation of verse 3 reads, “He refreshes my soul.”  The Hebrew could be translated, “He makes my soul (or “my life”) return.”  The Lord also leads the psalmist successfully through the darkness of death (v. 4) and back to the Lord’s own house, the Temple (v. 6).

Another notable feature of the Psalm is the paradoxical presence of the Lord’s peace and comfort in the midst of danger and death.  The Psalmist walks through the valley of the shadow of death (v. 4).  He is surrounded by his enemies (v. 5).  One might ask, If God is such a good Shepherd, why didn’t he take us out of the valley of death and remove all our enemies?  Yet this is the mystery of redemptive suffering, the mystery of our participation in Christ’s passion.  For Christians who participate in the paradoxical path of Christ, the Eucharist becomes this meal “prepared before me in the presence of my enemies.”  It is our nourishment and consolation, our meal of resurrection (the “return” of our “soul”) in this “Valley of Tears,” in the midst of the Kingdom persecutions that lead to our blessedness (Matt 5:10-12).

Happily, the Second Reading continues to develop the theme of God’s provision in the midst of distress:

Reading 2 Phil 4:12-14, 19-20
Brothers and sisters:
I know how to live in humble circumstances;
I know also how to live with abundance.
In every circumstance and in all things
I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry,
of living in abundance and of being in need.
I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.

My God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.

The secret Paul has learned of dealing with all circumstances is this: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  He knows God will supply his needs, as well as the needs of other Christians.  This does not mean we will never face hunger or even death; our true “need” is God Himself.  He always provides for this “need” for those who seek Him.  The vision of God Himself, which David described as “dwelling in the House of the Lord forever,” is God’s ultimate provision for the needs of his people.  As Exodus 24:11 says, “They saw God, and ate and drank.”

The Gospel Reading is the Parable of the Wedding Feast:

Gospel Mt 22:1-14
Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people
in parables, saying,
"The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.
He dispatched his servants
to summon the invited guests to the feast,
but they refused to come.
A second time he sent other servants, saying,
"Tell those invited: "Behold, I have prepared my banquet,
my calves and fattened cattle are killed,
and everything is ready; come to the feast."'
Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business.
The rest laid hold of his servants,
mistreated them, and killed them.
The king was enraged and sent his troops,
destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
Then he said to his servants, 'The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come.
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.'
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
The king 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."

The King is obviously God.  The Son for whom the Wedding Feast is given is, in light of the Old Testament, the Son of David, who enjoyed divine sonship by virtue of the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7; 89:26-27).  Nuptial images abound as descriptions of the relationship between the LORD and Israel (Hosea 1-3; Isaiah 54; Jeremiah 2-3; Ezekiel 16, 23; etc.).  Less noticed are the passages which reflect a nuptial relationship between the Son of David and Israel (2 Sam 5:1; 17:3; Psalm 45; the Song of Songs generally).  The role of the Son of David as bridegroom to the people, is one of the ways that the King acts on behalf of God towards Israel.  The spousal character of the Father is reflected in the Son.

Some parables Jesus tells are reflections of everyday life experiences; others are deliberately unusual or even hyperbolic.  This parable falls in the later category, because the behavior of the invited guests is outlandish.  Jesus’ hearers would have recognized this as a strange story.  The twists and turns of the plot are dictated by the reality Jesus is describing through these figures, not by the customs of ancient Near Eastern royal weddings.  No one would ignore an invitation to a royal wedding, or go back to one’s business in indifference, or abuse the king’s messengers.  The hearers of this parable would be shocked at this kind of behavior.

Those who are “invited” to the Wedding Feast are the religious leaders of Jerusalem, who should have been in the best position to recognize the Jesus as the Son of David. In light of last week’s Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Matt 21:33-46) and Jesus’ Lament over Jerusalem (“O Jerusalem ... killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you!” Matt 23:37), the “city” of those who mistreat the servants of the king is Jerusalem, and the parable gives a transparent prediction of its destruction in AD 70.

The command to “go out into the streets” to invite “whomever you find” refers in part to the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles, who were “riff-raff” from the perspective of the Pharisees and some others.  What Jesus prefigured by the healing of the Canaanite women, he is predicting through figures in this parable: the Gentile “riff-raff” are going to find their way into God’s kingdom. 

The King’s hall being filled with guests both “good and bad” calls to mind the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat, and the Parable of the Net (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43; 47-50).  In all these parables, the point is that the Kingdom of God is not simply a reference for the next life or “heaven.”  It is a present reality, established already during Jesus’ ministry and manifested in the visible Church, which includes both saints and sinners.  Schismatic movements that attempt to eradicate all the “impure” from the visible Church by starting a new, “pure” Church are misguided.  Reform movements that call everyone in the Church to repentance, however, are always welcome and needed.  We can never be “content” with hypocrisy or sin in the Church; yet at the same time we can’t let it dampen or destroy our faith. 

This brings us to a discussion of the “wedding garment” that a certain guest lacks.  Two other biblical texts are relevant to understanding this symbol:

 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

Also Revelation 19:7-8:

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure” — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

In light of these nuptial “clothing” texts in both the Old and the New Testament, we can make a strong canonical argument for understanding the “wedding garment” as “righteous deeds”—that is, behavior that corresponds to the God’s grace and to the invitation to the divine wedding banquet.

Therefore, this parable weighs against a view of “salvation by faith alone” if by that phrase one means a person can believe and be saved without his or her life and behavior being transformed. 

So what about the man who has no garment, who’s life has not been transformed by God’s grace, who is bound and cast into the darkness?  Clearly that’s an image of hell.  Is it wrong for God to send anyone to hell?

I see hell as an expression of God’s mercy.  The truth is, there are many who do not want to be holy, and who don’t like God or the nature of God.  God is by nature self-giving love, and not everyone wants give themselves in love.  If you are a selfish person, then living in the presence of a self-giving God for eternity is not a pleasant experience—in fact, it is an intensely painful experience.  The wicked don’t like to be the presence of God.  It is extremely uncomfortable for them.  So God, in his mercy, casts them far from himself, into the outer darkness, where they are not happy but at least are spared the pain of his direct presence.  In a sense, everyone gets what they want in the end: those who seek God, will find God; those who hate God, will be cast as far as possible from him.  The drama of this life is learning to desire God, to recognize him as our true good, and not to be lead astray by false goods that lure us with the promise of short-term pleasure. 

So it is necessary for salvation that we change, that we actually love holiness and live holiness.

At the same time, in both Isaiah and Revelation, it is God who clothes his Bride in the Wedding Garment.  Thus our holiness comes from God, not our own effort.  The Christian life consists in allowing the Holy Spirit to change us and our behavior.  So the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

§2011 The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God ... the saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace: “After earth’s exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven ... In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works ... I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself”—St. Thérèse of Lisieux


Susan Moore said...

Yea, that’s it: The Lord calls us, saves us, cleans us, clothes us, feeds us, grows us, leads us, and glorifies us, so it always feels awkward when I see a dress code by a church door declaring that Jesus only cares for and feeds those who come in dressed a certain nice way.

For instance, the church I grew up in is now inside a National Park. In the summer, in particular, families in wrinkled shorts and tee shirts pile in there after having slept in tents the night before, and the Boy Scouts hike there 3 miles from their camp. We’re packed in there bumping shoulder to shoulder, with the Boy Scouts standing 3 deep in the back. You know what? No one cares! It’s a stinky, poison-ivied, sunburnt mess of a joyful family, and a great time with such loud heart-felt off-pitch singing your ears will pop. I pray all churches will be like that one day!

Nick said...

"So God, in his mercy, casts them far from himself, into the outer darkness, where they are not happy but at least are spared the pain of his direct presence."

God does not damn souls, they damn themselves. In His Justice and Mercy, He permits damnation because evil must be punished and because He will not force us to do good - among other reasons, of course.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for The Sacred Page which I use as preparation for each Sunday's Mass. I will never read Psalm 23 in the same way again. It helps me to understand redemptive suffering in a more meaningful way. Thank you again.

heidi said...

A comment so alarmingly ignorant of the Christian Mystery was made above and I would like to submit the following in response:

An excerpt from "Church Music: A Question of Morality" by Andrew MIlls:

"If the mass is a truly sacred action surpassing all others (vat 11) then we have the moral issue that it is very wrong to bring to the holy sacrifice offerings of inferior quality. This is not estheticism, the heretical notion that bad taste is the only possible sin, it is simply the recognition of the awesome nature of the occasion. Consider how carefully you would prepare a reception for the queen or the president. It behooves us to receive a guest of infinitely greater importance with something better than whatever the people can sing or feel like 'throwing on' to wear.
In the 1860's, the ultra protestant anglican periodical ironically called "the rock" printed the following:
Berettas, wafers, mixed chalices, elevation, prostration, eastward position, etc
do really involve the whole question for which the battle of the reformation was fought: Is the great King objectively present on our altars under whatever form or IS HE NOT? If He is so present at the bidding of a priest, then it behooves us to go softly and bow down in lowly adoration before His footstool. No service service can be too solemn, no accessories too costly or magnificent for so august an occasion. Bring forth the royal vessels and make the tabernacle of His feet glorious. Let clouds of incense ascend before His throne. Let us come into His courts with thanksgiving. Let the singers go before and the minstrels follow after. Let His priests be decked in the most sumptuous apparel and let all things testify to our sense of the King's condescension in visiting His people and to our desire to give Him the honor due unto His Name. Such we know is the Roman, or Sacerdotal theory, perfectly coherent and consistent throughout-IF ONLY IT WERE TRUE. "
To do ANY LESS IS SUB CATHOLIC. And if possible, I would sue for malpractice every Catholic who approaches the liturgy with less reverence than described above.
Ez 22:26: They have made no distinction between the holy and the common,

De Maria said...

I'll tell you what is sub-Catholic. It is for someone to sit around and judge the people at Mass by the clothes that they wear.

heidi said...

Cloudy generalizations and nasty finger pointing is not what Mr. Mills is advocating or engaging in. Rather he is making a fervent petition for Catholics participating in the Liturgy to exercise the virtue of justice.

Is it 'sub Catholic' to sit around reading blog points and judging the intentions of the authors?

In a flagrant lack of meekness and understanding, you have pronounced judgement on those who you think are judging.... I do not care how or if you judge me but I would advise more prudent consideration and discernment of Mr. Mills position rather than being so quick to accuse him of 'judging what others wear at mass'.

De Maria said...

heidi said...
Cloudy generalizations and nasty finger pointing is not what Mr. Mills is advocating or engaging in.

I didn't say he was. But your words fit that description to a tee, You said, "To do ANY LESS IS SUB CATHOLIC…." about those who don't dress according to some arbitrary standard you have set.

That is a cloudy generalization and nasty finger pointing if I ever saw it. You are presuming that all folks who don't dress in a manner which is in accordance with your standard are ignorant of the Catholic Faith. But since when do you have the ability to read hearts and minds?

Rather he is making a fervent petition for Catholics participating in the Liturgy to exercise the virtue of justice.

Ask Mills if he would rather that those who don't dress according to his standard should simply not go to Mass.

As for me, I don't judge my fellow Catholic by the way they dress. I don't know their circumstances.

Is it 'sub Catholic' to sit around reading blog points and judging the intentions of the authors?

You tell me. Is it you who read Susan's post and then called her "sub Catholic"? Because she's the only one who mentioned anything about how one is dressed. And you said her comment was "alarmingly ignorant of the Christian Mystery…."

In a flagrant lack of meekness and understanding, you have pronounced judgement on those who you think are judging.... I do not care how or if you judge me but I would advise more prudent consideration and discernment of Mr. Mills position rather than being so quick to accuse him of 'judging what others wear at mass'.

I'm not talking to Mills. I'm talking to you. It isn't Mills who disparagingly called anyone "sub Catholic" nor "ignorant". It is you.

De Maria said...


I have been there and done that. I was many years a cub scout leader when my boys were young. And, after camping out all weekend, we frequently scrambled to get to Mass, often late, tired and disheveled. But, guess what? Not once did the Pastor nor even any Parishoner of any Catholic Church ever turn us away or object to our presence. And in fact, they frequently gave us compliments for instilling in our young ones the importance of attending the Mass.


De Maria

Susan Moore said...

Hmmm... I'm guessing Jesus didn't consult Mr. Mills before He healed the filthy lepers and the disGRACEful bleeding woman, let alone when He spoke to that despicable Samaritan chick at the well and then had the cultural audacity to lead Her and her whole town into His salvation -yikes, talk about being politically incorrect. And then He grabbed that yucky lopped off ear from the ground and stuck it back on the guys head before being carted off to be tortured and crucified naked...And to think I have faith in Him instead of Mr. Mills. I bet Mr. Mills never would have healed me...

Dear Children of God, keep yourselves from idols (1John 5:21). We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1John 4:19-21).

Anonymous said...

Knock it off.

Myshkin said...

Dear Professor Bergsma: Please collect your own and Prof. Barber's Sacred Page writings into book form. They have been such a pleasure to read and to ponder. Thank you for YOUR vocation to helping the rest of us!

citizen DAK said...

And, thank you for sharing your posts freely online! :)

citizen DAK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Bergsma said...

citizen DAK: you're welcome!